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FutureNow Article
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

Don’t Hose the Canadians! (Our Dollars Are Equal Now.)

By Melissa Burdon
January 24th, 2008

Canada gets hosed online

We Canadians already have a bit of a complex due to the fact that the rest of the world seems to lump us together with the U.S., calling them our big brother. Canadians are sick of being treated like leftovers. So, when certain North American companies leave us (and other international visitors) out of the loop by making it difficult to buy from their websites, they’re losing sales and annoying would-be customers like me.

It’s time for U.S. companies to consistently treat international customers the same way that they treat their compatriots online.

An experience that one of the attendees of our recent Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar shared with us demonstrates the frustrations Canadians face when shopping online: Bill was attempting to purchase a Northwest Airlines flight at NWA.com, so his son could attend a communications workshop in Austin. After going through the process of choosing his flight, seat, and entering his name and credit card information, he realized Northwest’s website had something against foreigners.

Northwest customer service emailIn what normally would have been a confirmation email (see thumbnail image), Bill was rejected. He was informed that if he does not have a U.S. billing address, his order wouldn’t be processed. Instead, he would need to go through a long list of bizarre, counterintuitive instructions on how to give them money.

Instead of booking on the homepage

Northwest Airlines homepage

…he would have to click the “Reservation Center” drop-down menu on the top navigation, then click “Shop for Flights.”

Where Canadians are allowed to book a flight

Is there any way he would have figured this out on his own? And if international booking is such an issue, why don’t they just say so right away, or at least offer the same toggle button say that you’re not a U.S. resident on the homepage?

This is just one example of many. I’ve personally encountered countless situations just like this.

Do any of you Canadian or international readers out there prefer not doing business with U.S. companies because of experiences like these?

[Editor's Note: For the sake of transparency, and because we don't want to seem too cool for school, let it be known that we at Future Now have been, at times, just as guilty of cultural bias as other U.S. businesses. Although many of our Canadian friends, clients, readers, and (in Melissa's case) colleagues know we love our neighbo(u)rs to the north, we have occasionally and regrettably missed out on international business. You can read the comments on Melissa's last post for details. As always, the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. ;) ]

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Comments (5)

  1. Interestingly, I was doing the analysis of a B2C site that has a US and Canadian version. Both are identical, except when you reach the billing address you are left out with either States (if you ended up on the US site) or Provinces (if you ended up on the Canadian one). Guess what? 38% abandonment on that field! Ouch! and double-ouch! User’s went all that way to be left out in the cloud at this step… If you switch site you have to start all over again. I guess we’ll be spending some time fixing that!

  2. I am always just blown away whenever I realise the sheer size of the ‘american’(US) market.
    You read things like: “Amazon (isn’t she stateless?) cannot afford to ignore the ‘international’ market which accounts for almost 1/3 of its sales.” Huh! For Americans there is the US (the important market) and the ‘world’ (a good place to look for an extra few sales).

    In contrast, Australia (where I am) there is local (small but safe) and the ‘world’ (where you wtake a business when it grows up). What a difference in the way you look at things.

    Interestingly, if all the predictions of the end of ‘scale’, fragmented markets, & micro marketing came true maybe all this won’t matter any more.

    The US is important because of size (quantity). If size of markets starts mattering less in favour(do canadians spell with ‘ou’?) of other qualities the game may change.
    (French are willing to spend more on food; Germans are willing to spend on quality; Canadians like to make fun of Americans)

  3. Or better still they could recognize up front he was Canadian and then serve a message guiding him to the International booking place…

    Sadly I’ve had a lot of bad experiences being a Canadian online shopper(don’t get me wrong–lots of good too)

    The worst was Banana Republic, one of my favourite retailers, I shopped the site a while and picked out a few items I liked, went to buy, and I didn’t realize until I couldn’t enter a “Province” that they don’t ship to Canada. Disappointed, I shoot customer service an email letting them know I was unhappy that it wasn’t apparent enough (have to dig in small print to find out) and also to ask if they had plans to open up shipping to Canada. The response was :

    “Sorry, we don’t ship to Canada, if you’d like to find a store near you in the US use our store locator tool, or email us again to find a store in Canada”

    Didn’t answer my question, didn’t make me feel better AND peeves me a little more because I can’t even locate a store near me from the web!

  4. my rant is about how, like me, many people watch television online. what is with specific entertainment companies only allowing people with a US server to watch the shows. most of the time they are filmed in Canada, my country, with Canadian crew, often mostly Canadian cast, yet a final 90% Canadian product is not allowed to be viewed by Canadians? what’s up with that?

  5. wow… awesome.

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Melissa is a Senior Persuasion Analyst at FutureNow.

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