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Know Your Options: Language Translation for International eCommerce

Selling internationally can be a game-changer for your eCommerce business. About 75% of the world’s purchasing power and more than 95% of consumers are outside of the US. Global eCommerce sales are projected to grow from $4.9 trillion in 2021 to $7.4 trillion in 2025 – a 50% increase in just four years.

Shopify knows how important international is for eCommerce brands. In response to merchant needs, they recently launched Shopify Markets to help smaller businesses access international markets like the big guys. 

International eCommerce is more than language translation

While Shopify Markets do streamline some of the logistics and there are tools out there to help you translate your site into another language, going international is not a simple process. In addition to language, there’s a lot to figure out, from financials to operations to marketing.

Before we get to the ins and outs of language translation, if you’re thinking of expanding to sell internationally, we recommend first reviewing your current eCommerce business structure to understand how you might need to set up internationally going forward. The two most common strategies are having a single backend with multiple domains (expansion stores) for different regions or countries (i.e., what Shopify Markets enables), or setting up separate Shopify stores/distinct businesses for different regions or countries. 

Keep in mind that having a single backend means you’ll have to pay transaction fees to convert local currencies back into US dollars. To avoid fees, you may want to consider different stores for each currency you’ll be selling in – but things can get complicated quickly, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons.  

Why language translation matters for eCommerce

Another piece of the international puzzle you will have to figure out is language translation. Wait, you say. The web is optimized for English. Why should we translate our site? 

Translating your site to the languages spoken in your target markets increases conversions. Research shows that 40% of consumers won’t purchase online in languages other than their own. It makes sense – we all want to reduce risk. When it comes to shopping online, misunderstanding product information or policies can result in ordering the wrong color or being hit with unexpected shipping fees for a return. 

In addition, language translation improves your site(s) SEO, ensuring browsers serve up your site in search results and customers in your international markets can more easily find you.  

To automate or not to automate?

There are two main options for language translation: manual or automated. More manual translation tools are the most cost-effective and make the most sense for simple sites and brands with smaller product catalogs. Although a more manual tool may provide a translator tool that you can feed copy into, the user must cut and paste the translated copy into fields in a CMS-like backend for it to appear on the site.

Automated translators use machine learning to automatically detect content on your website and translate it without you having to cut and paste. This can be a good way to go for more complex sites with an extensive product catalog. It allows you to get the bulk of the content translated quickly and then have a person review and refine key pages and product information as needed. You also can create rules and add and define terms and product names that you don’t want to be translated or translated a particular way, to keep the language consistent throughout your site.    

How to pick the right eCommerce language translation tool

The type of translation tool you choose will depend on your website, product catalog, markets, team resources, and how many languages you need. In general, the more complex things are, the more an automated translation tool may make sense for you. To help guide your decision-making process, the following are four key areas to consider. 

1. How complex is your eCommerce site and business? 

Beyond the number of pages on your site and the size of the product catalog, consider if you will be selling different products in your international markets. Will you need unique content – images, video, product descriptions, lifestyle content – for each international site? Does a market have more than one language (e.g., Canada)? Or can you get away with just tweaking a few words and phrases here and there (e.g., UK, Australia)? 

Remember that supporting content, including FAQs, return policy, product videos, shipping notifications, and sizing information will all need to be translated. Sizing information can be particularly tricky because sizes are different in different countries. You want all these types of information to be very clear to prevent a high rate of return, especially when you are shipping internationally. 2. What’s your team’s language proficiency? 

For every market and every language in that market (e.g., a store for the European market may have several languages), you’ll need content. If you don’t have native speakers on your team to translate or check an auto-translation (e.g., for a marketing campaign or sale banner), it could delay your promotional calendar. If you need translations for multiple languages, it could really affect your ability to quickly spin up promotions. Before launching sites in multiple languages, determine if the time it will take for translations will map to your promotional needs, and what you may need to do to support getting translations in a timely manner. 

3. Will the translation tool integrate with your other tools?  

You know that not all applications and tools get along. As you evaluate translation tools, it’s a good idea to find out if they will integrate with other tools you’re currently using or considering implementing. Some key integrations to ask about include tools for on-site search, product recommendations, user-generated content (UGC), and social media feeds. While it is possible to build workarounds to make things work together (i.e., ingest language feeds from the translation tool), obviously this adds cost, so it’s something to be aware of. 

4. What does your rollout and ROI look like? 

If you plan to roll out to multiple markets that require different languages, you can save some headaches (and budget) by being strategic. For example, prioritize the markets and languages that will be most important and profitable for your business. 

For instance, if you forecast that 75% of your European sales will come from Germany, you may want to launch in German first and roll out other languages after. Or you could decide to use an automated translation tool to get multiple languages up and running cost-effectively and then go back and spend additional time refining the content on the German site. 

Note that if you decide on using a more manual translation tool, the amount of time and effort it takes will be similar for every store, no matter how much revenue it generates. 

When in doubt, test

While you do want to provide a great customer experience in all your stores, don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Be strategic in how you spend on translation and how you roll out your international expansion. If you’re having trouble making a decision, remember you can always test out a tool in a testing environment to see it in action. Want to talk about international expansion strategy? We’re here to help, just reach out