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The New Frontier: Using localization to fuel online growth

The collapse into administration of the Arcadia group in the UK has once again brought into sharp relief the need for retailers to embrace the new reality of digital shopfronts and to have an effective online retailing platform.

Arcadia’s Topshop, its leading brand, failed to keep pace with more agile online competitors and although the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated its fall from grace, retail experts have commented* that a lack of investment into its digital strategy led to an online presence that didn’t perform well enough to support the ailing high street business.

But that is only part of the story.

Many retailers have turned to international markets as a route to growth and as a means to mitigate exposure to one core market. Indeed, the ability to have an international online storefront can be immensely attractive as a low-cost route to new markets.

However, there are still some barriers to overcome.

For those looking to expend and build their business by entering international markets, the language barrier itself is a very real constraint. It’s now accepted as a simple truth for retailers that if customers ‘Can’t read’, they ‘Won’t buy’.

It’s all too common to think that English is sufficiently well understood that it’s not necessary to translate. Or that a simple, one dimensional approach to translation will work effectively. Or not to realise that purchasing mechanisms are as diverse and culturally embedded as language.

And while some retailers address target non-Anglophile audiences that possess a level of English proficiency, it’s highly unlikely to be their preferred way to engage with a brand. Indeed, whilst English may remain the ‘lingua franca’, the dramatic rise of online retail and the proliferation of competitive sites has meant that the propensity for buyers to engage with an English only brand, when other native-language offerings are becoming more freely available, is diminishing.

It’s clear then that building a successful online presence and driving revenue from international markets relies heavily on being able to speak your customer’s language. Not only does it provide a far better customer experience, it also defines how prospective customers find your brand online in the first place. And it plays a very significant part in converting visitors to customers.

The CSA Research report, drawing on data from 10 different markets where English was not the primary language, showed just how important language is to conversion rates

Of the 3,000 people surveyed, approximated half confirmed that they prefer to spend time on sites in their own language or even avoid English-language sites completely. That means some 50% of the target audience that is less likely to engage and much less likely to convert.

Looking at the wider customer journey, local language content plays a central role in turning visitors into customers – and customers into advocates. As brands work to engage consumers globally, the post-sale experience is just as important as the earlier steps in the journey.

To maximize revenue potential and growth, brands thus need to provide the right local language options for each market through each stage of the customer journey.

One of the most common questions is “Into how many languages should I localize my online content?”

Approximately 90% of the global market is made up of only 15 languages, the ‘Tier 1’ languages, as defined by CSA Research. Comparatively, the next 16 languages (Tier 2) only add a further 7%, and Tier 3 and 4 make up the remaining 3%. When pursuing global expansion, the first priority for businesses should be the current 90%. They continue to offer coverage, audience and strong potential for returns. However the Tier 2 languages offer solid expansion opportunities since they are less saturated and can deliver a strong return on investment for brands willing to invest in a localized experience

But, where to start?

The old “One size fits all” approach does not work effectively for online retailers and ecommerce vendors.

In a recent paper The New Frontier: Using localization to fuel online growth, we examine how brands can set themselves up for global success by implementing a localization model that caters to the needs of their target audiences and markets.

Using this model, removing barriers to purchase becomes a critical factor to increase conversion rates and drive growth beyond a single, or handful, of key markets. 

Here are a few takeaways that it’s worth considering when entering new international markets 

  • Are your global content plans aligned with your brand’s strategic plans
  • Determine the languages really needed and the impact that culture may have on behaviour
  • Include language in all customer experience plans and use analytics to validate
  • Maximize the benefits across languages
  • Low-quality translations will satisfy some buyers, but turn off others
  • Don’t focus simply on cost, instead look at and carefully evaluate the potential ROI

You can watch our webinar, Why appearing local is the key to success in global eCommerce, where Céline Rodrigues, Localization Manager at Kingfisher shares her views.

Other brands such as RS Components, Best Buy Canada and Under Armour have used targeted localization techniques to optimize the online customer journey and to expand their international business.

* Sources

“Their demise has been accelerated because of an online proposition that falls way behind that of their competitors. Years of underinvestment in the digital channel has severely restricted their ability to trade successfully through this hugely difficult period.”

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, speaking about Arcadia

If you’d like to discuss how an effective localization strategy can help you accelerate your international online business, or if you’d like to test SDL’s Machine Translation capability, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.

Mathan Sivaloganathan

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