Many studies of global e-commerce have treated cultures as monolithic entities and resorted to evaluating websites against the five cultural dimensions proposed by Hofstede. In this study we rely on recent research, which suggests that websites should instead be decoded as cultural resources. By deconstructing culture and studying some constituting elements of Arab culture we propose to build best practices for content generation and visual design of e-commerce websites targeted at users in Arab countries. Our first study involved examining a sample of 50 Arabic language websites with emphasis on look and feel and language use and subsequently evaluating the cultural markers on these sites. We conclude that these sites do not predominantly reflect characteristics of a high context culture considered to be representative of Arab nationalities and are rather poor imitations of their Western counterparts. In this continuing research, we first investigate figurative language use in Arabic language websites. We created two textual corpora by crawling 3022 Arabic language e-commerce websites. We then annotated one corpus for figurative language use. Initial results from analyzing the annotated corpus and cross verification with the raw textual corpus confirm a rich source of ecommerce-related figurative language use contradicting our original hypothesis. Our further efforts are focused on first building a community of Arabic language researchers, who we believe will find both the raw and annotated corpus a useful source for linguistic research and subsequently promoting the construction of an effective ontological framework for B2C Arab e-commerce. Consistent with the multimodal research methodology that forms the basis of our study, we next considered the visual modes of expression in Arabic ecommerce websites. We first studied 530 randomly selected bilingual ecommerce websites for visual metaphor usage. Of 40% of the sites which had an Arabic version of visual metaphors, none appeared to have been localized to embrace Arabic culture. Our second study involved applying attention analysis, a method that predicts areas of interest to a user, on the sample of Arabic language websites from our original study. We concluded that site designs do not seem to have given significant importance to cultural cues from the perspective of visual salience. The third study involved eye-tracking a purposively built travel site with multiple tour packages on offer. The participants, who were students of Arab and other nationalities, were required to choose from two tour options that were displayed in symmetrically placed boxes on the webpage. Analyzing the resulting scan patterns of saccades and fixations provided insights into the interplay between language and design. Regardless of language or layout orientation both Arab and non-Arab participants seem to have the same expectations related to interaction flow, indicating a cognitive dissonance between textual orientation and visual design of Arabic language e-commerce websites. Given the significant growth of e-commerce in this region we expect the results of our multi-modal study to be of interest not only to linguistic researchers but also global businesses interested in doing business in this region. This research work was supported by NPRP 5-1393-6-044 from QNRF.


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