International study surveys preferences of website users

March 04, 2004, vol. 29, no. 5
By Trina Ricketts

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The Japanese like bright colours and warm, emotional images when shopping online.

Germans prefer darker colours and consider bright colours and flashy animation unprofessional. Canadians are least concerned about misuse of credit cards. Americans require less detailed product information.

These are some of the conclusions from a study of international online shopping habits. The study, Managing e-loyalty through experience design, is directed by Dianne Cyr from the school of interactive arts and technology (SIAT) at Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus.

The study involved participants from Canada, the United States, Germany and Japan. Each was shown a local version of Samsung's website and a foreign version (the Hong Kong site), and asked to explore the sites, observe their attributes, and test for navigation.

Information was collected through a survey and by interviewing each participant. Cyr says the goal of the investigation was to determine if design preferences differ across cultures, and how culture and web design are related to e-loyalty.

Cyr and her colleagues found both cross-cultural differences and similarities when it came to online shopping.

“Although Canadian and American respondents were found to be more experienced with the internet and more likely to shop online, all groups stated that convenience and pricing are the most popular reasons for purchasing items this way,” she says. Canadians are most likely of the four nations to buy groceries online.

Other findings: web shoppers in all four nations are concerned with the trustworthiness of online vendors. Familiarity with an online vendor, and the visibility of security signs on a vendor's website help to increase vendor trust.

Japanese and Germans feel a product's brand determines whether the product is of good quality or not, whereas Canadians and Americans are most likely to seek outside sources for product or vendor information. All four groups preferred email as a follow up to their online purchasing, but the Japanese are more likely to prefer a more personal follow up with a phone call.

Some Canadians use alternate email accounts for online purchasing in an effort to avoid spam.

The most obvious differences between participants were found between the Japanese and Germans in the area of visual design, Cyr said. Germans do not think excitement is a necessary component of a site.

“They are more concerned with the information that is presented,” Cyr said. “The Japanese participants, however, expressed a craving for bright colours and excitement, as well as images and animations to make the experience more personal.”

According to Cyr, the study provides some evidence to support differences across cultures related to online shopping experiences. “This finding suggests the importance of creating web content and experiences appropriate for particular cultures.”

Cyr and her colleagues will be following up with a larger survey. Other plans include using eye tracking equipment to determine specific website design preferences and adapting the findings to mobile devices, and to see if there are any preferences across cultures for design of small screen devices such as cell phones.

Besides Cyr, members of the e-loyalty project team include Carole Bonanni, John Bowes, and Jim Budd as well as Joe Ilsever, a doctoral candidate, and Hector Larios, a fourth-year student at the Surrey campus.

Details about the research can be accessed at eloyalty.

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