Small BusinessCommerceOmnichannel

Is translating your website enough for your international customers? Find out

Are you considering international sales? If you want to sell well in other countries, the first step is to make a plan about how you’re going to communicate with your international customers.

That starts with their language — not just the words they speak, but the phrases they use, their expected brevity of content, and the level of formality that’s baked into the culture.

An international selling strategy will help you create and multiply your revenue in foreign markets by translating text, currency, and communication to the language that fits your foreign buyers. All the important front-end actions of an e-commerce sale happen on the storefront — that is, the website where the customer finds their product, adds it to the cart, and purchases it. This storefront holds a lot of power, which is why there’s such an emphasis on user experience enhancements and retargeting efforts.

Early on in your strategy, determine whether you’re going to use one single site and have the content translated depending on the visitor, or create a separate site for every region you intend to sell in, where you can customize the content depending on the language, currency, and other nuances of the country. This is where you distinguish between a localized or single-site ecommerce experience.

What is localization?

In layman’s terms, the localization of an ecommerce site is creating copies of an existing site and changing the experience to mirror the language and currency for a particular region. For example, you may say U.K., and China are two more regions you want to start selling your products. In a localized approach, you’d create two separate websites with a multi-site approach: one for U.K. and one for China. The content of each site will be built for that region only.

A localized process would take you more time, but it may be worth it for the long-term. It results in an increased familiarity and better user experience for the shoppers in that region. It’s as close to a domestic shopping experience as possible, while being created by a brand that lies outside of their border. Balancing international shopper needs while maintaining the brand identity and tone that was built for one region is a struggle many international brands face at the beginning. But the introduction of new tools, technologies, and cross-border consultants makes this much simpler as we thrive in the digital era.

So localize when…
  • You want specific marketing content to new regions. You want your marketing content and images to speak to your ideal consumer, so they don’t land on your site and think they’re in the wrong place.
  • You want to merchandise separately to that audience. For example, you only want to sell certain items in certain regions.
  • You see a lot of lost sales in foreign markets. If your cart abandonment or page abandonment rates are significantly lower in foreign markets, it may be about more than just the demand for your product type. It may be that they’re not comfortable or unsure of the language and experience your site offers.
What is single-site?

A single-site e-commerce approach allows you to have one standalone site, with software plugged into the front-end that translates all of the text on the page. It’s a quicker solution than localization, but depending on the technology you use for in-browser translation, it may not be understood well by your shoppers. There’s inconsistency between automatic translators, which can result in faulty translations, broken search functionality, and poor SEO. If you opt for a single-site approach, you’re trusting technology to understand the nuances of different languages.

A successful marketing strategy is highly dependent on using the right keywords at the right time within your on-site experience. Using a single-site approach limits the availability of a strategic keyword approach.

Use single-site when…
  • You need translation quickly. Many merchants start with a single-site approach and then move to localization once they have more robust research and insight into where their products will sell.
  • You’re uninterested in managing multiple sites, and you’re comfortable with translated product descriptions and checkout text. This approach may work if you’re marketing to regions that are similar to yours, like U.S., U.K., and Asia Pacific regions.
  • You’ll be selling the same merchandise to all international audiences, rather than specific goods for specific audiences.

Key operational considerations for cross-border.

Is your international audience in the same hemisphere? Many product catalogues are based off of seasons, and marketing campaigns follow suit. Brands want to market certain items when it’s appropriate, and offer sales when shoppers expect it — like on holidays such as Black Friday and Christmas.

If your target audience is in the same hemisphere — and therefore has aligned holiday times — a single-site approach may work. If not, your international shoppers may be confused by seeing a swimsuit advertisement in the dead of winter — meaning it’s time for a localized technique. Other considerations to factor in are:

  • What are your customer’s shipping expectations? Localized or not, you’ll likely want a warehouse in your cross-border country in order to expedite shipping to those regions. If not, then you’ll need to be very clear about shipping timelines and tax to your international customers, so they don’t get frustrated with unexpectedly long shipping and fulfillment times.
  • What are the taxes associated with your target regions?
  • What are the costs for shipping internationally to various regions, and are there tools that can help alleviate this from you or your team and not charge the end customer?
  • What will customer service look like for international customers?
  • Will you need country-specific customer service resources? Think through language barriers and time zones to help you make this decision.

In conclusion, the way you communicate with your customers may be the most important part of your journey to international expansion. While a localized approach takes more time, it has proven to be a beneficial approach for many brands.

Ready for more? Explore other critical topics, such as international shipping, selling in some of the world's largest markets like China and Germany, with a free download of the International Selling Guide.

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