Different Strokes for Different Folks

Over the last few years there has been a phenomenal interest in navigating through the murky international waters to sell online internationally. But with over 240 countries sharing a diverse mishmash of languages, alphabets and addressing formats, accommodating for each and every customer in your web forms is no easy task.

Foreign customers used to seeing their address details shown in one specific format are often unwilling or even unable to fill in their details, and as a result aren’t completing the purchasing process. And for all those that do manage to fill their details out, the lack of address validation often results in their goods being shipped to the wrong address – if at all! The costs of lost custom to the companies concerned are enormous.

Attempting to organise international address data from your global customers onto forms that weren’t purpose built to suit the different requirements of specific countries is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. So if you are thinking of dipping your toes in international waters, what is the best way to address these various formats?

One size doesn’t fit all

With all these different languages and address formats it’s no wonder that so many businesses adopt a simple one size fits all approach. The problem is that this is not going to encourage customers to buy from your site. A personal pet hate of mine as a UK resident, is being forced into selecting from a drop down list of US states.

Drop down of states

This is an unnecessary question lengthening the checkout process and obstructing customers from making that all important purchase.

It’s also equally important that all your data fields are long enough to contain all of your customer’s data. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But I’ve come across lots of forms that limit the number of characters you can enter, which is obviously problematic if you live in somewhere like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Some sites limit the postcode entry to just five digits, while this is fine for most Americans it will put off anyone from the UK or Canada singing up. Canada has seven digits (including a space and a mix of letters and numbers) and Australia has a four digit numeric code. The postal code is usually a standard requirement on most forms I’ve seen which is quite surprising, considering that over 50 territories of the world have no postal code system at all.

Fashion retailers Newlook only allow for 30 characters in the address lines, which is frustrating for any users with longer addresses – including our old address at Postcode Anywhere!

New Look's address form

American databases often allow a maximum 35 characters for a postal town name, because this allows storage of all American place names, but used internationally it would mean 20% of Brazilian place names having to be abbreviated. If in any doubt about this, it is always best to leave more space than required.

The name game

Names can also cause a great deal of frustration for international users. The structure and usage of names varies so much from one culture to the next. For example, in Brazil some people may have up to four family names whereas in Indonesia they may have only a given name, with no patronym at all. Most cultures in Japan, Korea and Hungary order names as family name followed by the given names(s) and Amercians frequently write their name with a middle initial, such as James P. Smith.

Clearly, registration forms which forces the user to supply both a given name and a single family name isn’t going to suit many people. So what’s a poor form builder to do? Given the diversity in names, asking the form-filler to enter their name in full, in a single free-text box, is likely to be the best approach, just like KiSSmetrics:

Name forms

And the solution?

Street addresses can also vary quite radically, even within a single country. To account for these variations, web designers have taken a number of different approaches: specific formats, changing formats and generic formats, however as I mentioned before, these aren’t always easy to produce, and nor do they provide the best user-experience.

There are addressing solutions available, however, that can accommodate all every country’s preference. As you enter any part of your address or postcode, Capture+ suggests results as you type, eliminating the need for complicated and tedious forms.


Street number comes before street name? No problem. Street number comes after street name? No problem. No street names? Again no problem. What’s even better about this application is that it can automatically detect the country the user is in, and tailor the form and language to the appropriate country, another quick way to reduce the form-filling process while improving usability.

You should be bending over backwards to make the registration as quick and painless as possible. But in reality most web forms are making their customers jump through hoops just to fill them in. It’s something that requires thought and initial cost to create but it saves enormously on data cleansing, lost customers and lost revenues and more importantly lost reputation further down the line.