The impact of translation on e-commerce conversion rates

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Around 2.64 billion internet users made an online purchase in 2023. But 90% of those consumers prefer to make purchases in their native language. This means the impact of translation on e-commerce conversion rates is huge – and growing.

E-commerce translation takes careful strategic planning and is not without its challenges. Yet for businesses that want to reach new and diverse global markets (and sell to them effectively), translation is the most powerful weapon in their arsenal.

To determine just how effective a tool translation is though, ecommerce conversion rates need to be measured.

Employed as a metric, they prove just how much high-quality translation boosts all of the key components of a successful e-commerce strategy. From maximising User Experience to minimising abandoned carts:

The role of translation in e-commerce

Translating your e-commerce store lets you reach diverse new markets, dramatically increasing your customer base.

As always, for sellers who want to attract their target audience and improve sales, the quality of User Experience (UX) is the most important factor. Simply put, the better your UX is, the better your conversion rate will be.

Of course, you can simply make your website accessible to your new target consumers in English – or whatever your native language is. But studies – such as a recent one from the European Commission – show how weighted consumer preference is for native language.

The translation of all the key elements of your e-commerce store – product descriptions, payment methods, and more – thus plays a key role in making that UX as free from hurdles as possible.

A visitor who can access all of your store details in the language and format they expect will stay on your site to explore, come to trust your brand more as they grow more comfortable and all of their questions are answered, and eventually move on to make a purchase.

E-commerce translation case studies

Some of the biggest brands in the world have only reached the size they have through the effective use of translation in their e-commerce stores to boost conversion rates:

1) Amazon

Perhaps the biggest name in global e-commerce, Amazon’s success rests on the effectiveness of its localisation efforts in reaching audiences around the world.

Online, the company provides localised versions of their entire shopping experience – localised websites, product listings, prices, delivery options, and more. This has done incredible work in boosting consumer trust and engagement.

Only in recent years have poor-quality seller translations (not provided by Amazon) and the spread of very similar or identical products from sellers trading under multiple names had an impact on the e-commerce giant’s reputation for trust.

2) Nike

Nike is a brand known worldwide. This is partly due to the power and effectiveness of its content localisation. Though the brand has – ironically for a footwear manufacturer – made missteps in the past, its current localisation strategy is highly effective.

At time of writing, Nike’s e-commerce plan is app-first. Aware of the mobile market’s importance, Nike has focused on developing its apps and the localised UX they offer to users.

E-commerce currently represents over 20% of Nike’s Direct-to-Consumer sales. Around 40% of that comes from its mobile apps alone. Its apps boost brand awareness and sales by carefully targeting specific local audiences in their own language.

Translation quality and its impact on consumer trust

If you have ever been looking to make an online purchase and clicked on a website in broken English, full of errors, with purchase methods that don’t feel safe, you know all too well the impact translation quality can have on consumer trust.

Conversely, a well-executed translation of an e-commerce website results in a UX that feels entirely natural and native. When consumers interact with localised stores like this, they feel confident enough to stay on the site and learn what they need to know before purchasing.

The key is personalising the experience you offer to users in specific target markets (with the aim of avoiding that off-putting experience above).

This relies on understanding local cultural preferences and nuance. However, the results in terms of increased engagement, brand loyalty, and customer retention – as well as those all-important conversions – are there to be seen.

The risks to a brand that fails to engage in the e-commerce translation process, throwing poorly translated or English-language sites at customers and demanding they adapt in order to buy, are massive and usually costly.

Technological advances in translation

The need to reach global audiences in their native language has prompted many businesses to use whatever tools they can find to translate their online store. This includes free translation options like Google Translate.

It must be said that the latest general translation tools like Google Translate and DeepL are undeniably useful. They’re used by millions of people every day to get the gist of something written in another language.

However, the quality limitations are obvious. Google Translate, in particular, is not always the most accurate, fluent, or nuanced in the translations it delivers. It’s usually quite easy to tell when this is the tool that’s been used to translate a product description or marketing content.

Equally, Google Translate is not useful for all languages. Languages like Tamil suffer because there is very little bilingual data available, sometimes making translations completely nonsensical.

The only way to achieve translations that are accurate, fluent, and culturally persuasive enough to result in conversion is to use a professional human translator who understands your source and target cultures. This is particularly vital for:

  • Currency preferences
  • Shipping options and applicable costs
  • Legal agreements
  • Specialised industries
  • Technical fields

There is a role for the latest technological advances to play in the e-commerce translation process. But that role is usually for a custom Machine Translation engine trained on specially chosen bilingual data that’s relevant to the subject at hand.

Cultural considerations in translation

Good Search Engine Optimisation is perhaps the most significant aspect of an effective and profitable e-commerce store. After all, if you don’t get found by consumers, they can’t buy from you.

Unfortunately, many brands don’t realise that all of the keyword research and SEO they’ve done for their English-language store don’t translate into stores targeting other regions and languages.

This is because people in different regions search for the things they want to buy online in different ways. Even those who speak the same language (for example, Spanish in mainland Spain versus Spanish in Argentina) may use different locally-preferred terms and phrases.

As a result, if you want to maximise your local search visibility, you absolutely need smart multilingual SEO. This includes keyword research to target locally used phrases and adapting elements including meta titles and descriptions, alt tags, and more.

Practical tips for implementing effective e-commerce translation

1) Identify your target markets

Even with expert language support, e-commerce translation requires some investment of resources. This makes wasting your spend on a broad-brush approach or on markets that will never buy your products an easy way to sabotage your efforts.

Use your site or app data to identify regions where there is already an interest in your app or website. Then work with a Language Service Provider experienced in the local area to be sure you are choosing your target markets with care.

2) Localise every element

A badly localised or half-translated e-commerce site can be actively bad for a brand. When you decide to translate for a given target market, go all the way. Translate:

  • Product descriptions – explaining the key features that will appeal to consumers in this specific target market, for example.
  • Purchase options – your market research should reveal the preferred local payment methods. These will build trust in your brand when you offer them.
  • Legal information – your T&Cs, shipping agreements, privacy policies, and more will all require careful translation, often from specialist translators in fields like law.
  • User Interface – adapting UI elements (for languages that are read right-to-left, for example), navigation methods, and icons to local norms ensures a smooth user experience.

3) Don’t forget customer support

Some brands do excellent work localising their e-commerce site, only to ignore or be confused when customers in that target market start to contact them with questions or complaints.

When a brand can’t take care of its new customers in a new market, it leaves itself open to taking a hit to consumer trust and confidence levels. Once word gets around – often via online reviews – of how little support is there, local purchases can drop away.

Never forget to make sure you have a translation partner in place to handle customer service interactions, inquiries, product emails, and all your other standard customer support practices.

4) Never skip testing and feedback

None of the biggest and costliest big-brand translation errors of recent years would have been made if the brand had stopped for a second and asked a local person for feedback on their campaign.

The same is true of e-commerce localisation. Make sure that you or the Language Service Provider you use plan to conduct testing and feedback to see how local users get on with your e-commerce platform.

If they hit problems or find it irritating, you know that consumers in your new target market will too.

The impact of translation on e-commerce conversion rates

E-commerce has helped businesses rise to become global giants. But becoming a global business means translating your online store so that it appeals to your new target audience as powerfully as your domestic store does.

Translation quality plays the key role here. Because, these days, any business can make its online store available in another region.

But comparatively few can create e-commerce platforms that actively grow their business by being highly visible online, attracting clicks, and being culturally nuanced enough to promote consumer trust and drive sales.

Those who do are those who understand and can leverage the impact of translation on e-commerce conversion rates.


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