Be an e-commerce pro: localisation for a global market

E-commerce is booming. While high street stores and local businesses across the world were reporting losses and shutting their doors through the pandemic, global retail e-commerce sales increased by 25.7% in 2020. These soaring figures for online shopping were fuelled by endless lockdowns, the (not always) cheap thrill of another Amazon package arriving at the front door, and the fact that even a visit to the local supermarket was a potentially life-threatening trip.

What we’re seeing, across the globe, is that e-commerce has become big business. Even countries which formerly had a much lower uptake of online shopping have begun to follow the trend. In 2021, it’s predicted that Argentina, Brazil, India and Russia – all late adopters of e-commerce – will post at least a 26% increase for online retail sales.

With these new markets opening up, there is an opportunity to reach new customers like never before. There could be a dozen countries you’d previously never even considered selling to, which might now be highly receptive to your products. But how do you reach those customers effectively, gain their trust and win their custom? E-commerce content management systems (CMS), such as Adobe Commerce, aim to help customers find what they’re looking for with ever-increasing ease and speed, to make the customer experience seamless. However, if none of your content is localised for your target markets, then your CMS will only take your business so far.

What is localisation, and why does it matter for e-commerce?

So firstly, what is localisation? It’s similar to translation, because it involves the transfer of content in one language to another language, or languages. However, full localisation involves targeting the specific regional or country variant of those languages, plus ensuring the translated material is culturally relevant and appropriate for specific, defined groups. For example, if you’re looking to expand your e-commerce business into the Chinese market, you’ll need to remember that there are seven different varieties of Chinese. What’s more, concepts that work with your domestic target market may not be attractive to Chinese consumers.  Proper localisation of your content, rather than just translation, is the answer.

Localisation is key to effective e-commerce, because it builds trust. Put simply, we fear the unknown: you’re more likely to buy something if it’s sold to you in a way that feels familiar, and culturally appropriate. The Harvard Business Review states that ‘there is an undeniably strong link between in-language content and a consumer’s likelihood of making a purchase’. This link is so strong, in fact, that a Common Sense Advisory survey found that 72.4% of people were more likely to purchase products from websites in their own language. The data in that survey was based on a previous Gallup study of language preferences in 23 EU countries, which discovered that ‘nine out of 10 Internet users said that, when given a choice of languages, they always visited a website in their own language’.

And that’s just Europe. Imagine how many potential customers are out there who won’t even consider your website because it’s – literally – not speaking their language. Globally for example, 51.8% of all internet users are in Asia, where English is very much not the lingua franca. This is where localisation comes in. Making your website look and feel like it was designed specifically for the people who use it will transform your customers’ experience. Identifying potential new markets is the first step to becoming a global e-commerce pro. A key question here is, which countries do you want to reach out to? Tracking customer traffic on your website will help you discover where your potential new customers are, and the kind of products they show most interest in. The next step is working out how to make your website and products fully accessible in multiple languages.

Translation vs. localisation- what’s the difference?

There’s often some confusion about the difference between translation and localisation. Translation is a great place to start when you’re looking to expand your e-commerce reach, but it’s not always enough.

Say, for example, that you’re looking to start selling your organic houseplant feed, hand-roasted coffee beans or inspirational quote prints in French-speaking Quebec, because your data shows that all the millennials over there are mad for that kind of thing. You might decide to have parts of your website translated into French – maybe the homepage and the product descriptions. So far so good.

But that doesn’t take into account the fact that what you actually need is content localised into Québécois French. The vocabulary will be different, because Québécois has its own particular idioms and slang, and many words used in mainland France mean something different in Quebec, or aren’t used at all. Quebecois French also has a much lower tolerance for Anglicisms than mainland French, especially in more formal writing.

Words like ‘parking’ and shopping’, which are frequently used by French speakers in France, might not go down so well with your potential Québécois customers. Localising your e-commerce content is a vital step up from simply translating it: by homing in on the specific language variant or dialect you need, and taking cultural differences into consideration, you’ll ensure that your customers feel like you’re truly speaking to them.

What should I localise?

Now that we’ve established why localisation matters so much for e-commerce, let’s consider what exactly needs localising on the average website. (click to expand)

Slogans are a key place to start. You might have a punchy, memorable strapline that really helps to drive your domestic sales. But will it land well with overseas e-commerce customers? KFC made an infamous mistake when they first entered the Chinese market back in the 1980s, by relying on a literal translation of their ubiquitous slogan, ‘finger lickin’ good’. Hungry Chinese-speaking fast-food seekers were understandably repelled by this strange foreign company telling them to ‘eat your fingers off’.  Not so ubiquitous after all, perhaps. Putting time and effort into sensitively localising your company slogan for your target markets could make all the difference – sometimes, first impressions really do matter.

Your homepage is your potential customer’s first point of contact with your business. If your website’s homepage is all Greek to them, they’ll likely click off it and straight onto a competitor’s language-specific site (unless they speak Greek, of course). Apart from reducing bounce rate, the other benefit of localising your homepage is that the content on it probably won’t change very often, so you won’t need to be constantly updating the localised versions. If your budget is tight and localising your entire website isn’t viable right now, you might even consider just translating your homepage and your slogan, to build initial trust with online shoppers.

To give overseas e-commerce shoppers a truly home-from-home experience on your website, you’ll need to localise your product descriptions. This is true even between the US and the UK; an online shopper in the UK is less likely to buy something described as a ‘pitcher’ than a ‘jug’. More importantly, UK shoppers won’t be searching the term ‘pitcher’, so unless the term ‘jug’ appears on your site, you’ll lose out on their custom. This of course applies across the world: globally, nearly 76% of internet users prefer to read product information in their native language. Localising product descriptions might seem like a lot of work, and you might not see an instant spike in new-market sales. However, long term, customers are more likely to return to your site as repeat customers if they know they can browse your products in their own language.

We can probably agree by now that localised content builds brand loyalty. But the colour of your e-content also speaks volumes. Certain colours mean very different things in different cultures. For example, in the UK and many other Western countries, green symbolises new life, health, nature and environmental awareness. However, in many South American cultures, green is a symbol of death. Similarly, purple symbolises unhappiness and sorrow in India, but wealth in Japan. For your colour-specific marketing campaign to create the desired effect on a global scale, careful localisation of font colours and DTP is paramount.

Enabling payments in the right currency on your check-out page will make a big difference in converting clicks to sales in foreign markets. This is especially worth remembering if you simply opt to translate your content without localisation. Going back to the Québécois example, if you request French translation of your e-commerce content, the translator may automatically put the prices in euros – when in fact you’ll need them in Canadian dollars. Similarly, your customer needs to understand the check-out page language. If they’re confused about delivery details or payment because they’re reading text in their non-native language on your e-commerce page, they’re more likely to cancel their purchase.

Localising your reviews is perhaps more important than you’d think. If your customers are seeking reassurance before purchasing a product, they’re far more likely to complete the sale if they can read reviews in their native language variant. As Jumpseller puts it, ‘there’s nothing more trustworthy and appealing for customers than reading a positive review of a product in their own language and cultural context’. Once you’ve built up a client base in your target market, you’ll be able to source reviews in your target languages directly, without the need for localisation.

Last but not least, your support pages need to be accessible to your customers. If you’ve localised your whole website, you’ll already have reduced the likelihood of customers finding fault with your products, because they’ll have been able to read accurate descriptions and reviews of the products in their own language. However, when problems do arise, making sure your customers can easily navigate your support pages in their own language will help bring them back to your site in future. In fact, a huge 75% of internet users are more likely to buy from your website again if aftersales care was offered to them in their native language.

Should I bother paying for localisation?

There’s no escaping the fact that professional localisation takes time and money. For example, if you have an extensive product catalogue with hundreds of items that change seasonally or annually, localising the descriptions for each product could become prohibitively expensive. You might consider machine translating product descriptions, as a free and quick option to make your e-commerce platform more globally accessible. Another option is machine translation with human post-edit, which cuts costs compared to full localisation, but will help speakers of other languages feel more at home on your website.

However, the one-size-fits-all approach of machine translation doesn’t have the cultural sensitivity and linguistic know-how of a native speaking translator. A linguist who lives in the country you want to start selling in, or who was born in that country, is best placed to understand local consumer needs and concerns. They may even be able to provide you with valuable suggestions for improving your content’s appeal.

How much does localisation cost?

As with any language-services project, costs for localisation can vary depending on the language service provider you use and depending on the type and quantity of content you want to localise. To get an accurate picture of how much localisation would cost for your e-commerce site, it’s always best to request a free quote from your chosen translation agency.

As a rough guide, at Sure Languages we charge between £0.10 and £0.14 per word for localisation, depending on the languages you require. However, we also offer DTP and InDesign, so you can opt for a more comprehensive localisation package if needed. We charge reduced rates whenever we work with charities, and projects often become cheaper once we’ve established how much content is repeated.

Feel free to contact us with all your e-commerce localisation questions!

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.