All companies must be aware of the differences in customs and language that make up the culture of any region in which they expect to do business. The Additional Resources section of the Online Companion includes links to Web sites that provide detailed information on cultural issues for specific countries under the heading Global Trust and Culture.
The company was getting an unusually high number of complaints from customers in Japan about short shipments. Virtual Vineyards sold most of its wine in case (12 bottles) or half-case quantities. Thus, to save on operating costs, it stocked shipping materials only in case, half-case, and two-bottle sizes. After an investigation, the company determined that many of its Japanese customers ordered only one bottle of wine, which was shipped in a two-bottle container. To these Japanese customers, who consider packaging to be an important element of a high-quality product such as wine, it was inconceivable that anyone would ship one bottle of wine in a two-bottle container. They were e-mailing to ask where the other bottle was, notwithstanding the fact that they had ordered only one bottle.
Another story that is widely used in international business training sessions is about a company that sold baby food in jars adorned with the picture of a very cute baby. The jars sold well everywhere they had been introduced except in parts of Africa. The mystery was solved when the manufacturer learned that food containers in those parts of Africa always carry a picture of their contents. This story is particularly interesting because it never happened. However, it illustrates a potential cultural issue so dramatically that it continues to appear in marketing textbooks and international business training materials.
Designers of Web sites for international commerce must be very careful when they choose icons to represent common actions. For example, in the United States, a shopping cart is a good symbol to use when building an electronic commerce site. However, many Europeans love to use shopping baskets. In Australia, people would recognize a shopping cart image but would be confused by the text “shopping cart” if it were used with the image. Australians call them shopping trolleys. In the United States, people often form a hand signal that indicates “OK” or “everything is just fine.
Nike, a major U.S.-based maker of sports products, realized that it had to create special Web pages to attract the millions of its customers who live outside the United States. One such effort is the Nike Football site. The soccer imagery that appears on this site is not what most U.S. visitors would expect to see when visiting a “football” site! Since Nike already had a site that was designed for its U.S. audience, it uses the Nike Football site to appeal to soccer fans throughout the world. The site allows the user to select from more than a dozen languages.