Measuring Cultural Adaptation on the Web: an Exploratory Analysis of U.S. and Japanese Web Sites

Nitish Singh, California State University, Chico
Hisako Matsuo, Saint Louis University
[ to cite ]:
Nitish Singh and Hisako Matsuo (2003) ,"Measuring Cultural Adaptation on the Web: an Exploratory Analysis of U.S. and Japanese Web Sites", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 271-272.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 271-272

MEASURING CULTURAL ADAPTATION ON THE WEB: AN EXPLORATORY ANALYSIS OF U.S. AND JAPANESE WEB SITES

Nitish Singh, California State University, Chico

Hisako Matsuo, Saint Louis University

INTRODUCTION

Should companies build standardized web sites to effectively reach global audiences, or should they adapt their web sites so as to attract and keep global visitors? The academic literature offers few studies that have looked into the issue of web site standardization or localization (Fock, 2000; Ju-Pak, 1999; Sackmary and Scalia, 1999), and there is little research to support either emergence of global Internet culture, or a localized-specialized approach to communicating on the web. Thus, the aim of this research study is to provide a cultural framework to analyze the depiction of cultural values on the web, and use the proposed framework to measure the level of cultural adaptation reflected on U.S and Japanese web sites.

THE CULTURAL VALUE FRAMEWORK

To develop the cultural categories for web cultural analysis an extensive review of major cultural typologies in the business literature was done. Meanwhile, the literature pertaining to the use of these cultural typologies was reviewed to see how cultural value dimensions have been operationalized and empirically tested in subsequent studies. Based on consistency with literature, exhaustiveness of the cultural value categories, and analytical flexibility, four cultural value dimensions proposed by Hofstede (1980) were incorporated in the study. The next step was to develop cultural-coding categories for the four cultural dimensions of Hofstede (Individualism-Collectivism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Power Distance, and Masculinity-Feminity). To generate operational cultural value categories reflective of the web content, the first step was to develop a list of all major interactive or multimedia features commonly present on the web sites (clubs, newsletters, FAQ’s, Security policy, Privacy policy, hyperlinks, and others), and evaluate which features would be preferred more in which cultures. To help this conceptualization the work of Albers-Miller and Gelb (1996) was consulted, as they have empirically tested which of the 42 cultural values appeals by Pollay (1983) are reflective of each of the Hofstede’s four dimensions. Some examples of cultural categories to measure Uncertainty avoidance dimension on the web included, depiction of tradition theme, use of local terminology, customer testimonials, and toll free numbers. Similar conceptual categories were generated for collectivism, power distance, and masculinity dimensions proposed by Hofstede (1980). To test the reliability of the cultural categories, four doctoral students in a U.S. based business school were asked to assign a random list of category items under the cultural dimension they best represented. A total inter judge reliability of 85 percent was achieved. Furthermore, authors tested the internal consistency coefficients (Cronbach’s alpha), and the coefficients ranged around .40B.70 for the four main cultural dimensions. Secondly, correlations of cultural categories to their corresponding cultural dimension were also calculated.

METHODOLOGY

Content analysis was used to systematically analyze the cultural values, depicted on the web pages of U.S. and Japanese web sites. The degree of depiction of each cultural value category was evaluated as "Not Depicted" to "Prominently Depicted" on a five point likert scale. Two Doctoral students at an AACSB Accredited Business School in a mid-west U.S. university coded the U.S web sites, and two graduate Japanese Students, fluent in English and Japanese, coded the Japanese web sites. The inter-coder reliability for U.S. web sites was 82 percent and Japanese web sites was 81 percent. The sample for this study was generated from the list of top Forbes 500 U.S. and top Forbes 500 International companies featured at www.forbes.com. To control for the industry only Automotive and Retail company web sites were selected for analysis. In total 31 Automotive and Retail Company web sites were found for Japan and 34 company web sites were found for U.S. It was hypothesized that Japan being high on collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, and masculinity will depict similarly high cultural value orientation on the web sites, while U.S. web sites will score low on all the four dimensions.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

A simple one-way ANOVA was used to test the differences in depiction of cultural value appeals between U.S. and Japanese web sites. It was found that Japanese web sites significantly differed from U.S. web sites and more prominently depicted collectivism dimension (U.S.=2.4 vs. Japan=3.03, F (1df)=23.4, p<.000) and power distance (U.S.=2.46 vs. Japan=2.84, F (1df)=7.5, p<.008). But contrary to the hypotheses Japanese web sites were low on depiction of uncertainty dimension and Masculinity. A close look at the coding sheet on Uncertainty avoidance dimension revealed that in U.S. web sites customer service option, secure payment option, and toll free number option were standard features in all the web sites. This could be because certain features on the web have become a part of national "web culture" rather than an expression of cultural difference. Japan being a highly masculine society depicted very ow levels of masculinity oriented cultural categories. This forced us to closely study the literature and discuss the results with some Japanese students. Past studies in advertising have found that Japan is a very high context culture (Cho et al., 1999; Cutler and Javalgi, 1992; Hall and Hall, 1990; Mueller, 1987). In high context cultures advertising and communication emphasize more on emotions, soft sell approach (Mueller, 1987; 1992), use of indirect and harmony seeking appeals (Cho et al., 1999), and use of implicit meanings (Hall and Hall 1990). Thus it can be reasoned that Japan being a high context culture did not prominently depict cultural categories like hard sell approach, explicit comparisons, and use of superlatives used to operationalize masculinity.

The findings from this study confirm that web is not a culturally neutral medium. Instead, there are significant differences in depiction of local cultural values on the web. In conclusion, this research can be seen as a starting point for further enquiry into the issue of web site standardization versus localization.

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