Getting E-Commerce Localization Right

Hot on the heels of the Alibaba IPO, more e-commerce companies have either announced that they’re going public or have begun global expansion by acquiring foreign companies.

London-based luxury shoe retailer of Sex and the City fame Jimmy Choo will debut on the London Stock Exchange next month. Another luxury retailer, Nieman Marcus from Dallas, made clear its international ambitions by buying up Munich-based very recently. Rocket Internet AG, the venture capital group that has backed names such as Airbnb and  Birchbox, intends to raise $970 million in one of Europe’s most anticipated technology initial public offerings this year. Rocket is said to be eyeing hot online markets such as India, China, South East Asia, and Latin America.

Those are just a few examples of companies trying to take their businesses beyond borders in an industry that was meant to be global. So what are the e-commerce localization plans of these global hopefuls, and how can other online retailers learn from them?

While Nieman Marcus has the obvious upper-hand by opting for a local player, other e-commerce companies mentioned in this blog post – including Alibaba – have some way to go in providing a truly localized experience.

Take for instance, the Jimmy Choo website, which does not provide Chinese as one of the language options despite the brand’s double-digit growth rate in China. Of course, it’s possible Jimmy Choo will expand it’s language offering to include Chinese after the IPO. After all, language is key in opening up foreign markets.

The internet may abound with tips for e-commerce success or international business growth stories, but here we’ll focus on why e-commerce companies must localize.

Translation Is No Longer Optional

In truth, it never was, for truly global-minded businesses. In 2012, it took 12 or more languages to reach 80% of the world’s online population. Monolingual websites have been out of the race for some time now.

…Especially Not for E-Commerce Companies

As an e-commere company, the world really is your oyster. Your next customer could be from anywhere and might speak any language. That doesn’t mean that as an online retailer you need to speak all 7,000 human languages – just those that are spoken by your target audience in the largest international markets. Simply put, online shoppers will not buy what they can’t read.

The Market Is Extremely Competitive 

Never mind all those reports that you have read about the billion-dollar potential of the e-commerce market. In this hyper-competitive market, you will not make the cut unless you have a fully stocked arsenal. Language and localization may only be part of the success equation, but they’re a critical part.

Don’t Be Fooled by So-Called English Proficiency

Even people fluent in other dominant languages, like English, prefer to buy in their native languages. Call it the comfort factor – people prefer not to have to work too hard to get information that shapes their purchasing decision.

Invest in Translation Early on to Save Costs and Gain a Competitive Edge

For the e-commerce companies mentioned in this post and others that are just now setting foot on foreign soil, there couldn’t be a better time to decide which translation management system to adopt. By starting early and using the right provider, costly localization mistakes can be avoided. And don’t forget, first impressions do count – if the website visitor sees that you do not provide content in her language, there’s a very good chance she will not return. The best decision is always to translate website content to reach your different customers around the world.

No business in its right mind would ever staff its stores with people who don’t speak the local language. Why should online shopping be any different?