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How to Build a Successful Cross-Border Business with Ecommerce Localization

When it comes to products and services, physical borders have, in many ways, become a thing of the past. Thanks to the proliferation of digital channels, customers now have access to countless offers — and companies — in potentially unlimited markets.

But what kind of challenges do businesses face when attempting to scale globally, and how can localization help them seize the opportunities of cross-border ecommerce?

The global rise of online sales and the opportunities of cross-border ecommerce

According to the Global Ecommerce Forecast 2022, global ecommerce is expected to rise by 23.6% by 2025. In 2021, ecommerce was already estimated to represent 20.7% of the US retail market share — the fourth highest among the countries examined.       

Ecommerce in Western Europe was even more prolific: Spurred by lockdowns and the increased demand for online goods throughout the pandemic, the UK reached a share of 28.9% online retail sales (up from 19.2% in 2019), the Netherlands of 23.9%, and Germany of 21.9%; similarly, France, Italy, and Spain saw a significant expansion of their online retail market.

But despite their current upsurge, domestic online sales are eventually projected to flatten. The true opportunity of online retail lies in cross-border ecommerce: In Europe alone, 25.5% of online sales are cross-border sales, and this figure is expected to rise.

Any business wanting to expand abroad and take full advantage of the erosion of physical commerce borders, however, must be able to deal with a different kind of barrier: Communicating with customers that speak different languages, from wildly different backgrounds.

Customer concerns and the role of ecommerce localization

Several different factors can determine whether a customer will feel comfortable making an international online purchase — though ultimately, many boil down to linguistic accessibility, communication, and trust.

Here are the most common concerns cited by customers, and the role effective ecommerce translation and localization play in addressing them:

  • Customer support and resources    

One of the main concerns of international customers is whether they would be able to communicate easily with the company, should a problem arise with their order. In the 2021 Unbabel Global Multilingual CX Report, 57% of the global consumers we surveyed would even consider a lack of support in their native language a form of bias.

Readily available multilingual customer support can tackle this issue at the root, helping customers feel as confident when buying from an international company as they would when buying locally. Professionally translated resources, such as FAQs, return and refund policies, and descriptions of products and services, can also promote trust and contribute to the fulfillment of customer expectations.   

  • Lack of accessible reviews      

When building customer loyalty, the Global Multilingual CX Report brings into sharp relief the importance of offering an end-to-end localized experience: 69% of global consumers believe it’s very or extremely important. Reviews should be no exception.         

Customer advocacy is incredibly effective in improving brand image and encouraging sales; conversely, a lack of accessible reviews can drive customers away. Translating positive customer feedback into other languages can be vital to reach international shoppers and gain their trust. 

  • Unfamiliar payment methods, hidden fees, foreign currencies           

Customers tend to gravitate toward payment methods that are familiar. They are also less likely to make an international purchase if product prices and any additional fees are not set out clearly in their local currency. ​Localizing currency and following standardized formatting boost sales conversions and reduce cart abandonment.         

The importance of consistent ecommerce localization

As we have seen, providing a website that is easy to navigate and entirely translated into their native language goes a long way in gaining customers’ trust.  

Consistency plays an important role in attracting and retaining customers. Content that is homogeneous, with high-quality translation throughout, shows professionalism and care, and naturally leaves a more positive impression. Wary online shoppers might not take their chances on a website with spotty, tacked-on translations, or inconsistencies across countries, but when they notice attention to detail, they may feel a sense of dependability.             

Moreover, content written simply and consistently is inherently optimized for translation. Assets, such as your brand style guides and glossaries, help maintain consistency across your content and set it up for easier translation.

But consistency is not just key to optimizing content for translation and presenting a respectable, trustworthy brand image; it’s also an essential element of multilingual localization.     

Translated content should be grammatically sound and well-presented — it’s a given. More than that, though, it should be just as articulate and engaging as its source: Rather than feel like an afterthought, the translation should fully resonate with its target audience. This is where localization comes into play.  

In a cross-border venture, successful localization can ensure that content is appealing to (and respectful of) a multitude of audiences by taking into account the cultural nuances of each target language. An interesting example of this would be the many meanings hidden behind everyday things, such as the color yellow: Most Western cultures tend to associate it with cheerfulness, warmth, and joy. Yet in Germany, it’s the color of envy and cowardice.

Employing localization can help your business become aware of such connotations, and work with or around them to adapt to your international markets. 

Consistently delivering your branded products or services across multiple markets can feel like a lot to manage. If you are looking for help to go global with your ecommerce business, our localization experts can support you.

About the Author

Head of Sales Development at Unbabel, Adam Railton has extensive experience in account management, new business development, and lead generation. He enjoys working with clients to develop a strong understanding of what can ensure their success. He has helped dozens of companies navigate the language services industry and thrive in the global market.

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