Best Practices

eCommerce Localization: 4 Planning Tips and Tricks

There are principles we like to emphasize over and over based on what we know works for localization.
Gabriel Fairman
2 min
Table of Contents

There are principles we like to emphasize over and over based on what we know works for localization. Two of our biggest points of emphasis are advance preparation and simplification wherever possible. Nowhere are these strategies more applicable than for ecommerce localization.This is not a challenge you want to just get started with and learn as you go. Too many details hang in the balance. And they will trip you up.Take advantage of these planning tips, derived from experience. You can’t expect your customers, sales, and marketing to be the same around the world. And you can’t expect for localization to be a simple matter of translation. So, what can you expect?

Tackle eCommerce Localization with These Proactive Tips

Localizing online retail presents many unique challenges, and they can be more easily overcome with preparation and planning. Here are some of the proactive steps that will make your ecommerce localization go smoothly.

1. Tailor your product line and storefront to the markets

Before you can actually move in the direction of localization, you need to have management locked in for your underlying retail landscape. The architecture of your content needs to first make sense from the business, marketing, and systems perspectives.

With your hometown ducks in a row, you can turn your attention to the ducks that need out-of-the-box perspective. As you look to foreign markets, you need to keep an open mind when considering what potential customers actually want. Don’t take for granted that you’ll be selling the same complete list of products in all your markets. You won’t sell many snow shovels or parkas in the tropics, so there’s no point in trying, especially when it costs money.

Take a step back to consider your catalog for each market, and avoid localizing more content than you really need to.Local interests and buying habits will depend on cultural norms, seasonal realities, economic readiness, and accessibility, among other factors. And beyond line lists, consider how you will organize your storefront for various markets.

Although it’s customary for U.S. clothing sellers to divide their lines into men’s, women’s, and juniors’, not all cultures acknowledge juniors’ clothing as a separate category. The resulting confusion might even turn off prospective shoppers who don’t see a landscape that is familiar and relevant. Of course, styles and tastes vary among markets and within markets as well. It’s far better to think about these underlying details before diving headfirst into localization efforts.

2. Identify opportunities for automation

There is always a lot of content associated with ecommerce, but there is also sure to be a high level of repetition, especially among product specifications. The more SKUs in your system, the bigger the project.

For the sake of ecommerce localization, differentiate between repeatable and non-repeatable content as soon as possible.Look to product specs. Elements like colors, dimensions, materials, sizes, weights, and other characteristics are likely to repeat within segments of your product line, and they tend to be worded in simple phrases or sentences that are easy for computers to parse.

These are opportunities to use machine translation. By segregating this type of text, you create an efficient localization algorithm for automation. And by maximizing automation wherever possible, you make sure your human resources are reserved for more pressing needs.

Likewise, when you have a large number of similar SKUs, you can test the pages selectively, rather than spending the time to test every one of them.Think about product reviews, too, in relation to automation. You’re looking at a huge number of words but less overall value. It’s true that shoppers often look to reviews to inform their buying decisions, but they’re often just needing the gist of that feedback.

Planning to translate all customer reviews into all target languages is probably overkill. And it could raise unexpected issues, considering that reviews are often filled with typos and abbreviations, and they may not render well. Your options might be to skip translation altogether, to not import reviews from other markets at all, to use machine translation, or to simply carry over the number of stars a product has been given from various reviewers.

3. Focus translation efforts on the most meaningful elements

While many of the product specs may be handled by machine translation, the product names and descriptions need to be more carefully localized. The name of a product and the first sentence on its product page could make or break a sale.

And the nuances of this balance depend on specific considerations for each market.Terminology research is critical or you won’t reach your target customers at all. It’s easy to take for granted our recognizable product names, but these same products may not translate well word-for-word into a different language.

If you were on the hunt for a hair dryer and you ran across a “hair drying machine” on sale, you may not feel the same confidence in the product as you would with one that matches your basic expectations of a coherent name and description.

Here, you do need human translators to do the heavy lifting to ensure that the details and the sales voice appeal to local shoppers and their needs and interests.And even with expertly refined content, there’s another element that could make or break your sale: the user interface has to be flawless. You will want to focus plenty of energy on making sure that the UI for searching and purchasing is smooth and intuitive.

The good news here is that you can have a linguist handle this kind of QA testing in context. Have them step through an actual purchase and see if everything makes sense. Have them navigate around all of the buttons and through the pages a shopper would be visiting. In this way, a linguist tests the entire process, step by step, from searching to making a payment. It’s better to discover any sticking points in the UI or in the translated content now rather than through complaints or lack of conversions down the road.

4. Think about the entire customer journey

You’re prepared to carefully hone your product line and retail content and to streamline these processes wherever possible. But pushing sales over the threshold is also likely to look different from place to place. You need to be prepared to receive payment through the preferred local systems. Know what systems are prevalent in your markets, and be equipped to support them.

In East Asia, for instance, mobile payment systems are very popular, but they are not the same ones that are familiar in North America and Western Europe. Research local customs and tax regulations. Evaluate the coverage and reliability of delivery services.And, of course, the customer experience does not stop with the purchase. Many products come with documentation: user manuals, warranties, additional sales offers, customer support information. Think critically about what customers need and what they may not need to have in translation.

Some products do require a lot of customer support after the sale. In fact, it may not just be a matter of the customer’s convenience and satisfaction; you may face regulatory issues if certain materials are not localized. You’ll want to understand the legal concerns in various countries regarding selling products with or without translated documentation. And then balance out the legal and logistical considerations when planning for your scope of localization.

eCommerce Localization Is a Journey

eCommerce localization is much more than just translating product pages, but the potential benefits of this thorough strategy are enormous. You need early planning and a range of highly specific skills and technologies to localize successfully.

Just as you need a robust engine to run your retail management, you need a sophisticated platform to manage your vast content localization. Team up with a content localization partner that has the knowledge and resources to help you keep track of all the pieces and to manage the critical balance between human efforts and automation.

Gabriel Fairman
Founder and CEO of Bureau Works, Gabriel Fairman is the father of three and a technologist at heart. Raised in a family that spoke three languages and having picked up another three over the course of his life, he has always been fascinated with the role language plays in identity and the creation of meaning. Gabriel loves to cook, play the guitar, tennis, soccer, and ski. As far as work goes, he enjoys being at the forefront of innovation and mobilizing people and teams together toward a mission. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, Gabriel was honored with the 2023 Innovator of the Year Award at LocWorld Silicon Valley.
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