Guest Column | November 20, 2020

Harnessing International Customers In Time For Christmas. Can It Be Done?

By Augustin Prot, Weglot

Christmas Gift

Recent data from eShopWorld reported a giant 113% year on year increase in global online sales in October as retail consumers adjusted to the new shopping environment of a post-pandemic world. This is bad news for some purely bricks and mortar stores, yet provides a glimmer of hope for many, perhaps the only economic uptick of recent months. What’s more, international and cross-border online sales predicted to increase by 63% across November and December compared with 2019. International e-commerce might be the only retail element that is booming right now.

The international market is expanding, but can you set yourself up to get yourself a slice in time for Christmas? The answer is yes, with some critical thinking and smart workflows.

Localization Is Key

When marketers think of localization they will usually think of localized marketing – serving culturally and linguistically appropriate advertising to regional markets. But web localization for retail goes beyond advertising to provide international customers with a near-native and seamless shopping experience. Localization is not just about translating your site, although that is a big part, it also includes multilingual SEO, providing images that are appropriate for the local market, and making sure your site is considering all the cultural differences of different regions.

That may seem like a big job that requires a lot of attention to detail. However, it’s 2020 and technology is there to help us and if you get it right, there is still potentially time to harness this year’s boost in international commerce.

Putting The Right Team Together

The success of localization projects rests in getting together a broad coalition of internal teams. The web and IT teams are the vital core of the project regardless of the solution you use. And of course, the marketing teams and customer experience teams will need to provide input, particularly when it comes to cultural considerations, which we’ll get to later. 

However, you also want your design and brand people involved. Design implications are often overlooked which can cause significant issues down the line. Languages not only differ in sound and syntax but also in terms of the space words occupy in each sentence. So, retailers need to pay attention to detail in this respect. A sentence, header, or title may now overrun when translated. This can be a particular issue with Germanic languages that use a lot of compound words, and even these can differ between dialects – phrases translated to German can end up as a single longer word, whereas in Danish an English phrase might be translated to a shorter single word. There are also a host of specific brand implications with localization, particularly when it comes to custom fonts and translations. Failure to anticipate these elements can result in things such as broken strings and overlapping text.

Making sure you have put together a broad multi-disciplinary team right at the start of the project. Ensuring that everyone is well briefed and understands the project and the objectives, will mean that there are few surprises down the line, and you can get it right the first time.

What Can Be Automated?

For most retail businesses hiring professional translators to go page by page through their sites and manually translate each page, particularly when they’re being updated regularly, is both cost and time prohibitive. Especially as once the copy has been translated those translations need to be actioned by the web team. 

However, there are tech solutions to help us, and our web teams out. Some automatic translation providers can translate your site at the flip of a switch. However, as I’ve mentioned localization goes beyond just translation, and you will need providers that also can provide multilingual SEO of the site – translating metadata, adding hreflang tags that allow search engines to index your site in different languages, language-specific subdomains. There is little point in embarking on a quest for international sales if the buyers can’t find your website in their native languages in the first place. 

Localization technologies can take care of both the translation and the SEO and in most cases automatically, meaning at almost a flip of a switch you can improve your cross-border capabilities in super quick time.

There is of course the issue of accuracy. No automated translation or localization system is

100% accurate. So often the most effective method, for both time and cost, is a first run with machine translation, followed by review by a professional translator which an automated localization solution will provide. Using an automated localization solution will give you a solid safety net and ensure gains even while the human translator reviews the outputs.

Native Cultures

China doesn’t celebrate Christmas in the same way we do in the west. In fact, there is no public holiday at all and in rural areas, Christmas passes with little regard. However, they do still share the western trend for buying. Christmas in China is more like Valentine’s day – people spend it out with their friends or partners and Christmas eve is one the biggest shopping days of the year.

Localization is not just about translations it’s also important to localize with an eye on cultural nuances. The seasonal market in China is still huge over the festive period, but  using images of an American family gathered around a Christmas tree will have far less resonance in China than it will have in the U.S. or even most of Europe. So, it’s prudent to consider any images or media on your website when it comes to localization.

Website localization can be a vital strategy in boosting international sales for retailers around the globe. And it’s not as daunting a task as many people expect. Particularly if you can get it right the first time. But even small forays into the field can have significant gains for many retailers and be a lifeline in a difficult time.