On the surface, address forms seem like a common enough thing. We’re so used to filling them out anywhere where something needs to be shipped, paid for, or signed up to. Yet, when the moment comes that you need to implement one yourself, it can quickly become a journey into the wilderness, even more so when dealing with international customers.
While most addresses around the world have commonly understood formats, there are some idiosyncrasies that could trip up even the savviest web developer. And the results of getting it wrong could be detrimental – from failed deliveries and additional shipping costs to disappointed customers and a tarnished brand.
With Growing Global 2015 now just a few weeks away, we wanted to share some top considerations when dealing with international addresses.
Consider your character limits
Are your data fields long enough to contain all of your customer’s data? Sounds obvious but I’ve seen several forms on checkouts that limit the number of characters you can enter, which is seriously problematic if you live on the street Bischöflich-Geistlicher-Rat-Josef-Zinnbauer-Straße in Germany or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales. Likewise, place names can also be really short, for example ‘Å’, a village in Norway. Therefore, you shouldn’t validate fields on the basis of their length alone and you must make sure maximum character limits do not restrict orders from genuine addresses in your market.
In the U.S., we typically limit the postal code entry to five digits. Whilst this is fine for most Americans it could hinder any UK, Canadian or Australian users registering. If in any doubt, it’s always best to leave more space than required and allow alphanumeric characters with a space.
Don’t make the ZIP code a required field
There are still a considerable amount of countries that don’t have postal codes so why are you still enforcing your visitors to enter them? Making it mandatory is a surefire way to cause friction at the checkout while your visitor sits there frustrated, trying to guess how many digits they need to fill in to get past your validation routine.
Add descriptions to form fields
What does ‘Address Line 2’ mean? Is ‘surname’ the same as ‘last name’? Without clear descriptions forms could appear ambiguous. Don’t risk confusing your customers and getting incorrect information by leaving out something so simple.
Disastrous drop downs
Sensible use of IP geolocation tools can help take the pain out of dealing with state and country selectors. It’s pretty bewildering to scroll through a long list of options, wondering if a website calls yours homeland the ‘United Kingdom’, ‘England’ or ‘Other’, and guessing whether the list is in alphabetical order or if you’re going to have to scroll down to the bottom of the list to find it.
Remember too that not all countries have provinces or states! It is an unnecessary question which lengthens the checkout process, creating a great deal of friction for the potential customer.
Keep your forms short
It’s well cited that the more form fields there are the less conversions you will get. No one likes filling out forms – so try reducing the size of the form to make it appear less daunting for your users. Why have five fields when you can have just one single field?
However, with all verification tools, it’s important to give your visitors the option to manually override the data should they need to edit it.
Make use of innovative tools
There are plenty of tools out there to help make forms easier to use and identify usability problems that could be affecting your completion rate. Capture+ from Postcode Anywhere, for example, enables users to search for their delivery or billing address and automatically completes your form fields with a valid address. Speeding up your checkout forms by removing friction of this type is well documented as having a significant impact on ecommerce conversion rates.
Henry Thomas is the senior web developer at address verification company Postcode Anywhere.