Unlocking global markets gives even small businesses huge selling opportunities. Yet reaching those markets is easier said than done. 

Effective e-commerce language translation is the key. Because if you don’t speak to customers in the language they understand, making a sale is much more difficult. 

But it’s about more than language. Culture matters too. So does comprehensiveness. Your website. Your products. Your reviews. Everything needs to be translated if you’re to succeed. 

Let’s take a look at why translating your e-commerce website is so valuable and how to start doing it: 

 

The impact of language barriers in e-commerce 

The internet is global. Language and culture aren’t. If you only sell your products online in a single language, you limit your potential for sales and business growth. 

Modern consumers expect to be able to access online stores in their preferred language. This leads to huge bounce rates for e-commerce websites that don’t cater to linguistic preferences. 

This is frustrating when a business has the ideal product to sell internationally. They experience very gradual local growth when they could be seeing rapid expansion via an online store that reaches consumers worldwide. 

The difference is often the ability to overcome the very real language barriers in e-commerce. 

 

Understanding e-commerce language translation 

E-commerce language translation is all about making your website accessible to multiple audiences around the world. 

The goal is to make potential customers feel as “at home” as possible. They shouldn’t notice any difference between using your site and that of a local company. 

A mix of approaches might be used to accomplish this: 

  • Localisation adapts your content for specific audiences. 
  • Transcreation reimagines key aspects or messaging that would otherwise fall flat. 

Effective e-commerce localisation has proven to be highly effective at boosting business profit potential. But to do this, it often goes much further than translating web copy. 

Payment methods. Currencies. Colour usage. Imagery. E-commerce localisation can even include adapting things like site navigation and web design if required. 

 

The benefits of e-commerce language translation 

1) Reach new markets 

Translating your e-commerce site into other languages increases the number of potential customers you can reach by a significant margin. 

This can give you a serious advantage over competitors that don’t do this. 

2) Boost your conversion rate 

Converting browsers into buyers is critical when selling online. Alas, survey after survey shows that people are incredibly unwilling to buy from sites that aren’t in their native language. 

Consumers bounce quickly from online stores that aren’t localised for them. They stay and buy from stores that feel designed for them. 

3) Connect with your customers 

People are motivated to buy from brands they feel speak to them personally. Ignoring personalisation means you fail to connect with consumers who would otherwise buy from you. 

A fully localised e-commerce website helps you connect with your consumers, enhancing their shopping experience. 

4) Leverage multilingual SEO (to find more customers) 

Smart multilingual SEO optimises your e-commerce site for the actual search terms people use in specific regions. Done well, it helps you get found online by huge numbers of new clients. 

At minimum, this means good keyword research. People in different places search for the same thing in different ways. You can’t directly translate keywords that perform well in one language or region and expect them to perform in another. 

5) Grow your brand image 

Consumers have become used to international brands selling to them as smoothly as their domestic clients. If a brand’s efforts to go global are unsophisticated or half-hearted, the brand itself is damaged. 

Yet with a sophisticated, personalised approach to e-commerce localisation, brands boost their image as well as their bottom line. 

 

E-commerce translation success stories

Some brands have achieved great success through well-executed e-commerce language translation: 

1) Shopify 

Shopify helps other businesses sell. In 2021, the company launched Shopify Markets to help businesses sell globally. Around 175 000 companies have already used Markets to go international. 

Recently, Shopify added a new tool to Markets. “Translate & Adapt” leverages both human and Machine Translation (MT) to translate users’ websites in just a click or two. 

In fact, the tool makes it easy to do all the e-commerce translation essentials we’ll get to below. Things like changing local currencies, pricing, and payment methods. 

On average, business owners translating their content on Shopify Markets are seeing a 13% increase in sales volume and sell goods to 14 countries. 

2) Microsoft Translator 

Microsoft Translator is the tech giant’s answer to Google Translate. In late 2023, Microsoft added support for another 20 Indian languages to its cloud-based service. 

This is big news. India has the second-largest number of spoken languages in the world. By covering around 23 of the most-spoken – including Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, and Gujarati – Microsoft Translator reaches 95% of the population. 

For regions often chronically under-served by global brands, this is very welcome. Microsoft cites potential improvements in everything from governance to education that could affect 65 million people. 

It’s great for local businesses too. Being able to automatically translate their websites into 165 global languages can potentially help them reach new markets while retaining their language and identity. 

Best practices for implementing e-commerce language translation 

1) Double-down on your multilingual SEO 

Researching the most effective local equivalents of your domestic keywords is one thing. True multilingual SEO requires much more, including: 

  • Knowing the preferred local search engines 
  • Selecting a sitemap and URL structure incorporating all language versions 
  • Learning how Hreflang attributes denote geographic and language page versions 
  • Making sure any extensions you use work with multilingual sites 
  • Auditing your site so you know how it performs globally 

2) Understand that language is not culture 

Just because an audience speaks the same language does not mean they hail from the same culture. 

For example, you can’t expect one “Portuguese” version of your site to appeal equally to Portuguese speakers in Brazil and Portugal. 

The most obvious equivalent for English speakers would be how references to “fenders”, “sidewalks”, or the current “president” would make a UK audience feel. 

The biggest brands – McDonald’s is particularly good at this – will adapt their content (and even their products) to the preferences, norms, and habits of individual cultures within regions. 

3) Explore a culture to convert (as well as not offend) 

Many major brands have fallen afoul of their own culturally insensitive attempts to woo consumers in non-domestic markets. 

This could involve poor-quality or too-literal translations of slogans (these often require transcreation to be effective drivers of international sales). Picture HSBC’s “Do Nothing” campaign. 

But these are only the most obvious. Many brands fail internationally by demonstrating an obvious or subtle lack of cultural knowledge, sensitivity, or engagement, such as: 

  • Using scantily-clad models to sell products in parts of the Middle East. 
  • Showing local people using its products in a way they never would. 
  • Employing brand colours locally associated with death or even adultery. 

4) Support local currencies and payment preferences 

Millions of pounds of shopping is abandoned in online carts every year. 25% of shoppers will automatically abandon a purchase if they can’t make it in their domestic currency. 

It’s a trust issue. It means multilingual e-commerce sites must allow payments in the relevant local currency using payment methods local consumers are accustomed to. 

Local formatting is important too. Date and time, of course. But also local name formats. Uber’s Japanese market launch was an example of how this can go horribly wrong. 

5) Adapt but maintain your brand identity 

One of the biggest challenges when reaching out to new markets is adapting your e-commerce presence and brand to overcome cultural barriers without losing overall cohesiveness. 

If your branding makes you look like a totally different company in different parts of the world, something has probably gone wrong. 

It’s sometimes called a “global standardisation strategy”. For example, Nike’s adverts for India are recognisably “Nike”. But they use Indian models and focus on sports popular in the region. 

 

Overcoming challenges in e-commerce language translation

Poor translation costs companies money. But so does a failure to understand the nuances of a culture or the implications of what they are saying to consumers in a new market. 

There are also different approaches to translation. Localisation is key for e-commerce. However, many e-commerce stores have content more suited to translation or transcreation. 

The solution in all cases is to work with experienced language professionals or a Language Service Provider that uses specialist translators who are native to the region you are targeting. 

Only a native can understand what will offend someone from their culture – or what will be natural and appealing. Nothing beats local market knowledge. 

 

The future of e-commerce language translation 

Machine Translation is already used in e-commerce translation. As AI technology improves, it is likely to have a big impact on the field. 

Currently, Machine Translated content needs to be post-edited by a human if it is to be used for most purposes. Even now, there are possible exceptions though: 

  1. Large volumes of customer reviews – some have even commented that more direct translations of reviews makes them feel more “authentic”. 
  1. Emergency communications – about dangerous events or product recalls where rapidity and directness are important. 

Translation Memories are also used. These database-like tools automatically suggest translations for terms that have been agreed upon, reducing translation costs and increasing speed. 

TMs have already transformed e-commerce language translation consistency – particularly for stores with hundreds or thousands of product pages. They’re sure to continue to do so in future. 

 

Use the power of e-commerce translation to unlock markets 

Unlocking the ability to sell internationally lets businesses massively expand their customer base, reach new markets, and grow on a global scale. 

Doing this requires breaking down language and cultural barriers. It requires understanding the challenges involved and a desire to engage with the right approaches, knowledge, tools, and specialists. 

But start with some of the best practices for e-commerce language translation outlined above and you’ll be well on your way to a business that reaches its full potential. 

 

Ready to take your first step into selling worldwide? 

Let’s talk. Asian Absolute has already helped brands including Coca-Cola, HSBC, Volkswagen, and Ikea reach global audiences. How can we help yours? 

Reach out for a free, no-obligation quote or to speak with a specialist today.