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Getting Retail Website Localization Right the First Time

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The term localization for many retail professionals and marketers is closely linked to advertising localization — serving culturally appropriate advertising to key regional segments. However, in the area of cross-border ecommerce, web localization can be the difference between success and failure. And cross-border ecommerce is booming. 

In recent months the global COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact in retail. In the UK, as reported in The Guardian, the number of visitors to UK retail destinations has dropped by 39%, while in the U.S. the decline of the total retail market this year is expected to be double that experienced in the 2009 financial crisis. At the same time, it’s being reported by retailX that cross-border ecommerce in the EU grew by 30% this year. In the U.S., data from Global-e suggests that international commerce had grown 42% by May 2020.

Wherever your retail brand is based, international sales could be a lifeline. It’s no surprise that retailers worldwide are looking to capture this ever-growing segment of new business, and localization is key in this area. Localization goes beyond merely translating your site or having language options available for visitors. It means taking into account elements like native language SEO, providing images that are appropriate for a local market, and making sure your site is taking into account all the cultural nuances of the regions you’re trying to sell in.

However, localization can seem like a daunting process: with ecommerce sites often running to hundreds of pages of regularly updated content, it can seem a resource-heavy undertaking both in terms of money and time. However with the right combination of technology and people power, it’s far less daunting than you would expect, and the rewards can be significant. So how do you get it right the first time?

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Choose the Right Translation Method

Of course, while translation isn’t the whole picture when it comes to localization, it does play a significant role in the process. There are generally two keys methods in translating a retail site, and both have their own benefits and drawbacks.

Human translation through professional translators is the most accurate and provides trusted high-quality translations. However, it can come at a prohibitive cost for most retailers. What’s more, there is also the added time and cost in then transferring that adjusted copy to the website — not to mention handling multiple websites for multiple locales. 

The other option is using a website translation solution that can provide a first layer of machine translation. This is far quicker, and translation solutions also plug in to display the content and ensure new pages are updated automatically, saving you money and time in putting the new translations live.

However, accuracy can be an issue with machine translation. This may be OK for some retailers, but for many 80% accuracy is not enough. Sometimes the most effective method is a mixture of the two: a first run using machine translation, followed by a review by professional human translators, can strike the required balance between cost and accuracy.

Don’t Forget About Multilingual SEO

One of the most vital elements in localizing a retail site is multilingual SEO. If you’re going to all the trouble of translation, you’ll also want international consumers to find your site easily.

Multilingual or international SEO is essentially just doing everything you already do for domestic-level SEO, but for every language version of your site. Successful multilingual SEO involves translating the entirety of your site’s content; translating any metadata on your site; adding hreflang tags that allow search engines to index your site in different languages at the same time; and having language-specific subdomains/directories.

If you have multiple languages to translate, multilingual SEO can seem like another giant task. However, one of the additional advantages of using an automated website translation service is the SEO safety net that comes with it, with all of the above added without the manual work behind it. 

Don’t Ignore Design Considerations

Design is an aspect of localization that is often overlooked, with many retailers focusing entirely on translation. Languages not only differ in sound and syntax, but also in terms of the space words occupy in a given sentence. This is an area that designers and marketers need to be mindful of when it comes to incorporating your translated content into your site’s design.

Make sure your designers are fully briefed and ensure that when they are designing pages within your site or making changes, they consider discrepancies and variations associated with translating from one language to another. Failure to anticipate this could result in things such as broken strings and overlapping text, which are far from ideal when you’re trying to entice new customers with your offering. 

This can be particularly relevant for customized fonts, which are not easily translatable and can cause unnecessary difficulty when going multilingual. This can then have a knock-on effect with your brand, so it’s important to have clear discussions with brand guardians during the process.

Consider Cultural Context

As previously mentioned, localization is not just about translation, so it’s also important to localize with an eye on cultural nuances. Cultural context can manifest itself in multiple ways. Even if two countries may have the same first language, they can also have a number of distinct differences, meaning you’ll have to tailor your commercial approach to each region. 

For example, the U.S. and the UK may share the same language, but there are still discrepancies in local spelling for each country, such as “customise” and “customize”. You may also want to consider changing words like “vacation” to the more commonly used “holiday” to localize for your UK audience. In countries such as Qatar and Japan, Christmas and Easter aren’t celebrated, so it would be advisable to adapt any holiday-specific content in order to be relevant with the region you’re targeting.

Following from this, it’s also prudent to consider any images or media on your website. If you’re using images of a typical American family on your site, then the chances are that this won’t resonate in the same way with a customer from Japan.

Website localization can be vital in boosting international sales for retailers around the globe. It can seem like a daunting and difficult task, and although it will require some resources to be effective, it’s not as daunting a task as many people expect — particularly if you can get it right first time. But even small forays into the field can have significant gains for many retailers and be a lifeline in a difficult time.


Augustin Prot is the CEO and Co-founder of Weglot, a multilingual solution for websites. Created in 2016, Weglot was built to make website translation fast, simple and instant. With a background in finance, Prot moved into the world of SaaS to co-found a solution that helps companies generate international growth.

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