receives compensation from some of the companies listed on this page. Advertising Disclosure


Language Barriers Are Limiting Your E-commerce Customer Base

Sean Hopwood
Aug 12, 2019

The language barrier could be holding back your e-commerce business.

  • More than 70% of shoppers are more likely to purchase a product presented in their native language.
  • China and India have more than 1 billion internet users – potential customers.
  • Make sure your e-commerce site is localized to specific areas where you see growth potential.

E-commerce does not have the same geographical constraints as traditional stores. It does not make sense to create boundaries by using just one language. While English remains the most commonly used language on the internet (with a 25.2% share), the top countries that use the internet are not primarily English-speaking countries. According to Internet World Stats, China and India have the highest number of internet users, with more than 1 billion each. In contrast, the United States only has a little more than 300 million internet users.

If you are publishing marketing materials in a language potential customers don’t understand or are not accustomed to, don’t expect them to be interested in your products. Likewise, if your e-commerce store is only in one language, don’t look forward to getting customers who use different languages. [Looking for the right e-commerce platform for your small business? Check out our reviews and best picks.]

So what do you do with your unilingual online store? Consider the following pointers.

1. Localization is the ideal solution.

Logically, to attract potential customers who don’t use the same language, you need to make your store viewable in their language. This is best done through localization, which is not plain and simple translation. When you localize, you have to find equivalent terms, idioms or expressions for the ones you currently have on your site. You may also have to replace some references, images or other content that may be considered offensive or unrelatable.

Localization is not only applicable to the e-commerce site or online store. Ideally, it should also be employed in the marketing copies, adverts, announcements and other materials used to reach out to customers.

A study by Common Sense Advisory on 2,430 online consumers in eight countries found that 72.4% of buyers are more likely to purchase a product if it is presented with information in their native language. More than half, on the other hand, say that the ability to get product information in their language is more important than the product’s price. These numbers should be good enough reasons for prioritizing localization.

If you don’t have people with sufficient target-language proficiency, you have to look for a reputable localization company. Don’t entrust the task to some run-of-the-mill language service provider. Ineffective localization is a waste of money, and erroneous localization can have serious blowback.

Editor’s note: Looking for e-commerce or shopping cart software for your business? Fill out the questionnaire below to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

2. You don’t need to cover all languages (although you can, sort of).

You don’t have to localize in all foreign languages. That would be too expensive and unnecessary. You just need to focus on a few languages that are dominantly used in the new markets you are targeting.

Still, you have the option to use automated translation to make it possible for your site to be viewed in a wide variety of languages. It’s not the best way to do it, but it may attract a few new customers who will serve as a hint as to which language you may need to target with your next localization efforts. For example, if your online store suddenly gets dozens of new buyers who prefer the Spanish interface of your site, you may need to consider localizing in Spanish next.

Do things gradually. There’s no need to come up with localized versions of all pages of your e-commerce site in several languages. Test the waters and respond where it makes sense. Automated translation is by no means comparable to human translation, but it can complement your major localization efforts. It can also draw the attention of some potential customers who would otherwise ignore your store if it were only presented in one language.

3. Pay attention to the most important pages.

The same Common Sense Advisory study mentioned above found that post-sales support, navigation interface and user reviews are the three most important aspects to localize. In the study, 74% of the survey respondents said they are likely to become a returning buyer if post-sales support is provided in their native language. On the other hand, 72% of the respondents said they wanted to read product reviews in their mother tongue, and 50% prefer navigation options to be presented in the language they commonly use.

In other words, the navigation bar, menu, tabs, buttons or links on your online store should have a version in the preferred language of your new target customers. The product reviews need to be localized (or local buyers should be encouraged to post their reviews). Most importantly, customer support should be in the language of the target customers. The Contact Us or Support page should have a localized version with separate telephone numbers, live chat accounts or email addresses to cater to customers who use different languages.

Of course, the product details should also be in the preferred language of your target customers. How will customers know what you are selling if the product information is in a language they can’t comprehend? Don’t interpret the statistics cited above simply on face value.

4. There should be corresponding SEO and marketing actions.

The localization of webpages or the interface of your e-commerce site is just a part of the process. There’s no guarantee that Google and other search engines will index your localized content. Hence, you have to implement search engine optimization techniques similar to what you do with your base content.

Find the most appropriate and viable keywords or keyword phrases to optimize. Do thorough research and analysis. You can’t just automatically optimize for a keyword that is a direct translation of the keyword you use for your base content. Examine if you have a chance to win against established local businesses already using the same keyword. Insert the localized keywords in your page title or title tag, page description, different parts of the body content, links, URL, folder, and graphics (file name, alt tag and graphics properties).

Make sure all of your marketing materials are properly localized. Your email marketing, social media, online ads and other marketing materials should be translated appropriately. All of this involves a lot of work, but it’s necessary to capture the audience you are targeting and convert them into buyers or patrons.

5. Evaluate and re-evaluate.

After making all the changes, find out if the localization you implemented is having the desired results or if there are further changes you can make to improve the results. You may want to perform A/B or split testing. Monitor your site traffic data and obtain feedback from your new target customers. Provide a variety of means and opportunities for your target customers to share their thoughts about your product or marketing campaign.

Some say money is the language of business. Others say it’s accounting. Don’t forget that natural languages are also vital in doing business. If you want to connect with customers in a market, you need to know and use their language, be it English, Japanese, German or Chinese. Localize strategically by starting with the most important languages and pages, then go further as your business grows. Don’t forget to implement the corresponding localization for your SEO and marketing.

Image Credit:


Sean Hopwood
I am a polyglot, the President of Day Translations, Inc. and its sister companies, World Interpreting, Inc. and Your Spanish Translation. As a child I was already fascinated with languages and different cultures, which later developed into a much stronger passion, something I nurtured and worked hard for. Eventually, I found success when I established Day Translations, Inc.