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GUEST COMMENT Retailers: Don’t let language barriers block growth

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From the comforts of our own homes, we can order items from halfway across the world from businesses (and countries) we’ve never even heard of before – and have them turn up in a matter of days.

This level of globalisation and ease to market has opened up lucrative opportunities that retailers of old could never even have imagined before. But not every business is taking advantage.

The problem is that just because a business sells globally, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s catering to a global audience. Many are struggling to overcome simple language barriers, many more with complicated cultural ones.

And it’s proving to be seriously off-putting. In a survey of 1,000 UK shoppers, 61% stated that shopping on a foreign language website was a significant turn off, while 49% wouldn’t buy a product if the website wasn’t in English.

So not only are language barriers leading to poor communication, they’re also harming reputation and losing potential sales.

It pays to speak the lingo 

It’s not just future opportunities retailers are missing out on with language issues, but current ones too.

Even as far back as five years ago, one quarter of UK companies operating internationally were losing out on business opportunities because they didn’t have the right language skills.

More recent research shows similar findings. A 2020 retail survey found that almost half (40%) of global consumers won’t buy in other languages, while almost all (75%) of respondents want product information in their native language.

It makes good business sense to invest in breaking down language barriers, because it could actually be losing you money if you choose not to.

It’s understandable that consumers have anxiety about transacting in a foreign language. Retailers can’t seriously expect customers to buy a product if they can’t read or understand the description or even the returns policy.

Being able to shop in your native language is not only more comfortable for consumers, but also shows you’re willing and capable of catering to their needs – something that shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Of course many will speak English. But by speaking their language, retailers can enhance the chance of sale while building a reputation as a customer-first business – no matter where they’re located.

Turning up the volume 

The thought of adding different languages to its marketing tool belt, many of which its own employees might not even understand, may seem unreachable for some.

Often this decision comes down to budget, time and project management. But ask yourself, if you’re not willing to invest in your customers, then why do business at all?

Because for those seriously looking to expand internationally, there are tools and technology available that can create and build tailored experiences for their customers. Those that have ever used machine translation providers such as Google Translate will know how far the technology has come.

But it’s not just about simply translating languages. When entering new markets, spare a thought for what the customer journey looks like for those in other countries speaking different languages.

Plenty of businesses still don’t think about and create content that engages and resonates with local audiences. Not just in terms of translations, but by really understanding the specific nuances and cultural customs of a particular market. 

Effort taken to try and reduce this barrier speaks volumes. Language is clearly an important consideration in catering to global consumers. Only when spoken to in their mother tongue will they be instilled with the confidence to make a purchase.

Only with a translated and localised website will you truly be open for business.

Growing global

Understanding and trust: two crucial ingredients for ecommerce brands, both of which can be reached through catered languages.

Because no matter the size or location, staying connected with local customers allows them to be welcomed across the world and retailers to be embraced.

Taking Amazon as an example, its websites are not only automatically tailored to each country’s official language, but also list specific products and offers designed to connect directly and instantly to audiences.

Translation breaks language barriers, but localisation is the thing that will connect you to new, diverse consumers.

If you haven’t thought about it before, now is the time to start making plans for expansion. Because if you’re not, you can be sure your competitors are.


Augustin Prot, CEO and co-founder of Weglot 

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