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Ecommerce Website Localization: Tips for Delivering Localized Shopping Experiences

By: Eric Gutoski
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This blog was originally written by Eric Gutoski, Chief Strategy Officer of BORN.

For ecommerce sites operating internationally, a successful global rollout often depends on understanding the nuances between local culture as much as it does on having a cogent business strategy and products that appeal to a global audience.

Irrespective of what niche an online store is selling into, there’s one thing that international sellers can certainly agree on: to maximize growth potential, selling beyond home territory is more of a ‘must’ and less of a ‘nice-to-have.’ Meanwhile, if there’s one thing consumers around the world agree on, it’s that ecommerce website localization is something sellers must provide.

What is Ecommerce Localization?

As a business offers its products in new markets around the globe, that doesn’t mean that the experience of shopping for those products should remain the same.

Ecommerce localization is exactly that: the process of adapting an online store or platform to cater to the specific needs, preferences, and cultural nuances of target markets in different geographic locations. The task of ecommerce website localization involves tailoring various elements of a site, such as language, currency, payment methods, and user experience, to ensure seamless and relevant interactions for customers across diverse regions.

By implementing ecommerce localization, businesses can:

  • More effectively engage with global audiences: Opportunities abound in emerging global markets. However, 76% of customers prefer products with information in their own language. And 40% will not buy from websites in other languages.
  • Build brand loyalty: 75% of customersare more likely to buy from a brand again if post-sale support is delivered in their native language.
  • Drive greater sales and revenue growth: Worldwide retail ecommerce sales are expected to reach nearly $8.2 trillion by 2026 — up from $5.7 trillion in 2022.

How to Make Things Local – As Far As Possible

Website localization is key when it comes to delivering successful cross border ecommerce, and there are several crucial elements to rolling out an experience that speaks to the buyer in their own language (and ironically, that means more than just rolling out websites in their native tongue!).

Here are five tips to localize shopping experiences for international ecommerce customers, and make the cross-border ecommerce journey more successful.

1. Pay special attention to language nuances

Launching websites in buyers’ native language remains the baseline measure for localization success — and it’s a logical place to start. In fact, as we stated above, research has found that as many as 3 in 4 online shoppers prefer to shop in their native language — even when they also speak an international language such as English.

Unfortunately, translating product pages and UI language isn’t as simple as feeding pages into Google Translate or any other automatic translator, even if AI is making these tools smarter. To really resonate in a local market, there’s simply no substitute for human translation work — and staff members to handle the local websites and customer service functions once they are up and running.

Idioms and slang are essential to give a website a local look and feel and to instill confidence in buyers, who may be unconsciously biased towards anything from their own country (or overtly nationalistic!). Additionally, website owners must be aware that culture and language and inextricably linked. Those launching websites in Muslim-majority countries, for example, must be aware of local religious sensitivities, such as that alcohol is not permissible. Even the political climate in a country can color what kind of language is likely to resonate with buyers.

The world may be thoroughly globalized, but the collective experience of countless ecommerce owners has shown that cookie-cutter formulas and attempts to quickly roll out international storefronts without paying close attention to the culture and demographic they are targeting are doomed to fail. Market local while going global — be sure to attempt to truly understand the local culture and language in each region when expanding globally.

2. Offer local currencies

The greenback may often dominate the world’s financial news, but there are in fact 180 local currencies in circulation around the globe, including 20 that, confusingly, all bear the name ‘dollar.’

How does this impact storeowners’ localization efforts?

For one, as a rule, consumers are used to thinking, budgeting, and comparing prices in their own local currency. Ideally, your payment system will support direct payment in the website currency. In other words, payments should automatically be converted to and processed in a major world currency at checkout. But even if your gateway doesn’t enable this, it’s vital that your website includes the local currency.

It’s also common for websites to include both a local currency as well as a few major world currencies (such as the US dollar, Euro, or Pound Sterling) throughout the site and to give users the ability to switch the site currency (and language) at the click of an icon.

Consumers shopping online in countries that are not major economies are used to comparing prices against a common world currency, such as the US dollar. Additionally, expats often retain the habit of comparing local prices to their “old country” for some years after they move to a new territory. Adding both local and global currencies to a website makes it easy for these shoppers to compare prices online. Assuming your offers are competitive, this addition should improve the conversion rate.

Don’t forget to pay attention to what might seem like minor details when designing this aspect of your website. Currencies have different symbols, some of which are placed before the number and some of which are placed after. Internationally defined ISO abbreviations can also be used in their stead.

3. Go beyond words and offer complete experiences

As I mentioned earlier, speaking to customers “in their language” means more than it does literally. Providing a localized experience that truly performs in a new sales geography requires a great deal more than simply getting the text right to the level that a native speaker can understand it.

It’s valuable for those thinking of opening a website in a new locale to have a clear understanding of nuances about that local market before selling into it. In concrete terms this can mean:

Understanding consumers’ preferred payment methods

 Just as the digital world has made it easier for businesses to understand and sell in new markets, it’s also expanded consumers’ ability to use a range of alternative payment methods. The emergence of Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL), cryptocurrency, and more methods have forced sellers to update their available options.

The flexibility required of international ecommerce sellers is even greater. Because while BNPL may be rising in popularity in some markets, peer-to-peer solutions and cash-on-delivery reign supreme in others. To avoid abandoned carts and cater to a wider audience in new markets, it’s critical to research the most popular local payment methods in each geography.

Developing localized buyer personas

Consumers around the world have all kinds of different habits and consumption patterns. The way people shop in a given market goes far beyond the ways that they pay. As part of your market research, create localized buyer personas that reflect a deeper understanding of these habits. Then, as you work through the ecommerce website localization process, tweak the language of your site and marketing collateral to authentically reflect local idiosyncrasies.

Your team should also be aware of and stick to local content norms, including the quality, variety, and quantity of product photography. Consider changes to product offerings as well, including attributes such as apparel sizing.

Researching and developing a local “promotional calendar”

Peak shopping times vary from market to market. Make the most of your opportunities by adapting your offers and content to the local custom. Create a calendar of promotions based on major shopping holidays, such as Black Friday, that are unique to that geography.

Of course, when it comes to delivering authentically localized shopping experiences, the value of having “boots on the ground” cannot be overstated. Those devoting significant resources to targeting a market would be well-advised to make exploratory visits to understand exactly in which respects local customers may differ from international ones. Likewise, those with sufficient resources to do so should consider assembling a team with local expertise to tackle website localization from end to end.

4. The last mile: shipping and logistics

Naturally, beyond getting the consumer past the checkout page, getting the products to the consumer’s door is a key concern for any ecommerce operator.

Logistics and fulfillment are vital concerns that must be figured out well in advance of a website’s go-live date.

Some questions to ask at this stage of ecommerce localization planning can include:

  • Does the geography have a reliable postal system? If not, your website’s global brand could be damaged by an onslaught of complaints from dissatisfied customers, even if you’re not directly responsible for final mile delivery.
  • Are there customs regulations surrounding my products in this geography? Import restrictions can vary significantly from country to country.
  • Will local warehousing and stock management be necessary, or can all products be dispatched centrally?
  • Can express delivery be arranged at a reasonable cost to the consumer?

5. Partner with an accelerator

During the feasibility testing stage, ecommerce owners may be investigating the possibility of launching several localized websites at once.

Often, this prospect seems daunting — largely due to  many merchants mistakenly think that to make localization worthwhile it has to be an all-or-nothing gambit spanning continents as well as countries.

Fortunately, this isn’t the case.

Merchants of record are great matches for businesses that want to test out geographies on a piecemeal basis and can take the hassle out of dealing with aspects such as customer experience tailoring and international logistics. Pairing up with one is a great way to make the process of internationalizing a smoother ride. After all, just one profitable international store can significantly buoy worldwide revenue.

The World is Waiting for Your Store

Global experiences are a must for organizations whose virtual storefronts can be browsed from virtually every nook and cranny on the planet. Furthermore, extensive ecommerce website localization is key and goes beyond simply translating websites into the vernacular. Brands that want to make the process easier and faster should consider teaming up with a merchant of record with proven international success.

Want to learn more? Connect with us today to learn how Digital River can help you achieve your cross-border commerce goals.