Investigating one aspect of the potential of firms to market their offerings internationally, this research seeks to explore the impact of that familiar topic – culture – on online international marketing. More precisely, whether the technologies of the web (manifest in the graphical user interface (GUI)) are culturally neutral, allowing for transparent communication between different cultures.
Utilising the widely cited cultural dimensions of culture – “uncertainty avoidance” and “power distance” – comparative content analysis for a sample of web sites from two industry sectors (banking and education) across three countries (Germany, Greece, and the United Kingdom) was undertaken.
The results of the analysis revealed differences in aspects of GUI design between the three country web sites in line with associated cultural dimensions. It also revealed similarities between the three countries in GUI design in apparent contradiction of their associated cultural dimension. This early work suggests, therefore, that, whilst internet‐based technologies exist as a global medium in the sense of connecting individuals, those individuals may still be culturally bound. To truly escape the constraints of time and space, communicating effectively online across boundaries, some acknowledgement that culture does matter is necessary.
Further research, both in terms of the number of countries and industries, would be needed to confirm the generalisation that culture does indeed matter in terms of web site design (all be it in a qualified way) and, in addition, that the results were not unduly influenced by either the choice of countries or industries. Whilst other researchers should consider applying the methodology to other industries, such as sports, fashion, etc. in order to test further the results of this study, additional research should also look towards different methodologies. For example, analysing web sites utilising Hofstede's other dimensions, or even applying Trompenaars and Hampden‐Turner's dimensions seems desirable.
This paper shows that culture, at least partially, influences GUI design. The value in the suggested directions made in this paper lies in the possible creation of guidelines for the subsequent development of successful web sites. The work here adds to the limited body of work in this area against which future works may be contrasted.
Recognising the apparently obvious virtues of the internet and web in exchanging rich information with distant (international) markets, this work builds on the little work already undertaken in this direction and in doing so contributes to the wider debate in international marketing over standardisation versus adaptation. Specifically, this paper considers the influence of culture in an online context and researches the questions, “Does culture matter online?” and more specifically, “Are the multitude of graphical user‐interfaces of organisational web sites culturally neutral or are the graphical user‐interfaces culturally bound, intervening and influencing the ability to communicate across cultures?” The results are contrasted against predictions for the design of web sites derived from Hofstede's (1980, 2001) seminal works on the dimensions of culture.
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