When most people think about translating their e-commerce website, they think about language.

But maximising your global e-commerce success actually comes through cultural customisation. 

In the digital age, understanding the culture of the consumers in your target market is vital if you want to sell to them. 

This is because, more than ever before, consumers in almost every global market have come to expect to be spoken to in a way that is precisely adapted to them. They expect online stores in their preferred currency – and that talk about products they want in the way they are used to. 

But, in this technological age, language and online culture are evolving. New forms of communication, internet slang, abbreviations, and more are spreading faster than they have before. All of this is set against a backdrop of continuing changes wrought by AI.  

To succeed in e-commerce in such an age requires an understanding of the issues and how they can inspire us to customise our platforms to meet consumer expectations: 


Making language human in a technological age 

The latest generation of Artificial Intelligence is likely to play a major role in shaping online communication in years to come. 

The problem with such technology as it currently stands from the point of view of global e-commerce is that using it can lead to generalisations, imprecision, and bias in the language we use. 

This can be seen, for instance, when AI machine learning systems are “trained” on poorly chosen data. The end results frequently display opinions that few brands would wish to be associated with. 

For e-commerce, when so much rests on making the buyer journey compelling, engaging, and free from obstacles, this kind of language can result in a huge hit to sales. 

However, as well as being a potential root of such problems, AI and related technologies can also be the solution when your goals include: 

1) Making the language you use more inclusive 

The linguistic choices we make are important. The words we use can suggest or promote bias and be exclusionary. Or they can promote equality and be inclusionary. 

In much of the world, our attitude to what positive language looks like is changing to incorporate goals such as: 

  • Gender neutrality 
  • Freedom from ethnic or racially-biased words or slurs 
  • Freedom from offensive idioms and references 

In e-commerce that targets a global market, this makes it vitally important that the language your site uses is inclusionary. 

When using general machine translation systems alone to localise your e-commerce store, there is a risk of exclusionary or offensive language slipping into your content unintentionally. 

If you were committed to using a machine-based solution, this can, of course, be ameliorated by skilled human post-editing and using a properly trained custom AI engine in the first place. 

When using a professional human translator for e-commerce localisation – usually a smart decision at least for the higher-profile pages – a potential use of an AI tool would be to highlight biased or exclusionary language in real-time in the same way we commonly use spell checkers. 

2) Making your language use more precise 

Every business sector and industry has its own unique vocabulary. This can be different in different parts of the world, requiring a double adaptation in e-commerce when localising products and services designed for such sectors. 

The best way to translate technical subjects has always been to use a human translator with qualifications or experience in the target industry. The same is true in e-commerce, where the precision of the language you use is so important if you want to encourage sales. 

Translators have long used specialist software to aid them in their work. Computer-Assisted Translation software and Translation Memories (essentially databases of agreed translations of specific terms) increase linguistic cohesiveness, clarity, and precision. 

These examples show that while new technologies do sometimes introduce new problems to the language we use, they also often provide solutions. The goal may be to make writing more human. Yet some of the solutions incorporate technology too.


Adapting to new types of communication in the digital age 

As well as the way we use language, language itself continues to evolve in new and interesting ways in the digital age. These new and changing linguistic forms have serious implications for e-commerce localisation. 

If you want your platform to remain relevant and engaging to your target audience, you may need to seriously consider incorporating any and all of the following: 

1) Visual and symbolic language 

Visual and symbolic language includes things like: 

  • Emojis and emoticons 
  • Infographics 
  • GIFs and other animations 

All of these elements – especially emojis – are playing a growing role in digital communication, particularly as it relates to e-commerce. Many studies have been done into the efficacy of emojis in, for example, email marketing open rates. 

Emojis and emoticons (where punctuation and letters are used to form emojis like a “:” and “)” becoming a smiley face “:)”) are already a standard part of communication around the world. 

Used correctly – and with a full understanding of where and when their use can or could be culturally appropriate and compelling – visual and symbolic language can be incredibly powerful in e-commerce. 

Like all such communications though, this rests on a deep understanding of your target culture. Otherwise, you risk misunderstanding, inappropriateness, making accidental implications, or being outright offensive. 

2) Acronyms and abbreviations 

Technology has long driven a desire for briefer ways to communicate ideas. The invention of writing eventually led to shorthand. Messages sent by telegraph were often charged per word, leading to interesting abbreviated language. 

In the digital age, the same has been true from the very advent of the SMS text and instant message, driven by limited space or because of a desire for speed. 

The classic “text speak” that brought us such cultural nuggets as “lol” (laugh out loud) and “omg” (oh my god) have proliferated almost worldwide and are omnipresent in some cultures.  

Yet these abbreviations and acronyms are by no means universal. Take, for example, the abbreviation “555” that is used in multiple parts of Asia: 

  • In Thailand, “555” is general text slang for “hahaha” (i.e. laughter). This is because “5” is “ha” in Thai. 
  • In Mandarin though, “5” is “wu”. This means “555” would usually refer to crying (i.e. the exact opposite). 

Again, cultural knowledge and context are key if you wish to successfully apply – where appropriate to your brand, products, or services – this kind of language in your e-commerce store. 

4) Internet slang 

It isn’t just abbreviations that the internet and related technologies are bringing to the vocabularies of languages and cultures around the world. Full-blown slang terms create an entirely new jargon that is growing every day. 

A catchy new song might “go viral”. A person mocking someone else might be referred to as “a troll”. Someone might have been less productive today because they were “doomscrolling” on social media. 

Terms like this that have taken the English-speaking world by storm are sometimes imported into other languages as loanwords. On other occasions, other languages (or, more often, people within a culture that use a certain language) have their own unique local version. 

In many other cases, certain cultures or languages might have terms that refer to cultural phenomena that are unique to that culture or region and not applicable elsewhere. 

Once more, cultural knowledge is key to appropriately wielding this sort of language to boost e-commerce success. 

5) Social media 

Much like older forms of communication like the text message or telegraph, newer formats like popular social media platforms have had a huge effect on the way we communicate both online and in the real world. 

For example, the platform formerly known as Twitter has set character limits that makes communicating ideas within a short space and structure very valuable. The same platform also popularised the “hashtag”. 

Social media is also responsible for the rapid global spread of some ideas. This includes the concepts (and the slang and jargon used to refer to them) being discussed here. 

Social media localisation deserves an article or three in its own right. But again, it’s important to note that different cultures not only have different expected and preferred ways of communicating via social media – they also have different preferred social media platforms. 

This is critical to understand for e-commerce promotion activities if you aren’t to waste your marketing spend. 

6) Predictive text and autocorrect 

Predictive text and autocorrect are features designed to speed up and correct the writing – often done on the move or with a non-ideal interface – required by some digital communication. 

This has implications for how language used in the digital space is evolving in terms of things like our word choice and writing habits. 

There are also implications for e-commerce platforms. Operators can find it beneficial to understand how these tools work and how they affect the structure of things like the terms used in onsite searches. 

Again, these issues are heavily culturally dependent. 


How to maximise global e-commerce success through cultural customisation 

To maximise success in global e-commerce, it’s important to customise with the culture of your target market in mind as well as the language. 

Yet, in this digital age, language is changing. The influence of new technologies like machine learning can represent challenges, yet they also offer potential solutions. 

Equally, digital technologies are generating new and expanded forms of communication including visual and symbol-based ones, new abbreviations and slang, and platforms that are sending the language we use and how we use it in new directions. 

Many of these are applied differently in different languages and cultures. The same abbreviation can even mean different things in different cultures. Yet, thanks to social media, linguistic innovations in one region can also spread rapidly throughout the global linguistic landscape. 

All of these can offer e-commerce platforms powerful new ways to reach their global audience. Yet, as always, deep knowledge of your target culture as well as the language they speak is vital if you want to maximise your e-commerce success. 


Need to be sure that your e-commerce localisation leverages the power of culture? 

Let’s talk. Asian Absolute works with some of the biggest retailers in the world, including Asda, and technology brands like Apple and Siemens. 

Reach out to us today to discuss your e-commerce translation strategy and get a free quote on powerful and effective localisation.