Here are common mistakes companies make when localizing their e-commerce businesses, and what you can do to get it right every time.
Creating an international e-commerce website has never been easier. Growing a large, loyal customer base in multiple locations around the globe, however, is a huge challenge.
To help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls, we’ve put together 20 of the most common mistakes e-commerce businesses make when localizing for international markets.
1. Expanding Text
The fact that translated text rarely occupies the same amount of space as the original text is one reason why language and localization need to be considered from the early stages of an e-commerce site’s design.
For example, one of the most familiar phrases found on any e-commerce sites is ‘Buy Now’. Translate this into French and you get ‘Acheter Maintenant’– more than double the length of the original.
2. Odd Idioms
If a brand or a product relies on a casual use of language to create a youthful or friendly feel, simple-word-for-word translation can produce strange results—such as KFC’s ‘finger lickin’ good!’ becoming ‘eat your fingers off!’ in Chinese
Instead, it is important to recreate the intended tone of the expression, rather than the exact words.
3. Missing Characters
The Unicode standard provides a unique code for every character, no matter what platform, device, application, or language. If your e-commerce site is not enabled to support Unicode, it may not display correctly certain symbols and letters in alphabets with non-ASCII characters, such as Japanese.
4. Lost Languages
Customers speaking European Spanish, for example, use a very different variant of the language to Spanish speakers in Mexico or Argentina. Cultural differences between the countries can also be as great as those between countries speaking different languages.
Localization, therefore, should not just be targeted towards a particular language, but to geographical areas too.
5. Out-of-Place Placenames
Although ‘England’ is ‘England’ in Danish, it is ‘Angleterre’ in French, and has countless different translations in other languages. Even so, country names are often treated like people’s names in translations and left unaltered. As well as being a linguistical error, this can appear quite insulting to locals, who may see it as indicative of the brand as a whole.
6. Skewed Script
Not all the world’s population read their online content from left to right, top to bottom. Arabic and Hebrew, for example, is read from right to left. Many East-Asian languages, such as Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, have a long history of vertical writing, though Japanese is the only language where vertical writing is still widely used.
It is important, therefore, that your e-commerce platform can support these different text orientations.
7. Confusing Units
Being able to make a purchase in their own currency is a fundamental requirement for most online shoppers. At the very least, conversion rates should be provided.
Similarly, dimensions and dates should be displayed and formatted using the conventions of the local customer.
8. Unhelpful Support
Online customer support documentation is a great way to expedite the customer journey towards a purchase. It also reduces the number of email and telephone enquiries staff have to process.
It is crucial, therefore, that customers can access this knowledge base—including customer reviews and forums—in their native language.
9. Incorrect Images
Although the use of images in place of text on an e-commerce site can simplify international customers’ understanding, that is not always the case.
An image containing text—showing food labels, books, or magazines, for example—should be recreated using localized text. Images showing culturally incongruous scenes—vehicles driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, for example—should also be changed.
10. Bad Branding
Maintaining brand integrity throughout a global e-commerce business requires everything from the company’s name to the way staff answer the telephone to be clear and consistent.
Maintaining the company’s ethos in different countries will sometimes involve localizing the brand’s attitude, rather than sticking rigidly to the original brand message.
11. Lost Keywords
Translating keywords verbatim from one language to another ignores the fact that search behavior differs between countries. Localized SEO keywords should be developed from first principles with local search habits in mind, and that requires a native insight into what drives local shoppers.
12. Unsuitable URLs
URLs featuring words in a foreign language can be very off-putting for an online shopper. This is particularly important if the URL incorporates a company name with a literal meaning, such as ‘WeSellHats.com’.
URLs can be further localized by adopting a country-specific domain extension (such as ‘.in’ for the Indian market, for example).
13. Irrelevant Content
Additional online content, such as website blogs and social media posts, is an essential component of any business’s online presence. Unfortunately, this kind of content is often published in the business’s corporate language, ignoring the fact that it will be inaccessible to customers in other markets.
To build brand recognition and customer momentum in each market, a business should create relevant, localized content in partnership with local bloggers and influencers. One way to keep your content relevant is by using AI.
14. Careless Communications
Operating across different cultures and lifestyles, e-commerce retailers need to be careful not to accidentally cause offence, for example when using images and symbols that carry different cross-cultural meanings.
Ill-judged marketing campaigns can also be a source of embarrassment, such as when Fiat sent thousands of ‘love letters’ to young women in Spain inviting them to ‘get together’ with their new Cinquecento car. Many were frightened, believing they were being harassed by a stranger.
15. Irregular Regulations
Legal obligations and business practices vary from region to region. Adhering to each region’s regulatory requirements involves complex and sensitive legal documentation. Legal translation challenges should be handled by someone with expertise in the language, the law, and the location.
16. Missed Sales
E-commerce sales see notable rises at specific times of the year. For example, if you’re localizing your website for China, you would want to be aware of Singles’ Day, similar t0 Black Friday is relevant in America. Understanding these local events allows retailers to create localized marketing campaigns to make the most of these hugely profitable selling opportunities.
17. Challenging Checkout
Different international markets often have their own preferred methods of payment. For example, German shoppers expect to pay using Sofort, while Polish shoppers prefer PayU. Failing to localize your payment methods creates a reason for customers to quit at the very last step of the customer journey.
18. Inadequate Testing
A few small tweaks to an e-commerce site can open up huge, global opportunities. Meticulous analysis by an external team of testers familiar with the language, culture, and requirements of each local market is the only way to be sure no detail is missed and that the site is both customer and search-engine friendly in every language.
Companies like ours offer localization testing services to help you work through those challenges
19. Stale Content
Periodically updating an e-commerce site’s translations ensures the content remains fresh and relevant to the target market. It boosts search-engine rankings and provides an opportunity to introduce new product features and pricing changes.
20. Ignored Stores
However expertly localized your international e-commerce website is, marketing communications are needed to tell the world that it exists and how it differs from its competitors. Just as with the website, marketing strategies need to be localized in order to maximize their impact on each regional market.
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