Deciding where to invest in Design Research as you grow internationally

world map with pins in North and South America and a hand with finger pointing at Europe

Design Research budgets are often under pressure. Working against the backdrop of a global pandemic hardly helps that situation and difficult choices must be made. For brands expanding internationally, they face additional and more complex choices.

Brands already have to decide when to do Design Research. More mature organisations know they should do it throughout the product design and development process. They understand the value of discovery research, generative research and evaluative research.

Less mature organisations are perhaps only utilising evaluative research. The choices they make can include whether to also invest in discovery and generative research. But they will also include when and how often to use evaluative research, particularly if budgets are tight.

The design research choices international brands need to make

International and global brands must not only decide when but also where geographically to do international design research. Many of the global brands we work with do this by having primary and secondary markets that they target. Primary markets will always be researched and for the more UX mature brands, at all stages from discovery through to evaluative. Secondary markets may not receive any research or might get a cut-down version if budget is tight.

For less mature brands, the international dilemma is far more complex. For example, a large number of the retailers we speak to that have entered new markets, to some extent, by reacting to demand. Over time they have noticed increasing numbers of orders being placed from different markets. Some then identify a partner such as Global-e to implement local currency and logistics options. The next step may be an international website.

Retailers may well have a lot of data about the buyer behaviour from different markets. This will come through web analytics and transaction data. One we met last year (in person, when we still could meet real people) had identified a conversion issue from the German market when comparing market conversion data. They were receiving orders from multiple, untargeted markets and so were reluctant to invest in research for just one.


How to decide

Most organisations will be aware of the fastest growing markets for GDP and may well have a strategy around the big five (US, China, Japan, UK, Germany). They may also follow the money and simply invest where they are receiving the most traffic or conversions. If they are unable to utilise either of these indicators then we suggest considering the following:

A rising tide lifts all boats

Let’s look at the example above about Germany. If you have a conversion issue caused by UX issues in a European market, the chances are it is either one of two things: lack of/poor localisation; or a global issue that happens to be acutely felt in a specific market.

Either way I would recommend conducting research in that market. UX Research will directly address both issues and will improve the conversion rate. It will almost always also provide recommendations that can be applied globally. This improves the conversion rate of the other markets and increases the return on investment of the research.

We are not all the same

I have attended research in over 15 European markets and the vast majority were very similar in terms of behaviour. But some markets are just very different and for these we recommend you do research in them. This is because other market rules won’t necessarily be a proxy for how those markets’ users behave. Here are a couple of examples:

  • China – Chinese users are really different in the way they behave, the channels they use and their expectations. There are also very different eCommerce configurations, such as the address fields in checkout are in reverse order to the West.
  • USA – perhaps not so obvious, but in my experience the US market needs to be specifically addressed. This is not just because it is so large, it is also due to the unique behaviour and expectations of users and the localisation issues. US consumers tend to have a very US centric view of the world so they don’t always spot poor localisation and adapt to it. For example, if garment sizes are not defaulted to US sizes, they may not notice. European buyers do tend to notice because they are more used to buying from US sites.

There are other markets with unique characteristics and it is worth doing some research before deciding. We can help of course if you need advice.

If you have a preference in multiple international markets and want to learn more about your customers get in touch on +44(0)800 024624 or email us at

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