You’ve just started an online business in America that is booming and want to expand to a European market. What would that involve? On the surface, it may seem that all you need to do is translate the text of your website and you’re good to go. Yes, translation is an essential step when branching out into international ecommerce, but you need to go a step beyond that.
Barriers to international ecommerce
To put things into perspective, let’s flip the scenario. Picture yourself as the online shopper. Let’s say you’re shopping online for shoes. You finally find the perfect pair of boots you’ve been searching for on a Spanish company’s website. You read the description: “100% pure leather, 5cm heel.” Hmm…5cm. What would that be in inches? “It doesn’t matter,” you decide. The heel in the picture looks about right, so you move on and click on the drop-down menu to select the size. 36, 37, 38, 39…? What are those in American sizes? The boots cost 59.99 €. You look up the current exchange rate and get your calculator out to figure out the cost in dollars. Finally, you think, “Forget it. This looks complicated.”
That is exactly what you don’t want to happen if you’re the owner of that company. Yes, the text was translated into the target language, but, culturally speaking, we run into some barriers here. Some elements were neglected: measurements, sizes, currency. This content is not easily understood by an international customer. This is where localization comes to the rescue.
What is localization?
While “translation” and “localization” are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, localization takes translation one step further. It tailors a product or ecommerce website to the target culture, ensuring that the content is easily understandable to the customer. Localization bridges cultural gaps with the goal of making a foreign website virtually indistinguishable from a local one. If executed correctly, this strategy should make a customer in Spain as comfortable shopping on your American-based company website as they would be shopping on a Spanish-based company website.
Localization for ecommerce is multifaceted and involves linguistic elements as well as visual ones. You not only have to take a look at the text of your website, but also consider how culturally appropriate it is in the target country.
Let’s start with the linguistic aspect, which is perhaps the most visible. Suppose you are marketing your American company in England. At first glance, you might think that there is no need to translate your website since the target language is still English and you would be partially correct. Yes, the language is the same, but cultural differences would call for slight variations in spelling and vocabulary. For example, in this case, localization might involve changing the spelling of “organization” to “organisation” and swapping the term “pants” for “trousers”. Yes, a Brit would still be able to understand American English, but these small changes would make the customer feel much more at home and more likely to buy your products.
Peeling back the layers of language even further, we come across the dilemma of idioms. The clever puns you included in the text of your website may not translate easily to other languages, so it is essential that you find a highly qualified translator who is well-acquainted with both the source and target languages, as well as the cultures. An American-raised translator who has lived 10 years in Madrid, for example, may be a good candidate if you’re looking to expand to Spain. Someone like this would understand the nuances of both languages and cultures sufficiently to identify equivalent idioms that don’t translate word-for-word.
Digging even deeper, you need to take into consideration the images and marketing strategies you use on our website. Since this layer is not linguistic, it would be totally invisible to someone who is strictly a translator, but the images and tactics you use also affect the extent to which your website is culturally appropriate. For instance, incorporating individualism as a theme in your slogan might be a hit in Western cultures but could be off-putting in more collectivist, Eastern cultures. Likewise, you need to ensure that the images you post on your ecommerce website are not offensive to the target culture.
Top international ecommerce companies
Among the top international ecommerce companies out there, we find Google, eBay, Amazon, Netflix and Facebook. Analyze how these international powerhouses have used localization, apply those same tactics and watch your business grow. Amazon is reported to have the highest revenue worldwide and it started as a small, online bookstore. Who’s to say your company can’t take off in the same way?