International Business Strategies

Smartphones: The Secret Weapon for Winning Global Consumers

M-commerce is outpacing traditional e-commerce by three-to-one. If your expanding organization neglects the mobile web, it’s missing where the action is. Here’s a primer.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

September 04, 2015


International customers are increasingly using mobile devices to research and purchase products and services. For companies expanding into overseas markets, connecting with these consumers in their preferred language—via this preferred channel—is imperative. Those that do can win big in brand awareness, site engagement and sales.

Smartphones have revolutionized global content consumption and consumerism. This is especially true for emerging international markets. According to Pymnts, mobile e-commerce (m-commerce) is outpacing traditional e-commerce by 3-to-1. In 2016, global m-commerce sales will reach $291 billion … nearly triple the sales of just three years ago.

Put another way: If your organization neglects the mobile web as it expands into international markets online, it’s missing where an ever-growing piece of the action is.

There are several mobile-centric challenges to consider, as your company goes global. Let’s look at a few:

Understand Bandwidth Differences (and User Expectations)

Bandwidth—the capacity of data that flows through network connections—plays a critical role in the performance of a mobile online experience. Some markets have nationwide state-of-the-art cellular data networks with robust bandwidth accommodations; others are still catching up. Users in different markets often have different load-time expectations.

Mobile bandwidth and data allowances can also vary widely between countries, explains Eric Watson, a Global Online Strategist for MotionPoint’s Global Growth team.

“Understanding these differences is essential to the success of your company’s international mobile presence,” he says. “If a market’s bandwidth is slower than what’s needed to effectively present your localized digital experience, your new customers won’t transact there. They simply won’t wait for your ‘heavy’ site to load.”

So which markets have noteworthy bandwidth speeds? Here’s a brisk rundown, using information from Akamai’s recent State of the Internet report:

  1. Globally, the average mobile bandwidth speed is 4 Mbps. The U.S. falls into this category
  2. The United Kingdom is the global leader, accommodating an average speed of 20.4Mbps
  3. Denmark is in second place, with 10 Mbps
  4. Puerto Rico sports average speeds of 9.6 Mbps

Perennial high-speed fanatic South Korea dropped to fifth place with 8.8 Mbps. This will change shortly; officials recently announced plans to invest $1.5 billion to deploy a nationwide next-gen 5G network by 2017.

In contrast, South America is home to some of the slowest Internet connections in the world—an important consideration to note, Eric says, should your company wish to expand in those markets online. Argentina has the slowest in the region, with an average of 1.8 Mbps. Attractive online markets such as Brazil and Colombia feature better—though still below-average—speeds of 2.5 Mbps.

“We’ve seen companies, especially those in the UK, create international mobile sites with the assumption that global users have access to the same ultra-high speed bandwidth UK users do,” Eric says. “These endeavors often experience immediate challenges. Sites not optimized for slower connections usually see higher bounce rates. Users disengage when they have to wait.”

In contrast, U.S.-based companies that are targeting affluent markets with strong infrastructures (such as those in Europe) can reasonably assume that these nations will have faster-than-average Internet connections and higher-than-average smartphone penetration rates. (The global average for smartphone penetration is 56.4%.)

A non-obvious—but important—takeaway for U.S. companies: “When launching an overseas site in a high-bandwidth market,” Eric says, “don’t neglect to offer users a mobile-friendly experience … even if you don’t place much emphasis on this channel at home.”

Time On Site Is Critical

The transition from “first screen” content consumption (on televisions) to “second screen” experiences (on computers) to “third screen” (mobile devices) is accelerating globally. The most rapid growth is occurring in emerging markets. That’s very important for companies to understand.

See, broadly speaking, mobile experiences are used to augment content consumption in developed markets. This can mean delivering a real-time complementary experience to television viewers or desktop computer users. Increasingly, mobile is also used to create “access anywhere” omnichannel retail experiences in these markets.

“But emerging markets are different,” Eric says. “In these regions, desktop computers never achieved the same levels of market penetration. Here, mobile devices have provided the first Internet connection—a new kind of ‘first screen.’”

As a result, these folks use mobile devices more aggressively as their primary Internet connections, and for a wider variety of activities. Retailers who view their mobile experiences as a complement to their brick-and-mortar or desktop shopping efforts must adjust their expectations (and goals) when engaging users in emerging markets.

“Offering a more robust, comprehensive, and user-friendly experience for these residents requires placing a greater emphasis on localized mobile sites,” advises Eric. “This is nowhere more important than in China, where there is a developing ‘one-screen society,’ where mobile devices are displacing other media. That’s very different than the ‘multiscreening’ we see in the U.S.”

According to data from StatCounter, the share of global webpage views on desktop has decreased 13% to 62%, compared to the same for mobile phones which has grown from 31% to 39%. Developing markets including Nigeria, India, and South Africa is where mobile’s share of web traffic dominates desktop.

Interestingly, similar trends are emerging among U.S. demographics, most notably among Hispanics. American companies keen to connect with U.S. Spanish speakers should devote similar attention to ensuring their mobile experiences are translated, and that appropriate (read: greater) resources are dedicated to marketing to this demographic.

Include On-Site Search

Offering effective on-site search (OSS) functionality is a best practice for desktop websites, but it’s especially important for mobile experiences. It’s critical for users to quickly find what they’re looking for, particularly considering the inefficiencies inherent in interacting with a smaller screen.

A localized OSS experience that is predictive in anticipating users’ queries—and can account for common in-language misspellings—saves users time, and increases engagement.

“Of course, on-site search isn’t just for international emerging markets,” Eric says. “Customers in developed markets who comparison shop while in brick-and-mortar stores will probably rely on your site’s OSS, to compare your company’s offerings to what they’re seeing in person.”

Indeed, serving these users quickly—and in their language of choice, on their device of choice—may mean the difference between winning and losing a sale.

Strategic Consideration Between Responsive and Mobile

In our post-mobilegeddon world, greater focus has been placed on desktop sites with responsive design, and mobile-friendly sites. But now, companies are increasingly facing a new question relating to mobile users: Should businesses stick with a responsive site, or deploy an exclusively mobile site?

Offering a responsive version of a site has several benefits—namely, companies can use their existing sites, and there’s no need for a separate team (or budget) to be allocated for its maintenance. However, this route becomes difficult when managing a large site, as the site’s complexity may not lend itself well to an optimized responsive experience.

“When localizing a corporate site for an audience in emerging markets, it may not be enough to simply offer a responsive and complementary experience to your main site,” Eric says. “These international users, whose sole interaction with the Internet is often via their mobile phones, will interpret a mobile-exclusive site as the only site.”

Last updated on September 04, 2015
Dominic Dithurbide's avatar

About Dominic Dithurbide

Dominic Dithurbide is a creative, goal-driven marketing leader that’s dedicated his career to the translation industry. Dominic brings proficiency in global marketing, demand generation, and go-to-market strategies to MotionPoint’s marketing team.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

Marketing Manager


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