First of all, let’s see which parts of the world feature the most users. Contrary to general belief, it is not North America! With close to 400 million users, Asia definitely takes the lead, followed by Europe with approximately 315 million users, in comparison to 232 million in North America (North America being defined as the U.S., Canada, and Mexico).
In my extensive experience with multilingual online applications, I have learned over the years to differentiate clearly the amount of users versus the market potentiality of a product or a service. For example, the Hispanic online market (between South and Central America, the U.S., the Caribbean and Spain) features slightly more users than the French-speaking market. But when it comes to buying power, countries like France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada (Quebec) have so much more buying power than Peru, Bolivia or Chile!
More than just buying power, we need to look at the cultural ramifications involved in internet behaviors. In other terms, is a specific market used to ordering & transacting online? For instance, compared to its amount of users, France is extremely active online, while French-speaking countries in Africa are proportionally inactive. The same applies when comparing Spain and some South American countries. If you were to compare the online buying habits between 100,000 users in Spain and the same number of users throughout South America, you would notice that people out of Spain order products and services at least 5 times more than their South American peers.
In many cases, it is not a matter of buying power, but rather mail order habits based on the country’s postal delivery system. In fact, in many countries where the postal system is unreliable (not to say flaky!), online users were not “groomed” with mail order habits prior to the internet. As a result, although such markets will look for products and services online, they certainly are not as mail order oriented as other countries featuring more efficient mailing systems.
Therefore, it is impossible to rely solely on the amount of users when considering establishing a multilingual presence online. Another good example to illustrate such fact would be China and Japan. China currently has almost 145 million users and it is one of the fastest growing markets on the internet. Japan, with 86 million users, has nearly reached its maximum potential with almost 70% of its population online. A very small proportion of online users in China own a credit card or even have the right to order what they want, while in Japan it is exactly the reverse.