Bilinguals and the Web: Moderators of Language Effects in Web Site Navigation
Marketing Science Institute Working Paper No. 02-110
Posted: 10 Jun 2003
Date Written: August 2002
The Internet has become a medium used by consumers worldwide to make purchases and to search for information. One of the characteristics of the internet that make it a unique medium is its global reach. Individuals all over the world can access web sites regardless of where they are hosted. Despite the international reach of the internet, the majority of web sites are offered only in English. While this may have been appropriate in 1996 when eighty percent of web consumers' first language was English, only half of current web consumers speak English as their first language. By 2004, less than one-third of web consumers worldwide will speak English as their first language.
Although U.S. marketers have rushed to build web sites to attract and retain prospective local and international customers, little attention has been devoted to considering the impact of presenting web sites in a consumer's second language; i.e. English. Research on how consumers, particularly bilingual foreign consumers, react to second language marketing messages and web sites is still in its infancy. Little is known about whether current psycholinguistics and persuasion models are applicable to second language processing of web-based messages. Even less is known about the factors that influence bilingual consumers' attitudes toward those second language web sites and the products they feature.
In this paper, we use psycholinguistic theory to investigate how bilingual consumers process first and second language information presented on web sites. In particular, we assess the impact of first and second language web site processing on persuasion. We examine how language interacts with other site design factors to influence foreign bilingual visitors' attitudes toward a web site and the products it offers. Our focus regarding site design is a web site's congruity and its effect on persuasion. We conceptualize congruity in two ways: (1) the congruity between a site's graphics and its text, and (2) the congruity of the web site's content with the visitor's culture. Because language is central in our inquiry, we begin by describing some aspects of bilingual language processing.
Our first two studies examine graphic congruity as a moderator of language effects on the persuasion of bilingual visitors. The third study explores whether cultural congruity also moderates the influence of language on attitudinal measures. We theorize that both graphic and cultural congruity moderate the effect of language on web-based persuasion. In a practical sense, we address the following question: Can we build web sites that are persuasive even in our bilingual visitors' second, or weaker, language? The results of the three studies confirm that both types of congruity interact with language to influence site and/or product evaluations. One of the conclusions of our research is that if web sites include graphics that closely support the verbal content, web sites may not need to be translated to appeal to foreign visitors with a working knowledge of English.
Keywords: International, E-commerce, web sites, bilingual, consumers, marketing, language
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