The Key to International Ecommerce Success: Localization
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The Key to International Ecommerce Success: Localization | Guest post

‘The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.’ – Peter Drucker.


And what better way to let your customer know that you understand them than to truly speak their language?


In 2016, 7.4% of all retail sales were made via ecommerce sites, and for the foreseeable future, that figure is predicted to rise. To quantify it, ecommerce is expected to be as much as 15% of all retail spending globally by 2020, an increase of over $4 trillion. Equally significant, much of this will come from cross-border sales.


The United States is currently the top destination for online shoppers abroad, whilst the UK holds the highest percentage of online shoppers at 15.4% of all retail sales, closely followed by China (13.8%), Norway (11.5%), and Finland (10.8%). By 2020, nearly 1 billion consumers – almost half of all online shoppers, will purchase services and products from a company overseas. So what can your business do to connect with customers across the globe?


Speaking the Language of International Ecommerce


International ecommerce businesses intending to increase profits through international trade face a number of challenges when targeting foreign audiences, most crucially the complexity of translating websites and localizing content.


If you’re a U.K. shopper purchasing clothes from an American retailer, language won’t pose too much of a problem for you: Size charts are freely available and syntax is relatively similar. However, if you’re a Chinese consumer doing the same, language has been shown to play a much larger role in your purchasing decision. According to a recent Forrester report , 95% of Chinese online customers prefer to shop on websites where the language is crafted for them; in Europe, that number is a still-sizable 42%.


Clearly, the ability to present your product or service to an international audience in the appropriate native language must be at the center of your expansion strategy, and native languages must be treated with care. Failed international marketing campaigns are littered with tales of poor translations that get businesses noticed for all the wrong reasons.


Crafting Successful Native Language Content


Functional and cultural expectations must be taken into account when translating content for cross-border ecommerce, and expectations can be broken into two areas: culture and function. Function is simpler to recognize and change, as it is logical rather than tradition- or experience- based. A few examples include:

  • Date and time formats (05/13/17 versus 13/05/17)
  • Text direction and telephone number format (left to right vs right to left and (020)123-4567 vs +4420 1234 567)
  • Weights, measurements and currency (metric vs imperial, AUD vs JPY)


The cultural or traditional aspect of translation is harder to define, and typically where businesses run into mishaps. Simply translating words can lead to confusion or even offence, depending on the cultural connotations associated with it. Successful ecommerce localization means taking into consideration a number of different elements unique to a culture: Images, icons, humor, etc. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to be culturally-insensitive, which is why translation is not enough; localization must be used to ensure your message is clearly understood.


Speak Local, Sell Global


There is no doubt that opening your product to a global market can increase revenue opportunities, and expanding into new markets is the backbone of growing a business. As cross-border trading is set to grow for years to come, investing in localization will help you reach global markets, widen your customer base, and expand your business beyond geographic barriers. By planning your linguistic messages as part of your growth strategy now, you’ll be ready to stake your claim on international audiences.

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1 Comment
  • I’d say one of the keys to successful localization is the ecommerce context that you need when translating your website / offers. This is about, for example, marketplace categories or keywords used in search boxes. I recommend this expert interview that brings up many ecommerce localization and translations aspects that are less obvious for online sellers.

    March 8, 2018

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