Which languages should you be translating to?

The noughties have ushered in a new era and we’ve witnessed an exciting shift in technology, socialising and shopping. We’re now looking at 3.4 billion internet users per year – 3.4 billion… it makes your eyes water at the thought of how many languages you’d need to master in order to attract attention from all over the world, a world in which more than 6,500 dialects are spoken. It can’t be done, surely? It sounds impossible. Think of the knowledge, the time, the resource you’d need to facilitate that scale of globalisation …

Well, in fact, our increasingly globalised society means that, in 2017, just three languages are needed to reach half of your online audience. Triple that figure if you’d like to talk to 80% of your potential customers online. Just 14 languages will secure your digital presence in a whopping 90% of the online retail market. If it’s the gold standard of global communications you’re striving towards, you’re looking at a total of 52 languages in order to target 99%.

Let’s start smaller – you may already be getting organic traffic and making some sales in at least one non-domestic market, surely a little proactive attention, a refreshed approach, would drive even more traffic than you’re already getting? Test the waters in your current comfort zone while you’re learning more about the impact localisation can have. For example, are you already gaining traction in the US? How about offering some localisation in Mexican Spanish on your website to take better care of your American Latino customers? Latino America now represents a bigger portion of the world than Canada, representing 13% of the entire US population, and averaging more online page views per day than other American users. Latino Americans famously retain their culture, with 78% speaking Spanish despite living and working in a dominantly English-speaking society.

Now you’ve tested the impact of localisation in one of your comfortable, well-known markets, let’s plan your next big move. If you’re going to pour resources into localisation, let’s make sure you’re going to get some bang for your buck.

So where should you look to next? Which countries have been flagged as offering the most economic potential?

Chinese is a ‘safe’ bet in terms of winning new online business by providing localised content. Currently, just 2.1% of web content is in Chinese, despite Chinese speakers accounting for more than 20% of web users overall. It’s a fast-growing market as well as an emerging one, with 72% of online Chinese shoppers making their first purchases just in the last two years. 2015 saw $15 billion in online sales from the region.

After the United States and China, we see Germany, France and India crop up time and time again in ‘top ten’ lists of countries with high-value GDP.

Close to home, Germany is Europe’s largest and strongest economy, ranking fourth overall in global terms, sitting on $4.13 trillion of purchasing power. The number of German online shoppers has jumped by 20% since 2010, and they account for 25% of the entire eCommerce turnover in Europe. If your mobile shopping experience is already strong, you’ll be an especially attractive prospect for German shoppers, with 10% of all sales from the country made on a mobile device. And if your bread and butter is clothing sales, Germany is also a great prospect for you, with clothing accounting for 64% of all online purchases made by German shoppers.

France’s low poverty rate and high standard of living, along with their flourishing tourism industry, make them strong contenders, and, with over $3 billion in online GDP and an online audience of more than 90 million people, an attractive country to mine for new customers.

India’s expanding middle class and the fact the economy doesn’t rely on exports as much as other countries makes it one to watch if you’re looking for new territory to expand your business in – Investopdia predicts India will jump to fourth place in the global rankings by 2022, having already overtaken China.

Also worthy of serious consideration is Japan. Japan is a land of opportunity, accounting for almost three trillion dollars of world e-GDP and holding fourth place in the world’s largest online audience, and a forecast of 122 USD in online sales in 2018. Who wouldn’t want a slice of that revenue opportunity.

To succeed in these markets, localised content is less of a ‘nice to have’ and more of a necessity. The front-runners in global online opportunity are among the least tolerant of online shopping in a non-native language. We know from our first article ‘Does language really matter? that Chinese, Japanese, French and German browsers were among the least comfortable making a purchase on a non-native site, so make sure you’re working to turn those browsers into buyers with reviews, purchasing information, and the option to buy in their native language. France, Germany and Japan take slots four, five and six in the list of the top 100 languages the Common Sense Advisory (CSA) believe will support your digital growth.

Don’t worry too much for now about providing every ‘flavour’ of a language, choose one which will have the broadest impact across your customer base – any customer of yours with any Spanish understanding will prefer seeing at least some Spanish content if the alternative is none at all. Of the 440+ million Spanish speakers around the world, 256+ million of them are active internet users. That’s well over half of your potential Spanish-speaking audience who are currently likely to be ‘tolerating’ mostly English language web content. And remember, if you’re localising content for Spanish speakers, you’ve also opened yourself up to that huge, active Latino American audience we talked about. That’s two massive markets you’ve now got the keys to expand into with one lot of localised content.

Arabic content offers similar multi-country potential. While there are many different spoken dialects, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language of the Arab world. Target one country with MSA and a much larger opportunity presents itself.

With around 420 million speakers worldwide, it’s the official language in 19 countries, and between them, Arabic speaking countries are sitting on a collective GDP of over $2.8 trillion. Online growth is relatively recent too, with 72% of online shoppers only making their first purchases in the last two years. Back in 2012, sales figures for e-commerce sat at $9 billion, but by 2015 they had soared to $15 billion. That’s a potentially huge market to make an impact in with just one language, and it’s important to Arabic shoppers, with CSA figures suggesting that the majority of shoppers only buy from websites in their native language.

The online shopping picture, as it stands today, means that just a handful of ‘mega languages’ are needed to reach more than 75% of the people on the web. A scatter-gun approach would be a mistake here. Have a think about where you are now – what could you be doing better; and then where you want to be – the next ideal region you want to conquer. Decide which first step makes the most sense for you and your customers, and once you’ve opened the door to localised content, you’ll be on your way to globalisation.

PureFluent is the channel of communication between brands and their fans in international markets. With dynamic, authentic communication, customer experiences become more meaningful, global staff become more engaged, loyalty and profits grow. Let us be your companion on your global journey. Contact Kirsty Lappin at kirsty.lappin@purefluent.com or on +44 (0) 2070 434444.

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Does language really matter?

Talk to me. Speak my language.

No, not all of your customers speak English, and, no, not all of those who can are ‘happy’ to browse let alone make a transaction online in a language other than their own. Many can and will tolerate English language communications, but do you really want your customers to just ‘tolerate’ you?

Visitors to your site who are less proficient in English will not only visit your site less, they won’t stay as long as ‘confident’ English speakers. According to a global market research study by the Common Sense Advisory (CSA), 16% of French respondents consider themselves confident in English, the Germans are just marginally more assured at 19%. 50% of French and German speaking online shoppers said they ‘rarely’ visited English language sites; that figure jumps to 61% for Japanese speakers. Can you afford to miss out on daily traffic from these huge groups of potential customers?

Let’s say you DO manage to attract the full complement of non-native English speakers to your site, now what? You need to keep them there long enough to convince them to make a purchase. The same CSA survey revealed that a third of non-native English speakers spend more time on sites offering information in their mother-tongue than on English sites. And while 19% say they are ‘very likely’ to buy from an English language site, another 19% say they completely boycott English language only sites. Just 5% of Japanese and 7% of Chinese respondents said they were very comfortable buying in languages other than their own. 75% of respondents (from all over the world) said that when choosing between buying similar products online, they’d choose to buy the product accompanied by information in their own language.

Customer reviews and customer service seem to be where non-native English speakers seek most reassurance. Around 75% of those surveyed by the CSA said that at the very least they would like to see product reviews in their own language. Up to 80% of those who deem themselves not ‘confident’ in English would like to see translated aftercare customer service. The message here is treat those who took the leap and bought in their non-native language correctly and you might see yourselves with new repeat customers all over the world.

Let’s carve a pathway for your potential customers. Cut through the Anglo-centric attitudes of your competitors. Dive in, localise, tailor your customers’ experience in a language they understand, and make sure you’re striving to keep giving your existing customers in your well-trodden territories what they need, don’t let them be enticed by brands localising in their region better than you are.

You’re proud of your products, you strive for perfection in what you create and deliver, but it’s the experience you offer your global customers that will give your brand the competitive edge; localisation is key to customer experience and language is where it all starts.

Tolerated today, gone tomorrow

Your products are stunning. Your brand is strong. Your social media and marketing teams do a fantastic job and online sales are growing. You know you’ve got something special and your customers seem to agree, in your home market at least. With so much going for your brand, you can’t fail in new international markets, right?

Sorry, it’s not that simple…

When it comes to international online sales, your brand, product and marketing may certainly drive shoppers to your site but it’s the experience that will convert curious visitors into loyal customers. And language is key to the international customer experience.


Let’s try to understand how an international customer (let’s call her Miriam) might experience your site…

Miriam is browsing Instagram. She sees one of your products and clicks through to your site. Miriam is excited at the gorgeous range of products by this unique new brand and is curious to explore further. Miriam doesn’t speak fluent English so looks for the translation option, but her language isn’t available. That’s ok, with a combination of intuition and recognition of a few English terms from her school days, she begins to navigate the site. With some trial and error, Miriam soon forgets her growing frustration when she finds the perfect item for her upcoming special event. The sizing isn’t localised, Miriam wonders if it will fit. It’s obviously not a local company, maybe there are extra costs involved in returning it. In fact, the shipping costs are probably extortionate too. Miriam clicks on what she assumes are the T&Cs.  She starts to feel a little overwhelmed. Maybe it’s not worth the risk.

Miriam abandons her cart….

Language plays a critical role in converting browsers to buyers. 70% of the online population are not native English speakers. That still gives you 30% potential market share though, right? Right…if you are prepared to limit your global potential to the 30% of fluent English speakers who may or may not want to buy your products.

Even the most proficient language speakers prefer their own native language by a wide margin. According to the Common Sense Advisory, 84% of shoppers prefer buying from online sites that are offer content in their own language. 74% will buy again if after-sales are in their own language and 75% would like to see reviews in their own language if nothing else. Some nationalities even prefer bad translations to no translations!

Despite these compelling statistics, many business owners still hesitate to commit to localising online content for international customers. Of course, some shoppers can and will tolerate English language business communications, but do you really want your customers to just ‘tolerate’ you? How sustainable is a customer toleration strategy?