Language matters

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?