Ecommerce Localisation: How to Crack a Trillion-Dollar Global Market
In a globalised economy, ecommerce sites have to compete with businesses from all over the world. To break through the clutter and attract buyers, the customer experience these sites offer needs to be exceptional. And that includes ecommerce localisation, i.e., making the site available in local languages.
Ecommerce localisation is a key factor in boosting sales. Research has found that when ecommerce sites offer a local experience, users are more likely to purchase from them. With global ecommerce sales reaching $4.92 trillion in 2021, meeting consumers’ demands has never been more important.
Keep reading to discover why and how ecommerce localisation can help your sales numbers soar.
In this post:
- What is localisation?
- Challenges of ecommerce localisation
- Ecommerce localisation: the China example
- Benefits of ecommerce localisation
- Supporting research for ecommerce localisation
- The Project Underwear study
- Can’t Read, Won’t Buy by CSA Research
- What ecommerce content can be localised?
- Ecommerce localisation best practices
- Final thoughts
What is ecommerce localisation?
Ecommerce localisation refers to the linguistic and cultural adaptation of an ecommerce website to appeal to customers in a specific region.
Localisation in the ecommerce context is especially important due to the global nature of online retail. With consumers in different regions speaking different languages and having varying cultural expectations, ecommerce businesses need to take steps to adapt their websites to local needs and preferences while ensuring that their brand message remains globally consistent.
Ecommerce localisation involves tasks like:
- Adapting website content
- Optimising for search engines in each location (multilingual SEO)
- Ensuring that visual designs appeal to local audiences
- Using local payment methods and currencies to facilitate purchases
- Managing local logistics
- Handling customer service issues in the local language
And much more. By localising your ecommerce site, you can ensure that your business is able to connect with customers in all regions and build a global brand presence. But what are some of the challenges that businesses face when trying to localise their ecommerce sites? Let’s take a look.
Challenges of ecommerce localisation
Ecommerce companies looking to localise their sites face a few challenges. The main ones are:
- Volumes: Especially in large ecommerce businesses that upload thousands of product listings every day, localising all of that content can be a daunting task. It’s just not feasible to translate and localise all that content.
- Cultural differences: Just like there’s a huge difference between the preferred website layout for users in the US and China—Asian users, for example, prefer cluttered, information-rich pages, while US users generally prefer a more streamlined look—what’s acceptable in one culture can be considered a no-no in another. The whole customer journey is culturally influenced, including how people research and buy products.
- Complicated legal landscape: Ecommerce localisation also involves making sure that all the legal mumbo-jumbo is taken care of. This includes ensuring that aspects like refund and return policies, as well as the site’s payment processing, comply with local laws.
- Design: For international ecommerce, redesigning the UI is usually the best practice. In other words, not only do ecommerce stores need to localise their content, but they also need to localise their design so that it feels natural to the target market and users feel comfortable with it.
However, redesign is not an easy task, as you have to take into account aspects such as how much space the translation will take. Texts written in Spanish are usually longer than their English versions, as Spanish is an analytical language while English is more synthetic when conveying meaning.
Ecommerce localisation: The China example
To illustrate how ecommerce localisation can benefit businesses, let’s take a look at the Chinese ecommerce market, which is now the world’s largest.
“Hai-tao” is a Chinese word for Chinese online shoppers who buy products from foreign ecommerce sites and have them shipped to China. The Hai-tao sub-market has grown extremely fast in the China ecommerce world. Big domestic online retailers, such as Alibaba, JD.com, Netease, Amazon.cn, have been making great efforts to win this group of consumers over.
Transportation, logistics, and payment are the major concerns for Hai-tao consumers. To capture them, a smooth online shopping experience is essential. Many ecommerce sites – even domestic players! – overlook the importance of localisation in China and lose out to their competitors.
Take luxury ecommerce retail as an example. Many Chinese consumers prefer to buy luxury items from overseas ecommerce sites because they trust the brands and the quality of the products. However, 53% of China’s high-net-worth individuals say they would prefer it if luxury ecommerce sites included Chinese cultural references in advertising. And yet, many luxury ecommerce sites don’t do this.
Benefits of ecommerce localisation
Just as the challenges of localising ecommerce are unquestionable, so too are the benefits. The main ones include:
- Increased revenue: Localising your ecommerce site makes your product accessible to the right audience in the right language, and at the right price. This increases the chances that buyers will make a purchase, driving up revenue.
- Improved customer experience: Language gaps can lead to misunderstandings and communication problems. Users spend an average of 5.59 seconds looking at a website’s written content. If they struggle with your content by first impression, they may buy elsewhere. By localising your ecommerce site, you make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for and complete a purchase.
- Greater brand awareness: Tailoring the site content and layout to local preferences also makes for a more enjoyable customer experience, with consequently increased loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing.
- Increased trust and credibility: Websites that are written in a foreign language can often appear untrustworthy to users. On the other hand, when ecommerce shoppers see a site that’s been localised for their country or region, they’re more likely to trust it.
Localising the complete end-to-end consumer journey, including website design, customer service, the checkout process, and CRM emails is crucial for e-ommerce success.
Implementing ecommerce localisation can be a challenge, but the benefits have a direct impact on the bottom line, boosting ecommerce sales and helping businesses meet their full potential in foreign markets.
Example of ecommerce localisation: Ebay
Take a look at the images below. The fist one is Ebay’s website in the United Kingdom. The second one is their German website.
Notice how the brand’s gone to great lengths to endow each website with a local feel. From using the correct currency and highlighting locally preferred products to formatting dates correctly, the user experience of both groups of shoppers is smooth and feels native.
Supporting research for ecommerce localisation
Let’s take a look at some of the research supporting the importance of ecommerce localisation.
Project Underwear by Nimdzi Insights
Research firm Nimdzi conducted a study of online buying behaviour and how language affects user choice. These are some of the most interesting findings:
- Global ecommerce revenue for 2019 was established at USD 3.6 trillion, which represents an annual growth of around 18%. In 2020, it is expected to pass the USD 4 trillion threshold.
- Traditional markets for localisation include English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese & Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and local variants thereof.
- Localising into the above mentioned languages will grant access to roughly 90% of worldwide online sales potential.
- Mobile is the new normal.
- Localisation matters, but in different ways to different people. For example, in Denmark, 92% of consumers don’t mind making online purchases from an English-only website, while in Taiwan, unlocalised content will only lead to 9% of engagements ending in a sale.
- In general, 9 out of 10 people ignore a product if it’s not available in their native language.
Can’t Read, Won’t Buy by CSA Research
Formerly Common Sense Advisory, CSA Research is a US-based market research firm specialising in language services and translation.
The company has released a report series called “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” that reviews ecommerce localisation. The third edition, released in 2020, found that:
- Companies risk losing 40% or more of the total addressable market if they do not localise their ecommerce sites.
- 65% of consumers prefer web content in their own language even if it’s low quality.
- 67% can tolerate a mix of languages (e.g., English and their own) on the same page.
- 66% use online machine translation to read content in a foreign language.
- 73% prefer products with user reviews in their language, even if the rest of the site or app is in a foreign language.
- 75% of consumers say they are more likely to buy a product from the same brand again if customer service is available in their language.
- 71% prefer to use search engines to solve problems, over social networks, recommendations, influencers, and product comparison websites.
What ecommerce content can be localised?
While there’s no single answer to this question, ecommerce localisation generally refers to the adaptation of a website’s content to reflect the preferences of local users. Ecommerce localisation can be applied to the most varied pieces of content:
While pictures can be worth a thousand words, well-crafted product descriptions can go a long way in convincing buyers to make a purchase.
When localising ecommerce product descriptions, it’s important to ensure that all of the essential details are conveyed, such as size, weight, material, and any other relevant information. Plus, it’s important to keep in mind that, many times, sizes are categorised by different units of measure from country to country.
For instance, while rackets are sized in inches in the United States, they are sized in centimeters in most other countries.
User interface text
Localising ecommerce user interface text is a great way to make the site feel more familiar and welcoming to local shoppers. Interface text includes things like buttons, labels, and prompts.
When translating this text, it’s important to be mindful of cultural differences in phrasing and tone, such us call-to-action buttons.
Is it okay to translate the English “Subscribe” button into “Suscríbete”, or should you choose a non-finite form such as “Suscribirse” instead? While these forms may sound pretty much the same, these are the types of subtleties that can make or break a conversion.
Localising pricing information is a great way to ensure that buyers are aware of the cost of goods in their local currency instead of having to do time-consuming mental conversions.
However, simply converting your prices into the local currency might not be enough: ideally, you want to take cultural differences into account. For instance, price fairness perceptions vary across cultures.
Once you know these cultural preferences and perceptions, you can choose between cosmetic pricing localisation, which involves a simple conversion from the original currency to the local currency, or structural pricing localisation, which entails adjusting the prices so that they more accurately reflect the cost of goods in the local currency.
Terms and conditions
Localising terms and conditions is one of the most important, but often overlooked, aspects of ecommerce localisation.
When translating these, it’s important to ensure that all legal jargon is properly adapted to the target market’s legal system. A bad translation on this front can lead to all sorts of problems down the road, from customers misunderstanding the terms and conditions and making unfair claims, to ecommerce stores inadvertently violating local laws.
Return and refund policies
When localising return and refund policies, it’s important to make sure you are aware of your target market regulations.
What’s customer service like in the target market? How long do customers usually have to return an item? Do they have to pay for shipping? What’s the process for returning an item? Is a receipt necessary? Do they get a refund? Answers to these questions will vary from country to country, so it’s important to make sure you have all the information you need before beginning the localisation process.
When it comes to customer support, some companies go for local, in-market agents, others outsource this service to call centres located in other countries, and others choose to hire bilingual staff instead.
Companies all over the world, from small businesses to widely known giant multinationals such as Visa or MasterCard choose to include chatbots in the customer service process in order to deal with regular demands and make communication more organised and easy to deal with.
Local, in-market agents can be more expensive, but you have the advantage of providing a more personalised experience. Outsourcing customer support can be cheaper, but it often results in a poorer quality of service and a lack of cultural background.
For instance, some mobile phone service providers that hire this kind of service often give customers poor advice as the call center personal might not be aware of the current electrical infrastructure situation or other issues that may arise in the target country.
Last but not least, while chatbots may be effective when dealing with frequent requests, the scripts they use must be carefully localised in order to be efficient and avoid user frustration.
Customer service preferences also vary depending on the industry you’re dealing with. In some company sectors it is common for customers to expect more anonymous communication channels such as email or chatbots, while others may prefer a high level of personalised service.
This is the case of Japan, for example, which is world-famous for its incredible customer service. This is attributed by sociologists to the fact that Japanese people usually have a great sense of humility and respect. You can read more on this matter here.
Images and videos
If you want users to have a truly local customer experience visuals have to be appropriately adapted as well. This means using images and videos that are culturally relevant and resonate with the target audience.
Additionally, using generic visuals puts you at risk of inadvertently offending some audiences as a result of cultural associations you might not be aware of. For that reason, many companies prefer to recreate their visual content from zero.
The user experience
Often, ecommerce stores make the mistake of thinking that one size fits all when in reality this is not the case. User experience, as well as the previously mentioned features, has to be localised. One way to provide a smooth user experience is, for instance, including local payment methods and shipping options that are more trustworthy for the target audience to make a purchase.
For that purpose, it is very important that you build partnerships with local third-party providers. In Argentina, for example, MercadoLibre is a very good option to include as a payment option during checkout. This company operates a network of local marketplaces throughout the Latin American region and has a very large user base.
If you want Google to list your website among the first pages, we suggest you localise the following SEO elements:
- The website’s title and meta-description
- The website’s URL
- Keywords and key phrases
- Internal and external links
- Body content
- Alt tags for images
And these are just a few aspects to consider, which is why a whole discipline exists around this: multilingual SEO. SEO is one of the main ecommerce marketing tactics, and it’s very important to get it right. However, your website is not the only way to get local traffic. You can also leverage social media by creating local content to reach your target market.
Social media posts
It is important that the content you share on social media is tailored to the specific platform and its users. For example, Twitter is a great platform to share short and concise content, while Facebook is more suited for longer posts with images.
Instagram? That’s a whole different story. Posts on this platform should be very visual and eye-catching. Moreover, If you have your ecommerce store localised, you have to make sure you’re sharing relevant and targeted content for each of your localised versions. This means creating different posts for each country, or even region, that you’re targeting.
Internal documentation is usually long and detailed, so having them in the target language will make it easier to understand. By doing so, companies can ensure that all employees are on the same page and can effectively carry out their duties.
However, in this regard, you have more flexible options as this content is not as visible as other kinds of websites or social media content. For that reason, many companies decide to go for machine translation. Then, they may consider if post-editing by a human translator is needed or not to make sure the translation is error-free.
Ecommerce localisation best practices
We know that the localisation of your ecommerce contentit can be a daunting task. So, here are some best practices you may want to implement to make your business get the most out of your possibilities:
Do your homework
Before starting to localise your ecommerce store or website, take some time to learn about the local market. What are the cultural differences? What are the local preferences? What is the local ecommerce landscape like?
When starting out, it’s best to start with a few key markets and really focus on delivering an excellent customer experience in those regions. You can then gradually expand your localisation efforts to new markets as you start seeing results.
Invest on SEO
Even if your ecommerce store is localised, it’s important to make sure it’s optimised for global search engines. After all, you want as many people as possible to be able to find your site.
Choose an ecommerce platform that meet local user needs
When it comes to ecommerce platforms, there are many to choose from. However, not all platforms are created equal. Some cater to a global audience while others are more regionally focused. It’s important to do your research and find the platform that best meets the needs of your local users.
Provide local-language support
If you want to offer excellent customer service, you need to provide support in the local language. This way, your customers will feel valued and appreciated, and they’re more likely to do business with you again in the future.
Keep brand consistency
CSA Research found that a strong, consistent brand can have a similarly positive effect on ecommerce sales as localisation. This means that major brands can usually get away with having a less localised ecommerce presence as long as their overall branding is on point and uniform across markets.
Let UGC do the talking
User-generated content (UGC) is a great way to show that your ecommerce store is relevant to a local market. UGC can come in the form of product reviews, social media posts, or even blog articles. If you can get locals to generate positive content about your brand, it will help to attract more consumers.
Make use of market-specific holidays
There are numerous holidays and special occasions that are specific to certain markets. For example, in China, the Double Seventh Festival is a major celebration, while in the United States, Black Friday is a major shopping event. Make sure to celebrate these holidays with relevant content and marketing campaigns to engage local consumers.
Use local payment and delivery methods
Offering locals the ability to pay in their preferred currency and using local delivery methods will make your ecommerce store more attractive to consumers. Partnerships with local payment providers and delivery services can help make this happen.
Partner with local-language linguists and ecommerce experts
If you want to ensure that your ecommerce store is properly localised, it’s a good idea to partner with linguists and ecommerce experts who are familiar with the target market. They can help you avoid common pitfalls and make sure that your store is ready for the local market. For Spanish-speaking markets, reach out to us!
Ecommerce localisation is a powerful tool that can help you boost your sales and reach new markets. By providing relevant and targeted content for each market, you can create a better customer experience and build trust with your audience.
Working with experts and taking the time to understand the local ecommerce landscape are key to success. So don’t wait any longer, start planning your ecommerce localisation strategy today!
Related article: 8 Things You Should Know About Mobile App Localisation
Author: Maria Scheibengraf
Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.