Translation is a balancing act, and taking your ecommerce venture to other countries involves careful project management and commercial judgement. Your site needs to not only be translated but also localized to its target audience. Bad localization can lead to cultural faux pas and product launches going down like a lead balloon. (Read more about ecommerce localization here). All your marketing materials, value propositions, and web user experience decisions need to be carefully considered from a myriad of cultural perspectives, and everything you invest in needs to be backed by solid market data. Without robust technical systems and data, your global expansion risks falling victim to its own success, as you struggle to complete international orders and meet the demands of cross-border customer service. Here are some key things to consider when taking your ecommerce business from a local or national brand to a potentially global one.
Whether you work with an agency or a freelancer, translating your store should be one of your first priorities. The translation will quickly allow you to identify key industrial terms that you need to rank for, and help web designers and developers create page templates that work across all the different languages. From a web design perspective, there will be key design challenges when it comes to adapting to different languages — the main one being that each storefront works as intuitively and ‘naturally’ as possible. You will also need to ensure that your multilingual navigation doesn’t overwhelm or crowd the user.
You will need to be responsive and get involved in the translation project to ensure that the team and the project stay on target.
How to make localization work for you
You need to take into account not just the language of a country or region, but its culture and needs as well, so as to better adapt your product and message to that specific market.
A campaign or concept that seems commonplace in some cultures, will seem alien to others. A recent example is Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Bottle’ campaign, which had was adapted to better suit the Chinese market. Consider whether your marketing messages are actually as ‘universal’ as you think they are. Initial customer research will probably bring up some interesting insights: never ‘go live’ with a campaign before it’s been signed off by a pool of native speakers.
A talented translator will take into account the cultural resonations of your offering and offer alternatives to help your sales copy shine in the target language. Give them some room for creativity and freedom so that they can accurately convey your core marketing message.
You will also have to adapt imagery, as non-culturally accurate images will hurt sales and brand loyalty. Stock imagery can make your online store seem a little weak, so it’s a good idea to go for unique imagery that’s been shot with your brand and customers in mind.
Know your target markets well before launching your business there. Certain ecommerce markets are smaller, and you may be up against established local brands you haven’t previously considered to be your competitors. If your product isn’t new and protected by trademarks, you may struggle to gain a footing somewhere where a national brand already has a strong following.
Your initial market research should always include a big focus on competitor research. You may need to speak to local business consultants and research units in order to get an accurate feel for the market, though a lot of sales data is now readily available online and can be found at trade expos and conferences.
Technicalities of global online selling
Selling globally means setting up robust systems that allow for international payments and that can handle the complexities of sales tax, customs, and a global delivery network. In order to scale successfully, businesses need to adopt rigorous data analysis and feedback systems so that all parts of the moving ecommerce puzzle slot in seamlessly.
Start with the functionality of your actual online store. Big, global store builders like Shopify offer loads of international features up-front, with the ability to go deeper and customize further with apps. You could also go for a more custom ecommerce system built with a content management system like Drupal, but this can be a pricey option for the non-enterprise business. Your actual online store should be set up with global payments, have robust reporting functions, and be equipped to deal with global search engine optimization.
Your ecommerce logistics will have a big impact on operations and costs, so don’t neglect tackling your shipping and delivery early-on. Customers won’t be forgiving if you enter the market with subpar delivery options, and you will need to be competitive in order to compete with national and local brands. Taking a small hit on logistical costs may pay off in the long run.
Customer service operations are also a big consideration when going global. You need to have online chat services, phone lines, and email support in all the relevant countries and languages. Lacklustre customer service operations will stall brand growth.
In order to succeed as a global brand, combine creative and language elements with data-backed insights and a robust technical system that’s able to cope with change. Enter new markets cautiously, and don’t starve your operations by trying to do everything at once.
About the author
Victoria Greene: Brand Marketer & Writer
I have helped multiple ecommerce brands deal with the demands of the global marketplace. I know what it takes to succeed as a global brand — and talented translators play a big part in that.