With fierce competition at home and boundless opportunity abroad, it’s little wonder that internationalisation has become a key objective for digital commerce businesses from across the English-speaking world. Indeed, the growing reality for e-comm enterprises is that the most lucrative markets now sit well beyond the shores of the world’s established, developed economies. A stimulating combination of near-total mobile penetration and growing middle-class incomes has transformed countries like China and Indonesia into high-importance – and unavoidable — markets for ambitious digital commerce outfits.
But while internationalisation might be a hot-topic in digital commerce, it’s still largely in its infancy as a digital strategy. While many businesses succeed in translating their international websites into localised languages, few excel in creating fully-localised customer experiences that remain sensitive to cultural nuance. What’s more, e-comm businesses frequently fail to understand the logistical and legal contours of foreign markets, leading to structural failures in the areas of payment and fulfilment.
The myriad challenges involved in successfully internationalising demand the development of a comprehensive localisation strategy – one that encompasses language, culture, payment, and fulfilment. More prosaically, this means developing deep relationships with key strategic partners that specialise in navigating distant markets.
New Markets, New Challenges
As the centre of gravity in the e-commerce world moves further East, traditional localisation strategies need to be amended, and made to reflect the challenges (and opportunities) that come with the burgeoning Asian market.
One of the most pressing challenges presented by Asia is its unparalleled diversity. The APAC (Asia-Pacific) region is home to 23 countries, more than a dozen major currencies, and 14 languages. And while that might sound similar to Europe, there are a couple of importance caveats: Along with Asia’s languages come a plethora of alphabets, writing styles, and scripts; and no single currency dominates the continent in quite the same way as the Euro rules the roost in Europe.
Something else to consider when tackling the Asian market is the paramount importance of mobile. 50% of all digital commerce in China, Indonesia, and South Korea is generated from mobile, and China alone made up 67% of all m-comm sales worldwide in 2017. A number of key demographic groups in Asia have almost-total mobile penetration, and the smartphone is by far the most popular medium for online retail in many APAC countries.
For businesses familiar with operating in developed APAC markets, the sheer ubiquity of mobile commerce in China can come as shock. Where consumers in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong are content with traditional e-commerce channels, mobile is very much the first port-of-call for customers in developing Asian markets.
An additional reality that quickly becomes apparent to online retailers is the vast diversity in online payment methods used around the world. In many cases, the number of payment methods utilised by a store will have an outsize impact its ability to do business globally. For instance, large swathes of Asia have very low credit card penetration, and in places like Indonesia and the Philippines, cash-on-delivery is the most popular payment method.
However, even in places where digital payments are the norm, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Digital commerce businesses that hope to truly internationalise their brands must ensure they can support the full array of the world’s digital payment systems. Ones to make sure you carry include PayPal, Alipay, Tenpay, OxiCash, 2Checkout, and iDeal.
Speaking the language of your target audience no longer means simply having the right words and syntax. Instead, an appreciation for cultural and linguistic nuance is becoming something of a prerequisite for businesses hoping gain a foothold in lucrative overseas markets. This, it should be said, is something that applies to Europe just as much as Asia.
Being sensitive to culture means being attentive to everything from legal norms and buying habits to humour and colour-schemes. For instance, failing to recognise the cultural connotations of a particular colour or phrase can result lost conversions at best, and irreparable brand damage at worst. No less important is the fact that failing to appreciate culture can mean missing the boat on local trends. Businesses that pay attention to local behaviour and trends are far better-placed to achieve targeted consumer engagement in local markets.
Establishing an integrated translation team can go a long way toward bridging the divide between a brand and its international target market. Far from providing simple, verbatim translations (which often lose their meaning), an in-house localisation team – one that understands a brand’s story and position in the market – can provide bespoke content that captures the cultural and linguistic nuances (as well as trends) of the territory or region.
The ability localise from within is especially important for online retailers that produce high volumes of written and visual content. In the context of internationalisation, more content only increases the likelihood of unintentionally instituting brand damage. With this in mind, preparing the right content for an international audience requires the expertise of localisation experts who have a deep familiarity with a region’s cultural norms, social attitudes, and linguistic idiosyncrasies. Ultimately, acquiring this type of knowledge can mean the difference between enticing and offending a target market.
Holistic Localisation in Practice
A holistic approach to localisation involves far more than simply translating product descriptions and web content. Understanding language means appreciating nuance, as well as the way in which words appear on screen. Word length by language is something that web developers and UX teams should consider in tandem with translators. For instance, words in German are often lengthier than their equivalents in English. In much the same vein, numbers, dates, and currency values ought to be formatted in ways that make sense to customers in a particular territory. Developers and localisation experts must therefore work together to ensure that (1) data requests make sense to consumers, and (2) the values entered can be interpreted by the business.
Similarly, the most effective localisation strategies will involve “transcreation” — the art of creatively adapting an advertising or marketing message in a way that appeals to different markets. In a sense, transcreation isn’t translation at all, but rather creative copywriting performed by people who understand the language, culture, and trends of the target jurisdiction. This type of content localisation will generate unique copy that simultaneously captures a brand’s message and engages with localised cultural attitudes and trends. If done well, customers will enjoy an engaging localised experience, offering reassurance and familiarity.
Importantly, localisation isn’t a one-off process. Instead, it’s something that businesses must be engaged with on a permanent basis. Research from the Common Sense Advisory has shown that to stay globally-competitive, a business must translate its website into fourteen core languages. Localisation on this scale requires seamless coordination between a business’ tech and marketing teams. Localised payment methods, pricing, fulfilment, and content must all be accounted for and implemented in a complementary way. A key omission in one area can undermine the broader localisation process, frustrating the business’ efforts to effectively internationalise.