How to use colour in cross-border online retail

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Author: Greig Holbrook, Founder Oban International

It may seem surprising upon initial consideration, but colour can be an important driver of eCommerce sales.

 

85% of buyers make their purchasing decision based on colour. Research conducted by the Seoul International Color Expo reveals that colour is the single most important criterion in making a sale.

 

This is reinforced further by a study from the Institute for Color Research where shoppers say 60-90% of the assessment made of the shopping environment within the first two minutes is solely based on colour.

 

Every culture on the planet associates emotions and experiences with colour; it’s part of who we are and it’s what makes colour such a powerful sales tool. Some responses to colours are universal but not all, so as businesses expand into new markets consider the cultural context of colour to maximise your sales success.

 

So how should your business use colour in cross-border online retail, and how do you ensure it ticks the right colour boxes from region to region?

 

Colour and culture

 

We already know the value of colour in online retail — from branding, packaging and product colour to website design. But as international businesses grow, and begin to use colour in cross-border online retail, there is a further dynamic to consider — the cultural response to colour by geography.

 

As well as matching your colours by target market, brand and product to engender the emotional response you require from your customer, colour choice also needs to be appropriate by country.

 

If you are invited to a UK wedding, for example, the invitation will probably be white. For a Chinese wedding the invitation will be red and gold, as red symbolises good luck and happiness. If you are invited to a funeral in China, however, the invitation will be white, the colour of mourning.

Do you see what I see?

 

The first task is to understand which colours are similar across cultures and which vary. Research across eight markets showed blue green and white are well liked across countries and share similar meanings.

 

Black and red are also well liked, but can have very different meanings by country. When respondents clustered colours they felt had similar meaning, purple was placed with gold orange and yellow in some countries, symbolising vibrancy and richness, but with black and brown in others, symbolising sadness and mourning.

 

The effects of culture on the meaning associated with colours or colour combinations are important to consider. As well as looking for a colour palate universally acceptable to your customer, it is essential to understand which colours should sometimes be taken off the table. Here are some examples of what you might want to avoid:

  • Purple in Mexico relates strongly to Día De Muertos and is commonly linked to mourning.
  • Orange in Spain has very strong ties to the right-wing Citizens political party.
  • Red is often associated with crime and gang culture in Brazil.
  • Green is the sacred colour of Islam and can offend if used inappropriately.

CTA button colour important to online retail

Blue for boys and blue for girls

 

The next area to consider is gender attitudes to colour across countries.

 

People have the potential to see over 7 million colours though many research studies show women are generally able to recognise and name a far greater breadth of colours than men.

 

In 2003 Joe Hallock conducted research comparing colour preferences among various demographics from 22 countries around the world. For both genders blue was the favourite colour – for 57% of men and 35% of women.

 

The second favourite colour for women was purple, chosen by 23% of women but not chosen by any men as a favourite. Green came next for both sexes at 14%, followed by black then red for men and by red then black for women.

 

The least favourite colour for 33% of women was orange, followed by brown at 20%. For men it was brown at 27% followed by orange at 22%.

 

There are some clear similarities by gender across countries in terms of favourite and least favourite colours. So why is blue so popular and orange so unpopular? Universally blue is associated with authority, trust, tranquillity and security.

 

Although orange is a lucky colour in some cultures in others it is seen as cheap, brash and hazardous. (Pink was not included in this study as a standalone colour, but in another piece of western research pink was picked by only 7% of women as a favourite colour.)

 

Further research conducted by Hurlbery and Ling in 2007 showed men internationally prefer bright colours and women softer hues. Women prefer tints (colour with white added) while men prefer shades (colours with black added).

If you can’t say it, you don’t see it

 

Research shows that language can determine and in some cases limit the colours a person experiences. For example the Shona language in Zimbabwe and the Boas language in Liberia have no words to distinguish red from orange so they fail to perceive them as different colours.

 

Famously Inuit people are said to have many words for different shades of white, and some African cultures have many words for shades of green.

 

An experiment on a BBC documentary – ‘Do You See what I See?’ showed some Himba people from Namibia able to pick out very subtle changes in shades of green invisible to the western eye, but unable to pick out a bright blue square in a sea of green.

So what are the recommendations for international eCommerce businesses?

  1. Standardise colour schemes where you can
    It makes sense to use a standardised marketing approach wherever possible, for efficiency and cost. Identifying colours individually and in combination that communicate similarly by market, allows you to cluster countries together by colour response and deliver a standardised colour approach.

  2. Customise colour schemes where necessary
    Culture has a huge influence on how people react to web content. International brands must consider how people from different cultures interpret and respond to many variants such as layout, language, images and technology as well as colour in order to achieve the best response.

    McDonald’s for example, tackles this issue by having a separate website for each country, which includes separate colours, but for most clients running a different website by country is not practical. An alternative for clients using agile eCommerce platforms such as Demandware is to set up a number of colour themes tailored by country cluster.

  3. Ongoing A/B testing is crucial
    A/B testing is an easy way to identify the most successful colour scheme by geography. Once the best broad colour theme is established, ongoing minor colour amendments can continue to drive increased sales.

    So, in summary, colour is a powerful selling tool. When using colour in cross-border online retail, adapting to colour culture by geography should be part of the challenge for all international brands.
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