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Some web sites have a country dropdownlist where USA and Canada are listed at the top of the list (as well in their normal positions). I read once that this was insulting to non US/Canada users. The reason they are at the top is to make it easier for the US users to pick their country instead of scrolling down.

Most shoppers in US based sites are from the US.

Do you consider this UI feature as being insensitive to non US/Canada users? Should it be stopped? Or is a non issue?

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@Robert: that might make sense if you have to pay an additional tax in Texas, but not in another state. –  peterchen Nov 4 '10 at 9:42
    
Wow, there are a lot of great 'takes' on this topic. But - in ecommerce situations - always TEST (A/B testing) your design choices in production to arrive at what's best for your site. –  Kevin M Aug 25 '11 at 17:24
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17 Answers 17

up vote 65 down vote accepted

Most times, with a bit of engineering, you can already determine the user's location through his IP or other means. So why not use that process and make its result the default choice? One action less for the user!

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And on mobile platforms, you can usually request the user's location using the browser's Geolocation API. –  Rahul Aug 28 '10 at 20:04
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Although this is nice for many users it is sometimes a problem for people living abroad, so it should be used with caution. –  Sruly Aug 28 '10 at 20:05
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Preselecting the country based on ip address is a good idea but I have never seen it used. I always have to choose the country. –  Tony_Henrich Aug 28 '10 at 23:31
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To me this is the best approach. Determine the country and allow the user to change it if needed. –  idophir Aug 29 '10 at 8:45
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Very nice idea. As long as it is only for the default, otherwise it will make a problem for people living abroad, or registering while visiting. And in combination with Sruly's answer it would be even better. Keep the most popular countries, or the countries that the website specifically targets on top, and preselect the one from where the user is visiting. –  Jimmy Stenke Aug 29 '10 at 14:04
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I think it is a good thing to add the most popular countries to the top of the list as long as you also put them in the right place in the list as well.

I hate scrolling to the bottom of a list to find that what I was looking for was at the top, have it in both places.

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+1 for both places –  Rahul Aug 28 '10 at 19:39
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How do you define "popular"? –  Bart Gijssens Nov 2 '11 at 13:04
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@BartGijssens, "popular" would be where most of your users are from –  CaffGeek Nov 3 '11 at 16:21
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@Chad: That's something you can only learn over time, plus that would be very dynamic. One year the USA might be your most "popular" country, the next year it may be Tuvalu. –  Bart Gijssens Nov 4 '11 at 6:53
    
@Bart Gijssens - true, however, deductions can be made, if my site is starting life focussing on one country with the intention to expand with growth for example, or if the products I sell are particularly popular in or directed at a country or countries –  ColinSharpe Mar 1 at 9:41
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The best proven solution:

Alphabetical dropdown list, with default selected country being the one that IP corresponds to.

In 98% of time the IP will get the right country and customer doesn't have to change anything. If not, the customer can use the dropdown list to locate his country.

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hooray for random statistics! –  msarchet Sep 17 '10 at 21:38
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This is denitetely the best of options. It prevents irritation with 98% of the users. +1 –  MatthijsM Aug 6 '12 at 7:38
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A small correction, it's 97% and not 98%. –  Gilles Jan 11 '13 at 16:11
    
@msarchet More like approx 99.8% for countries, but that drops quickly if you want something accurate to the city (down to as bad as 60% in some cases). Of course, this is only accuracy for IP to country mapping, and can be incorrect for other reasons (someone mentioned overseas travelers). –  Bob Feb 10 at 5:59
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I don't think "insensitivity" has anything to do with it.

If almost all your users are from the US, it makes sense to make everything as easy as possible for them. That's good practice.

Having said that, sometimes I've jumped straight to "U", didn't find the US and had to scroll back up. The important thing is that the user can still start typing the country they want and it'll still take them to the right place.

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I have to agree there might be some "insensitivity" to it in the sense that there are probably US-based designers who just don't even consider the possibility that a non-US-based customer may want to order something from their site. I've come across plenty of sites where it just wasn't possible to order something at all because the postcode form didn't validate my non-US postcode. It's insensitivity in the sense that that's what the word means, not necessarily how most people interpret the meaning of the word. ;) –  Rahul Aug 30 '10 at 16:06
    
Agreed, I put WI at the top of the user logon for my website because most of our users and all of our staff is from Wisconsin, no one has ever complained - although I admit I did it out of spite. –  Peter Turner Sep 17 '10 at 13:42
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@Rahul - it isn't always insensitivity - there are plenty of companies that cannot or do not want to ship outside of the US, so why would they make it so you can try and order from them without a valid US zip code? –  Charles Boyung Sep 21 '10 at 19:22
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If you're not going to accommodate people outside of the US, why have a country select box in the first place? –  cHao Sep 3 '11 at 15:43
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I wrote about this a while back: http://www.nexustechnologiesllc.com/blog/fixing-registration-forms-country-selection/

Here's the "solution" part:

First of all, the right way to handle country selection is often to not have it at all. You need to ask yourself – “what do I need country for?” The same thing holds true for all address fields actually. If your site is not an ecommerce site, or does not ship things to users in any way, you probably don’t need their address and definitely don’t need their country. Also, if you are setting up an ecommerce site, but the site will only ship to users in a single country, again there is no need to have users enter their country. There are countless websites out there (unfortunately, even some that I have worked on) that ask for your full address for no user-centered reason whatsoever. They want that data to market to you or any other number of bogus reasons. I really wonder how many of these sites realize how many potential users they are driving away by requiring lots of data on registration that really isn’t necessary.

If it turns out that you do need country entered by your users, then here is the way that I recommend you do it:

  • Use a dropdown box with all countries, listed alphabetically.
  • When loading the dropdown box for a new registration, have the primary country for your website as the selected option.
  • Do not include a placeholder “select country” option. There is no need because everyone will have a country, and you are already using your primary country as the selection by default.
  • If a user is editing their information later, be sure to have their currently chosen country selected. I can’t count the number of times where I’ve seen this little tidbit forgotten about when reloading a form with existing data (not just countries, but any dropdown).

If you only support a limited subset of countries (e.g. you can only ship to countries in North America), then here are the changes to above that I would recommend:

  • In your dropdown, include all countries that you need to support.
  • Add an “Other” option.
    • When this option is selected:
      • Include messaging to explain that you do not currently support shipping to countries outside what is currently listed.
      • Include a textbox to let them enter their country. This can provide you with valuable information as to where you want to expand next.
    • Do not prevent the user from registering, unless the only reason for registration is to purchase something. And if this is the case, then I recommend you have country selection as the very first step in the registration process, maybe even on a separate screen. This way, you can save the user some time, and they will be happy(ish) that they didn’t spend a lot of time filling out a registration form only to learn that there was no point in doing so.

Another option I have been considering is something of a combination of the above:

  • Use a dropdown, but only include a primary subset of countries.
  • Include the “Other” option.
    • Again, make sure that a textbox appears if the user chooses “Other”, so he can enter his country directly.
  • Make sure that any countries you have in the dropdown box also have custom address forms set up, so you can collect the user’s address information in the manner that makes the most sense for their country.

I have not actively used this solution on a site yet, so I cannot speak to the usefulness. However, if 90% of your traffic is going to come from a small group of countries, then this could prove to be very user friendly. Be sure to only use this, however, if you really don’t need equal support for all countries, and you want to improve the user experience for your primary supported countries.

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+1 - Fantastic answer! –  Rahul Aug 30 '10 at 16:08
    
Great answer, but I strongly disagree that not having the choice of country is ever a good idea. Delta Airlines charges for tickets in foreign currency when they originate from abroad (then the bank charges a hefty XR fee on top of a bad rate). Drives me crazy. World is often less predictable than you think. –  dbkk Sep 27 '10 at 18:28
    
@dbkk - there are plenty of times when not having the choice of country is a good idea. Why have country when you ONLY sell to a particular country? Absolutely no reason to collect that information when it isn't needed. –  Charles Boyung Sep 28 '10 at 13:20
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It's an example of optimising the UI for frequent use. As long as you do it sparingly, for instance only for primarily US-based sites and only once metrics suggest it would be useful. This would also mean that other countries could be located at the top of the list if use warrants it. For instance:

US
UK
Canada
Spain
---------
...[alphabetised list of countries]...
...
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Do you have an example? I have never seen this used. This seems to be giving private information to the public without being asked. Sites usually don't this. –  Tony_Henrich Aug 28 '10 at 23:42
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Can't think of a specific example sorry. Perhaps someone else knows one? As for private info made public - how? That's not at all what I'm suggesting. –  Rahul Aug 29 '10 at 10:59
    
+1 good solution with the divider between common used and sorted items in a list. –  igor Aug 29 '10 at 11:52
    
The problem is that it brokes jump-by-pressing-letter at least on some browsers and hence making search for county harder. –  Maciej Piechotka Sep 21 '10 at 18:27
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I come from europa (denmark) and actually find it somewhat insulting when sites are hardcoded for the US. It makes me worried that if I buy something then because I'm not a US citizen then I'm in for trouble.

Instead maybe use two dropdowns: continent, country.

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I'd have to disagree with the two dropdowns suggestions. It does nothing to relieve the irritation (the defaults might still be North America), but does impose a second additional and unnecessary user action. One organised (not concerning HOW it's organised) dropdown is way more effective –  Max Steenbergen Aug 28 '10 at 19:46
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Or use optgroups! –  Rahul Aug 28 '10 at 19:46
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What do you mean hard coded for US? Like it accepts American dollars only? That's another issue. Two drop downs is not necessary. –  Tony_Henrich Aug 28 '10 at 23:37
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Here is an example of hardcoding: forms that have a State textfield and complains if it's not filled out. In my country we don't have states, but I have to choose a state anyways. Whenever I encounter such site I feel that living outside the US is a kludgy special case. If it's just a dropdown then it's ok'ish, but when combined with US hardcoding then it's somewhat bad. –  neoneye Aug 29 '10 at 7:40
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@neoneye - a well-designed site will automatically adjust for a non-US country if it is selected, ie, it will hide the states dropdown (or repopulate it) as necessary. for a lot of US-based ecommerce sites, a very very high percentage of their users are from the US. if you had a denmark-based ecommerce site, i would expect it to be optimized for citizens of denmark. it just makes more sense to cater toward the majority of your audience, but still make your site usable and accessible to those outside that demographic. making them scroll a list to pick their country is hardly unusable. –  Jason Sep 16 '10 at 20:07
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Another dimension is to consider what-we-might-already-know about the user. Obviously, if the visitor is a random/drive-by we know next to nothing. If however, the user has an account object registered with the site we presumably know much more. If we know the user well enough to have an address on file, then the country to default to should be obvious, no?

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+1 using of user's profile is a good solution! –  igor Aug 29 '10 at 11:58
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Context is everything:

  • don't assume all your customers are from the US - that's the insulting bit - provide information about overseas shipping etc
  • single drop down with optimised select list applies not only to countries but anything users are choosing from - make it easy
  • the other approach would be to pre-select the most likely country and let the user change it if necessary
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This question is very specific to the dropdownlist. It's not about ignoring non US users in the rest of the site. "most likely ucountry" based on what? You either use the ip address or do not select anything. –  Tony_Henrich Aug 28 '10 at 23:39
    
IP detection might work in most cases but its not 100% accurate. When I said "most likely" I meant in the context of what you know about yur users, such as historical evidence from acutal orders placed etc. The same evidence-based approach can be applied to other elements where there is no equivalent to "IP detection", most popular size, colour, shipping option etc... –  Nathan-W Aug 29 '10 at 0:03
    
I don't understand "historical evidence". At Amazon.com for example, after the first order, I never get prompted for anything anymore. Not even a log on screen. It knows everything about me. That's very good. –  Tony_Henrich Aug 29 '10 at 17:45
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If you want more than just country

... and want to be innovative, you can consider that many desktop browsers now support the W3C standard Geolocation API which prompts the user for their location (such as Firefox 3.5 onwards, Chrome, Opera, Safari (at some point).

So the same logic you'd use for phones desktops can now get for free. But it depends on your app.

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Instead of putting it on the top of the list, only default values when there is a significantly popular choice : 75%+. Then there is no hint of being superior/more important to others due to your position on a list that is otherwise alphabetical.

Ideally, you would know the regional settings of their computer. Home address may not correspond to current IP Address.

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Does it need to be a drop down at all? I would sugest using the IP location to set a default country but if the user wants to change it you could use auto suggest text field which could work off country codes and country names.

In this article Jacob discusses lists of states how they should be used; http://www.useit.com/alertbox/alpha-sorting.html.

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Ok, this reply is probably to late, but we had the same issue on an ecommerce site here. The company was not us-based, but most of the customers where from the us. at first we had the country list in alphabetic order, however this was a huge problem FOR US CUSTOMERS, because at least half of them just left it at the default setting "Afghanistan" - of course we could still tell they from the us because of the phone number, or state but it was a hassle to update the records each time this happened.

That is why we decided to make US the first choice. All the customers from other countries had a far better understanding of geography...

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The afghan problem came from you. Why did you choose Afghanistan as default country choice ? When you do so, then don't be surprised if you get a lot of Afghanistan “choices”. –  Nicolas Barbulesco Feb 10 '13 at 21:33
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I would sort the list alphabetically. You can check the "Accept-Language" HTTP-header that the browser sends to the server to determine the culture of the user.

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I really despise software and web sites that confuses language with region. Either they think I live in England (?) because my language is set to English (thus forcing me to switch to Swedish to get the correct region and possibly date and number formats for Sweden) or starts speaking Swedish to me because my region is set to Sweden even though my language is set to English. The latter is done by a lot of Windows applications lately like Chrome and uTorrent. W3C also recommends against using Accept-Language alone for determining region. –  Oskar Duveborn Sep 21 '10 at 23:07
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You mean I live in "Norsk Bokmål", all the time I didn't know! I thought I lived in Norway... ;P –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 30 '11 at 14:25
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I'd say - always sort alphabetically with optional preselecting. Many browsers can jump to correct letter if list is sorted alphabetically by pressing single key. For example pressing 'U' would jump to first country starting by 'U'. Some browsers even allows to type whole name - pressing 'f' 'r' 'a' 'n' 'c' 'e' would jumpt to France.

Any features like adding '----' or extra countries on top of list brokes this feature and usually browsers are not smart enough to deal with it.

PS. Of course you can preselect options and check via geo-ip/http headers/... where the customer is from.

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I don't find it insulting at all. It's just a statement of how many online users live there. I do find it irritating when I'm forced to select a "State" and there is no 'N/A' choice for me.

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...and then you get a shipment addressed something to "<name> Oslo Oslo Arizona Norway" ;) –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 30 '11 at 14:23
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Do not ask for information that you already know or could find by other means.

Default country and language settings can be set from ip location.

It would be nice though, if the user can change these automatic set settings.

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Not only would it be nice. I would hate it if I could not change these "best-guess" presets. –  jensgram Mar 16 '11 at 11:33
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