International ecommerce sales: the language barrier finally overcome

According to an article published in the Telegraph four years ago, UK exporters had to struggle with the ecommerce language barrier back in 2011. Weird…, isn’t it? Isn’t English the world’s favourite language? Sure, English is the preferred foreign language in schools and courses. However, is it also the case with non-English speaking online buyers browsing for products?

The answer is no: in most cases English is not the language of preference for ecommerce activities. Why? The fact is that most people prefer to browse products in their own language: the one that they fully understand and use efficiently. So this is one of the reasons why back in 2011, UK exporters might have felt lost in translation…

translation international online sales 300x214

More than 6500 languages are spoken by 7 billion people worldwide. Hence, no wonder that English-only websites reach less than 25% of Internet users worldwide. The European Union itself has 24 officially recognised languages. The most widely spoken language in the EU is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French (12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each).

Only 54% of Europeans are able to hold a conversation in at least one foreign language. This means that almost half of all Europeans speak only one language!

According to research carried out by Eurobarometer on 13,700 users across 27 EU member states, 42% of the respondents have never bought online in a foreign language. 56.2% of consumers say that obtaining information in their own language is  more important than the price.

So yes, it’s a fact that English is the most commonly used second language. Yet internet users are not always as keen to try out their foreign language skills for e-commerce purposes as they are for other activities, such as online search for information.

According to the Gallup survey on language preferences:

  • 9 out of 10 Internet users said that whenever given a choice, they preferred to visit a website in their own language.
  • 19% never browse in a foreign language
  • 42% never make any purchases in languages other than their own.

What is interesting is the fact that although international buyers are willing to visit sites in English, they are less likely to make a purchase on these sites. This means the widespread use of English does not come to your rescue, you have to think global and take care of the multilingual side of your site.

How to overcome the language barrier?

In light of the above, it’s no wonder that UK exporters were lost in translation back in 2011. In 2015, all those British companies that failed to translate their websites can now do it easily and efficiently. The fact is that not a single online seller has to face these problems.

The eCommerce world of today has overcome the language barrier by developing translation and localisation services that help to adapt a website to a foreign local market.

So what should international online sellers think about? They must remember to:

  • Localise, adapt and optimise their website.
  • Choose the languages that their website should ‘speak’.
  • Make sure that their website, product search and check-out process are adapted to the local market.
  • Aim to make their shop look as local as possible.
  • Take into account their product, trends, marketing opportunities, business’ long-term goals and key drivers of e-commerce

You don’t have to offer an unlimited number of linguistic options yet it is worth considering the languages spoken by the key e-commerce marketplaces such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain or China. According to Revenue Wire, to make use of 90% of business opportunities online, companies must provide carts in at least 13 languages: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabic, Russian and Swedish.

Interested in how to overcome the language barrier? In a FREE demo presentation, our eCommerce expert will show you how and estimate your international sales potential and the additional revenue you will earn. Book NOW!

FREE demo

What should be localised?

Remember to localise the following elements of your website:

  • Language: increase the comfort and convenience for your foreign customers and save them the hassle of third-party translation tools. Use language that is simple, informative and sounds native to local consumers.
  • Currency: present prices in different currencies even if you can’t accept payment in all of them. This information will give your customers an idea of the price without having to make an extra effort and resort to a currency converter.
  • Payment method: do some research on the most popular payment method in a given country. This will instill trust in your foreign customers. If they see payment methods they’re not particularly familiar with, they may be wary about security.
  • Design: check the cultural design preferences. Not only will it increase the credibility of your product, but it will also improve the shopper’s experience. You may have to make some adjustments when you translate a website, for example some German words may be slightly longer than the English ones so you may have to tweak the design a bit.

All the activities required to break down language barriers can be delegated to companies who will provide you with translation, optimisation and localisation of your website. Some may also help you with the promotion of your products abroad free of charge. It’s worth doing some research to look for some viable options.

In a nutshell…

Inspire your customers with a feeling of confidence and trust – this is strongly related to being able to communicate in their native language. 

Try companies like Webinterpret to internationalise your store for FREE! Don’t assume that everybody speaks English as they may lose interest in your offer due to the extra linguistic hassle.

The highly competitive e-commerce world of today requires online sellers to be able to provide their buyers with the best possible shopper and user experience. This also applies to your international customers. Make this extra effort and localise your online presence to benefit from global sales.

Want to read more about Cross Border Trade? Check 7 factors that can make or break your international sales deal.

Other sources

Related Posts:

NEWS: Our Online Stores shipping service as well as a suite of services for Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento and Salesforce Commerce Cloud platforms is now available as a separate company called Glopal. For more information, visit If you are currently an existing customer of our Glopal services and you need to raise a support request, please click here for assistance.
Hello. Add your message here.