The end of an era where English dominates as the ‘official’ language of the internet is nigh!
Its decline has been gradual, as the number of internet users who use English has significantly dropped. In 1997, 80% of online content was in English, with 304 million people connected to the internet. Fast forward a couple of decades to June 2020 and the number of internet users is approximately 4.6 billion, which means that 56% of the world population consists of active internet users! With such a rapid rate of growth, it is of little wonder that English is used by only 25.9% of current users on the internet.
As your business endeavors to reach a larger audience, the internet remains your safest bet. The online e-marketplace is an unstoppable force that shows no signs of slowing down. Global e-commerce sales were worth a hefty $3.53 trillion in 2019. Projections show this number will reach $6.54 trillion by 2022.
For businesses to cash in on this gravy train, they need to embrace that the rules of engagement for e-commerce have changed. As diverse and multi-faceted as the world and indeed the internet is, it is no surprise that more and more languages have skin in the game. Thus, e-commerce platforms must localize their approach to appeal to different languages and cultures if they harbor any hopes of globalization.
Why should you localize your e-commerce platform?
Localization is the adaptation of a commodity or content for purchase by a specific region. It isn’t just about translating your content or website or product description; it goes beyond that to immersing your international audience in the same experience of your brand/platform, regardless of the language they speak. As long as there is a language barrier, there will exist a barrier to business. What localization aims to do is to remove those language barriers so you can locally connect with your international audience.
Localization enables you to:
Compete with local businesses – Local businesses undoubtedly have a head start in their local market. They often feel more familiar and trusted by the consumer. To compete in a local market and get consumers to choose you instead, you must localize your e-commerce platform and ensure it gives an authentic, local experience. An average of 70% of shoppers will only buy a product if presented in their native language. Consumers love familiarity and will even choose it over novelty oftentimes. In China, for example, Baidu’s search engine is more popular than Google.
Boost sales – More sales result in increased brand loyalty, brand engagement, and, ultimately, a healthy return on investment. Localization gives you more visibility in front of a larger audience, and it is up to the brand to provide consumers with the same experience as their native one. The American company, Dunkin Donuts, has over 3000 stores globally. They have catered to their international clientele by incorporating delicacies such as Lebanon’s Mango Chocolate Donut to Korea’s Grapefruit Coolata, among others in their menu. Dunkin Donut’s culture inclusion is a spirited effort that allowed them to reap enormous rewards.
Lower cultural barriers – Localization allows the consumer to feel more connected to your brand. CNN launched a service for Latinos in 2012, which was an 8-hour block of lifestyle programming, talk shows, and news covering issues exclusive to the Latino community. Domino’s Pizza allows for different ingredients when in China because dairy is not a staple in their diet. Even the toppings vary as well, with fish and seafood being a preference in most Asian markets.
Engage with your target market – E-commerce platforms stand to benefit from an increased rate of injection into a foreign market because of localization, as it is easier for consumers to spread the word faster about your product. Businesses that have localized have experienced rapid growth in sales and engagement in the target market—giving them flexibility when rolling out new products.
Eliminate unnecessary costs – Your customer service costs also go down as a result of localization. Brands use a lot of resources in expansion only for them to find out that something as simple as a slogan or tagline in a campaign is offensive to the target market. When you localize, some trivialities won’t hamper your progress, allowing extra resources to go towards expansion.
The 10 languages that are taking over the internet
As e-commerce platforms work to localize their content, there are 10 top instrumental languages to focus on in the development of the e-marketplace, ordered in their ranking of the most dominant internet usage.
These ten languages account for 76.9% of the total number of internet users globally. China is fast catching up to English as the most used language online because it has the most Internet users. They boast a whopping 914 million active users!
The emergence of these languages speaks to the need for businesses to position themselves strategically to reach billions of potential consumers. These numbers are impressive, but only for a moment as the expansion of technology guarantees that they will grow soon enough.
Asia is leading global e-commerce growth
With many different languages gunning to dethrone English as a global leader in e-commerce, three of them have particularly broken away from the chasing pack, spurring rapid global growth in the e-marketplace. Let’s take a look at these pacesetters.
Chinese/Mandarin – China’s e-commerce activity further strengthens its presence as a leading language in the e-marketplace. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute showed that by 2017, 42% of global e-commerce was taking place in China, positioning it as the world leader in e-commerce.
Japanese – The Japanese are responsible for $122 billion in sales for 2018 and over 93% of internet penetration is noted even for the older generations. This wide internet user base is of particular interest to businesses as they are presented with a larger audience to cater to.
Korean – Even though Korean does not feature in the top 10 most spoken languages on the internet, South Korea’s emergence as a hub of e-commerce is evident; it earned $77.94 billion in 2018 and has an internet penetration of 96%, allowing for further growth.
While some nationalities dominate the conversations around languages used in e-commerce, regional dialects are also making themselves heard on the internet. Arabic dialects from the greater MENA region, for instance, are gaining visible traction with the area comprising of 4% of the world’s internet users as of 2019. E-commerce retail sales in the MENA region stood at $34.69 billion for 2019 and will reach the $49 billion mark by 2021.
What does this mean for e-commerce platforms?
E-commerce platforms have little choice but to adapt and structure their approach to these non-English-speaking markets or risk falling behind. Planning is very crucial to maximize your reach and minimize the risk that is apparent during globalization. You can optimize your localization results by focusing your efforts on target market research, pricing, translation and transcreation, and website Infrastructure.
- Research Your Target Market – Companies must first carry out targeted market research to identify which areas their products are the best placed to be successful. A sharp focus on SEO and search queries is necessary to realize where your product is most in demand. Local research also gives you knowledge of customer preferences. For example, certain cultures or regions prefer recyclable material when it comes to packaging, and this is the knowledge that influences decisions at a manufacturing level. You will save time, money, and human resources that would otherwise rectify the mistake.
- Set Your Pricing Strategy – Knowledge about your target market’s current state of the economy will guide your decision in as far as pricing is concerned. The market research gives you a sneak peek into your target market’s values, cultural, and financial behaviors that will help you structure your pricing approach well to resonate with them.
- Set Up Your Website Infrastructure – When setting up the online infrastructure, it is essential to choose the appropriate URL format. For example, the Google URL changes to “Google.it” in Italy and “Google.fr” in France, this is referred to as country-code top-level domains or ccTLDs. Customers trust familiarity above all and may be more inclined to visit your site if the URL is familiar. Unfortunately, this will be a drawback when it comes to global SEO. Your search success in other countries might not translate in another, but this is remedied by providing great localized content for the new consumers, which will drive more page views and extended stays.
To sum it all up
Statistics project that English will soon be playing second or even third fiddle to other world languages. Many non-English-speaking countries are developing rapidly, technologically, and economically, shaping the e-commerce landscape for years. By 2030, 90% of the world population will be online, making it a fantastic opportunity for businesses to penetrate and influence foreign markets.
As more non-English-speaking nationalities continue to enter the fray, it calls for a diverse and innovative approach to literally and figuratively “speak their language” and to localize the brand voice to suit their ever-changing needs.
If you’re thinking about localizing your e-commerce platform, get in touch with Tarjama’s localization experts who will transform your online store and ensure your international buyers have an authentic shopping experience.