UPS has a flags problem (or not)

UPS is running a “New Logistics” advertising campaign supported by a web site that has been localized into three languages.

I visited the site (http://thenewlogistics.ups.com) and I couldn’t help but comment on the global gateway used in the footer.

Here is what I saw:

What’s wrong with this gateway?

The flags are being used to indicate language.

Flags and languages are like oil and water. It’s best not to combine them in user interfaces.

For instance, by combining the link for “Español” with the Mexican flag, you send the message that the web site is ONLY for Spanish speakers in Mexico. It is possible that UPS wanted to target only this audience (as opposed to Spanish speakers in Spain, Argentina, etc.), but I doubt this. And supposing this were the case, the global gateway should have been oriented strictly by country rather than language.

UPDATE: UPS confirmed (via comment) that this web site is only intended for these four markets, hence the use of flags. So I’m wrong in my assumption. But I’ll stick with my recommendation that it would be better instead to orient by country rather than language (to avoid the potential confusion). Thanks to UPS for clarifying!

For more thoughts on global gateway best practices, check out The Art of the Global Gateway.

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

5 thoughts on “UPS has a flags problem (or not)”

  1. I would say that this is particularly true as there are separate lines for UK and US English, with separate flags. Why be precise in one language, but not the other?

  2. Thank you for visiting The New Logistics web site and for your feedback. At UPS we are always interested in getting visitor feedback and interest.

    To reply to your post, the sites were developed to support advertising campaigns specific to the countries you see the flags for (US, UK, Mexico and China). Thus, content was incoporated into the sites based on its relevance to the respective country. Each site also has links that take you into UPS.com’s specific pages for the respective country that provides customized information, products, benefits and solutions for the country site (US, UK, Mexico, China) you are linking from.

    Based on this country-specific campaign strategy, if we hadn’t utilized the country flags it would have been misleading to visitors who were anticipating more general content versus country specific content.

    I hope this helps to answer your question and that you will visit ups.com to view specific pages for the countries we serve.

    Again, thank you for your time and interest.

    Sincerely,
    Paula Archuleta
    UPS International and Online Communications

  3. In this case (and I can assume, others like it), I agree with UPS. They seem to have carefully thought out how and why they were using flags, rather than using them out of ignorance. Since they are targeting those specific locales, it makes perfect sense to me. I know that, in general, you (John) do not like the use of flags, but if a company has thought out their strategy, I do not think flags are inherently bad, and, in this case, very clear.

  4. The user interface still does not make much sense.

    The links point to different localized pages for the US and the UK; the link titles should say exactly this (according to the flags): “US” and “UK”. Labeling both “English” would lead the user to think it’s just about slightly different spelling.

    A large portion of US citizens speaks Spanish as first language, hence would follow the link labeled “Spanish”. The interface would mislead these people to the pages aimed at Mexicans.

    The target regions should be used as link titles, not the (assumed) languages spoken there.

    A good global gateway should allow the user to choose her region and her preferred language independently.

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