Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.
The phenomenal growth and spread of the internet in recent years has established what might well be the ultimate media for your software, and the costs are negligible. Your software can be seen and accessed from just about anywhere in the world; the global marketplace has finally become a reality. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that either you or your product are ready to jump on this particular bandwagon. If you want your software to be used in other countries, chances are that you’re going to have to adapt in order to do so; in terms of the software itself, your distribution methods, site presentation and more.
At the time of writing this article, SoftwarePromotions was located in Finland, and so frequently came across the international barriers that all non-US users have to climb. The first factor to consider is the software itself. Is it suitable for international distribution? One example is encryption software, currently subject to certain US export restrictions. Problems arise not only for US authors who may not be allowed to distribute their software world-wide, but also for non-US authors. Some software download sites will not host copies of your software unless you comply with the correct US export restrictions; even if you are not from the States, they might well be breaking the law by making your software available for download.
Another example is bookkeeping software; even if you use the standard international accounting terminology and formats, different countries have different tax rates and policies that may not be compatible with your software. A well thought-out combination of flexibility and customisation might open up new markets for you and your software. Also bear in mind that there might well be external factors such as local Government restrictions on the actual content itself.
Consider Your International Customers
There are certainly enough hurdles to trip over along the way, all of which must be carefully examined during the development or adaptation of your software. You should constantly ask yourself – will this feature make sense to all users? The exit icon to close down your software might be instantly recognisable to your US users, but will the average Brit, Aussie or Slovenian also know what it is?
While the global marketplace might well be up and running, global marketing (despite what you may hear to the contrary) does not really exist. Every country has its own unique culture and attitudes, and the internet is one of the best examples of this. You might read about how European firms aren’t ‘seizing the internet opportunity’ for boosting sales to record levels, but they’re missing the point. The majority of Europe is not ready to buy on the internet; while this may be almost commonplace in the United States, European attitudes are very different.
Your main strategy has to be to cover all options – make sure that you’re excluding as few people as possible from obtaining, using, understanding and buying your software. Start with the currency issue. Most non-US citizens will not have a US bank account; if they don’t want to pay by credit-card, make sure that they know they can use an international money order. And don’t let them get lost in complicated payment procedures – work with round numbers where possible, and maybe go for a fixed postage and shipping fee where applicable.
What Date Is It, Really?
But currency isn’t the only format difference that we European users are afflicted with. As well as being in a different time-zone, many countries also have different time and date formats – can your software handle these? The MMDDYY might make more sense in terms of data ordering, but a fair number of users will not be used to working this way; use it in your software and you could lose registrations. The same applies to addresses – most non-US countries do not use a one-line address format, do not have a State code, and might not even understand what a ZIP code is. These apply as much to the ordering process on your site or within your software, as to the software itself.
Bear in mind that attitudes will also vary from country to country; while I myself have bought everything from airline tickets to electrical goods on the internet, most of my friends and family live in the United Kingdom, and very few of them have ever bought anything via the internet. In Britain there’s a lot of fear of the security risks of online purchasing. Reassure these people – explain (on your site and within your software) what a secure server is, and make sure that they know about any other ordering options you can offer, such as fax, phone, mail etc. Do not lose these registrations through fear.
Also bear in mind that the international user might well pay for their internet access by time, and the quality of their connection may not be so good either. When I lived in Israel, I once (in my naivety) tried to download the full retail version of Eudora 4 soon after it’s release. The web site of the online store didn’t mention the size of the download – when I received an estimated download time of more than eight hours, I gave up. This was unfortunately after I had paid; fortunately the company gave me a full refund, so no damage was done. If you have a large file, then consider other options. Breaking it up into several smaller files might be one option, but I have also seen some sites that will email you a file on request; a very useful service indeed. Having your software hosted on mirror sites world-wide such as SimTel and TuCows is also a solution of sorts; just make sure that visitors to your site know where to go. If your trial version is 10 MB in size, and the only download source is your own server in the States, then you may automatically lose a sizeable chunk of potential customers – probably the majority of the rest of the world.
While the internet continues its explosive growth, your options are either to be swept along with the rest of the debris, or to stand on the firmest piece of ground you can find. So much of the success of your product is beyond your control; make sure that you tip the scales as favourably as you can. Aim at the world with something they want, and make sure that they can obtain, use, understand and buy it. Forget just seizing the day – seize the world! Be seen, be sold.