Various advances in logistics, shipping, and technology have made it easier and cheaper for businesses to enter international markets than ever before. Yet for all the technological breakthroughs available at their disposal, some barriers still loom large, namely, language and culture. This barrier could be solved through appropriate e-commerce localization; however, it is this barrier that companies misunderstand and therefore fail to scale well.
Substantial investments are made in product development, sourcing, and logistics, only for sales volumes to fall way below expectations. The problem is that though the products meet the needs of their end-users well and are of good quality, this fact is not communicated to the target market well enough.
In other words, the way the product(s) is being sold does not ‘resonate’ well with its intended audience. Clearly, it is not sustainable for a company to keep throwing opportunities away through miscommunication, especially when the product could have been the perfect fit for a given market.
What is ecommerce localization?
Ecommerce localization is the process of adapting content like product descriptions and advertisements from your primary market and adapting it to a new target market. It is often confused with translation, but translation is only a minor part of the localization process. Localization takes translation one step further by taking into account the cultural, linguistic, regulatory, and contextual differences across different markets to make the customers feel like the products and their content were originally designed for them.
Why is ecommerce localization important?
Because an estimated 52% of customers prefer executing transactions for products in their local language. It is also important to note that 75% of the world does not speak English. In addition, these various languages have their distinct cultural nuances, so a word-for-word translation rarely satisfies them.
As a matter of fact, direct word-for-word translations can end up backfiring in a spectacular way. For instance, KFC’s slogan Finger Lickin’ Good was awkwardly translated to Bite your Fingers Off.
Albeit highly entertaining, you can imagine that serious companies are not interested in becoming the poster child of a failed marketing campaign. Embracing e-commerce localization can be a critical strategy to connect successfully with foreign markets.
How is ecommerce localization done?
As localization is a significant investment, deep market research must be conducted to increase the odds that the investment pays off. Most of the time, it makes sense to always start with a top-performing market, a place where you already have a significant audience from which you can drive growth.
The process starts by analyzing a target market and assessing what is already selling well in that particular market. For example, if a merchant finds that among his wares, bags are the best-selling items, then prioritizing localizing product descriptions and advertisements for bags makes sense.
The localization team then takes the original content and adapts the language to the target market. In our example, if the merchant were also selling bags to the U.K., they would be careful to say ‘colour’ instead of ‘color.’ After all, although a language like English can be used by multiple countries, its usage still varies across cultures. Other examples of these variations include the use of the word ‘chips’ by an audience in London to mean ‘fries’ in the U.S.
Also, American consumers use imperial units (inches, pounds, etc.) to describe dimensions and weight. Compare this to the U.K. and the rest of Europe, which uses metric units such as kilograms and centimeters. After adaptation, the content is translated and proofread to check for grammatical and typographical errors. Finally, tests are conducted to determine if the content format, layout, and words are all working cohesively to deliver the intended message.
What are the challenges facing e commerce today?
E-commerce is a worthy investment, but it’s not without its challenges. There are 6 key challenges that you must be aware of: cultural differences, launch delays, design issues, management complexity, branding, and costs.
One of the biggest problems an online retailer faces is that communication and branding can clash with the target market’s cultural norms. Pepsi found this out the hard way when it launched in China. The English tagline Come alive in the Pepsi Generation became Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Dead.
To avoid such a faux pas, always invest in a consultant or consulting firm that understands the cultural norms of the target market. Do this well before translation even begins.
Another localization challenge is that it can impact product launch schedules (time to market). This is one of the main contributing factors in a company’s decision to forego investing in localization, as launch delays can mean potential profit losses.
This factor, however, should be balanced with the fact that essential content like product descriptions and SEO marketing content needs to be translated anyway.
Why not include a localization strategy in the mix? And again, bear in mind that loose or wrong translations decrease the local customers’ trust in the sellers, leading to stunted sales or even losses.
Design issues can be among the most irritating challenges of e commerce localization. To avoid localization mistakes, you may need to make some changes to your already established designs, which is time-consuming and potentially costly.
For instance, your English website showcases a shopping cart that worked as intended. However, once translated to German, the Add to Cart phrase no longer fits your well-designed button, and you’ll need to have it redesigned.
Granted, a single issue like this one won’t cost you much, but if it is recurring, then costs can quickly add up. To make matters worse, some languages also read from right to left, adding to the complexity of the localization task.
The more content you deal with, the more complex your content localization becomes. At some point, you may need to rely on content management systems (CMS). These systems can simplify said complexity at a cost.
The tool you select must fit your organization’s processes. It must be able to export files to a format that translation tools can use and merge the translated data back into the content.
It would be a considerable problem if you purchased or designed a CMS with compatibility problems. In this case, research is your best friend. Take your time and educate yourself before investing.
Localization must be conducted in such a way as to preserve brand identity, the brand’s original goals, and core messaging—it requires a defined content localization strategy.
A perfect balance must be struck so that a brand is still identified as a distinct international brand, but its approach to localizing makes it appear to the customers as if the products were made especially for them.
Relying on style guides and glossaries can be of paramount importance. It improves your messaging consistency and ensures you rely on the same tone across your entire platform.
Localization does stop at content, marketing, and branding. Buying is only one part of the customer process. Among the ecommerce issues you face, customer service is a vital part of your services. Clients will ask questions regarding items on sale, updates on shipping, and demand returns when items are sent wrong or damaged. This could mean an extra investment in localized customer support. An investment that most businesses are quick to balk at.
Customer service issues in ecommerce are not the only cost-driving problems, far from it. In fact, the vast amount of manual work required is a substantial issue.
Getting your product to the right region at the right time requires understanding local distributors and partners. However, linguistic and cultural differences tend to act as barriers and reduce your operational efficiency.
To facilitate your expansion efforts, it may be wise to deploy a small team in a concentrated region with the necessary cultural and linguistic expertise to create the proper processes to sustain your new operation for years to come.
Benefits of ecommerce localization.
There are several benefits to ecommerce localization. It can increase your visibility, reach, leads, sales, customer satisfaction, and engagement.
E-commerce stores saw an estimated 51% increase in lead generation rates. It means more placed calls, emails, and product inquiries, which may ultimately lead to a sale.
The data shows that ecommerce stores that localized their content saw an estimated 71% increase in sales for the targeted market. Not bad for direct, tangible benefits that come as a result of localization.
They also saw customer engagement rates increase by around 45%. This is important because customers who actively engage with a given company are easier prospects to up-sell to. These loyal clients are more likely to promote your business through word-of-mouth and place repeat orders.
Increased visibility and reach.
Ecommerce shops that implement localization strategies can build or start building an international search presence. Now, remember that some languages are spoken in multiple countries. For instance, French is used in France, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Algeria, etc. By localizing early, you may gain a first-mover advantage by reaching a new clientele way ahead of the competition.
Once captured, this new market may fuel your company and net you the needed resources to remain competitive in your home markets, thus increasing your market shares, both locally and internationally.
A global supply chain.
It does not apply to every company, but as you establish yourself in a new market, you will inevitably create new lucrative partnerships. These partnerships can provide you with new materials, content, or intellectual property that may become one of your core competencies in the long run.
Finally, companies that invested in localization saw an estimated 34% increase in customer satisfaction in the target market. This metric is one of the most important indicators of purchase intentions and customer loyalty. Any increase in these figures, much less a double-digit percentage growth, bodes well for a company’s bottom line.
In today’s increasingly global and relentlessly competitive markets, ecommerce localization is a valuable strategy that a platform should rely on to boost engagement, trust, and sales.
It takes a significant amount of investment in money, time, and people, but with the right approach and skillful management, the returns can be well worth the headaches.