When it comes to forging a global e-commerce strategy, localization is key.
E-commerce is a truly global phenomenon that shows no sign of slowing. A December 2014 eMarketer report shows China and the U.S. are the world’s leading e-commerce markets, combining for more than 55 percent of global Internet retail sales in 2014. By 2018, China’s retail commerce sales will exceed US$1 trillion, accounting for more than 40 percent of the total worldwide. The U.S. will maintain its position as the second-largest retail ecommerce market in 2018, with the U.K. in third place.
eMarketer also predicts that Asia-Pacific will become the leading region for e-commerce sales in 2015, representing 33.4 percent of the total, compared with 31.7 percent in North America and 24.6 percent Western Europe.
Everybody wants a slice of the pie and the good news is, with a little forethought and planning, pretty much anyone can take one.
E-commerce is no longer the preserve of the specialist trader or the multinational with resources to spare. Online trading allows businesses of all shapes to potentially reach new markets and customers all over the world. It’s easy to make mistakes, so here are four key priorities for a global e-commerce strategy.
1. Localizing Properly
There are no borders on the Internet, but if you are looking to sell internationally, it can help if you concentrate your efforts on specific markets and localize your online presence accordingly. To some extent English remains the online lingua franca or "common language," but in some important markets such as China, English remains a rarity.
A Common Sense Advisory study found that 75 percent of multilingual consumers still preferred to buy products in their native language. More than half (55 percent) said they would only buy from websites where information was available in their language and this figure was even higher in certain markets such as Japan (70 percent).
Choosing a suitable translation partner is important. Working with native translators can help you to avoid errors and achieve a more natural, local feel to your copy, but don’t forget other elements of localization.
Images, for example, should be culturally relevant and appropriate. The "thumbs up" sign means "OK" in many cultures, but is an obscene gesture in much of the Middle East, parts of West Africa, and parts of South America.
Native translators can help to translate and transcreate content, but they can also serve as quality control editors, casting an eye over the whole thing to check it rings true and that there are no glaring cultural faux pas that might not be apparent to an outsider.
One area that should never rely on straight "dictionary" translation is that of keywords. Keywords do not always translate literally and alternative words or phrases can often be more effective.
The high-speed train, for example, is generally known as Shinkansen ("new trunk line") in Japan. In the U.K., they are still commonly known as "bullet trains" – which is actually a literal translation of the Japanese termdangan ressha, a nickname for the project that stems back to the 1930s. In France, meanwhile, you would search for "TGV" (Train à Grande Vitesse or "high-speed train"). All three phrases refer to the same basic concept but the literal meanings are very different.
Keyword research will usually benefit from a bit of local knowledge and a partner skilled in both translation and SEO.
On the subject of SEO, setting up fully localized websites with their own country-code top-level domains (such as .fr for France or .jp for Japan) can give you a boost in local search results, as well as giving your site a more "local" feel.
It’s perfectly possible to conduct e-commerce using only your own website but many companies prefer to use or incorporate existing platforms. The China-based site Alibaba provides sales portals for online traders and a reported US$9.3 billion was spent in a single day during the Chinese equivalent of the USA’s Cyber Monday.
Then there are other popular e-commerce platforms in the West that can give you the tools to run your own online store more effectively.
Mobile marketing is hugely important wherever your business operates. Mobile Internet access overtook PCs for the first time worldwide in 2014 but in some markets, such as India and China, mobile has been the most popular way to connect to the Internet for even longer.
Research from Google in 2014 showed Singapore (85 percent) and South Korea (80 percent) had the highest smartphone penetration rates but many businesses still weren’t optimized for mobile.
Julian Persaud, managing director of Google Southeast Asia, said, "88 percent of Singaporeans say they experienced problems when accessing websites on their phones, so clearly there’s a lot more work to be done. It’s vital for every business to think mobile-first.
"This is a massive wake-up call to any business in Singapore without a mobile-optimized site or app. This is no longer a viable approach - you're effectively slamming your shop door in the face of your customers."