Details like using the right word for each country, proper links and recognition of the color preferences of each market can help retailers sell effectively worldwide.


Juliana Pereira, senior director of marketing, Smartling

Even if they speak English, 75% of global shoppers won’t buy from your website unless it’s in their native language. This connection makes perfect sense once you think about it: People won’t buy what they can’t understand.

In the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, business strategist John Yunker ranks 150 corporate websites, not just in the U.S., but worldwide. In the world of retail, this year’s top ranker is, communicating with consumers in 103 different languages and dialects. This makes the fourth best global website in the world, behind Google, Wikipedia, and Facebook.

Granted, not every brand can or should be in as many languages as Nivea. Luxury retailer Tiffany & Co’s site, for example, is only in 21. But no matter which number is right for you, localization is every global retailer’s new reality.

But there’s one problem: Translation can be a complete waste of time and money if you don’t do it right. It’s simply not enough to take English words and put them in another language. Website localization requires much finer attention to detail than that. Fortunately, focus on the right areas can turn localization from a cost center into a revenue driver.

Red means stop or danger in the United States, but it symbolizes good luck in China, communism in Russia, and Sunday in Thailand.

Here, we share six of these areas with you:

  • Dialect. What’s known as a pair of flip-flops in America are called thongs in Australia. But go into a US shoe store and ask for a pair of thongs, and they’ll send you to the nearby lingerie boutique. Just like in English, other languages all have different dialects for each country. So when you translate your website, be precise. Which country’s Spanish do you need it in? If the answer is more than one, invest in the correct translation for each country. After all, no one searching your site for underwear wants to find shoes.
  • Site Links. Most retailers already explore country-specific domains (.es, .fr, etc) for their website’s address. But don’t forget the sublinks and outside websites you may want to direct to from that site. When first launched in Spanish, a flaw in the localization process meant Spanish-speakers couldn’t appropriately use it. Online shoppers would click on a URL link on the site, such as the link to Sears’ Facebook page, but instead the link sent them to the English version of the Facebook page. Even more frustrating, Sears had a Spanish page on Facebook, but no one changed the URL on the site to point there!
    Fortunately, this is easy to prevent. Site translation used to be done by extracting code into Excel, translating the text strings, then pasting the translation back in Excel before uploading it to the site. Modern translation software can automate the copy-and-paste process and create workflows that ensure the right translations for words and external links appear on the correct country-specific domain.
  • Layout. Some languages require more words to say something than others. English, for example, is 15% longer than Dutch and Spanish is 30% longer than English. A retailer’s website is purposefully designed to create an online experience that mirrors your brand. When translation is performed using the old-fashioned and copy-and-paste way using Excel, the words are removed from their perfect layout, translated, and then reinserted back into the website layout, creating visual formatting problems.
    Preventing this is easy if you require your translators to use in-context localization tools that show the translators in real time how the new language would look on the website page and how the translations might affect the visual website layout. Not only do localization tools help control language length on the device screen, but they also help format languages like Arabic that read from right to left.
  • Color. Speaking of appearances, different colors mean different things in different countries. Red means stop or danger in the United States, but it symbolizes good luck in China, communism in Russia, and Sunday in Thailand. Just like layout, the colors on your site and in your logo have been intentionally chosen to create the customer’s ideal experience. Put the same level of intentionality into the colors you use for every new country.
  • Images. As with color, pictures convey subliminal meaning. What do the people in the pictures on your site look like? How are they dressed? If you’re translating into Arabic, do women have their heads covered? Think about the message the photos on your page are sending: Is it something that would drive people from another country closer to purchase? For example,, John Deere’s French website, has a Formula 1 driver behind the wheel of a tractor on its homepage. The message is John Deere is cool, John Deere is fast. But in the US, that same message is better conveyed by a NASCAR driver.
  • Cart & Checkout. It all comes down to closing the deal. While information is great, at the end of the day customers need to know how to buy. Make sure your entire cart and checkout process is properly localized. This means pricing should be in the proper currency, and you may need to change the credit card logos you use (in France, a Cartes Bancaires logo shows you take Visa). The address fields on your order form for billing and shipping must be prepared for countries where addresses have a completely different format. Something as simple as requiring users to complete the zip code field could stop someone in a country without them from buying. Even in countries where they are used, the zip code may come before the city name or, as in Canada, be alphanumeric.

Being aware of these differences across countries and locales and translating your site accordingly will allow your brand to create better multilingual content for your users, and further enhance their brand experience.  This in turn will help you acquire more customers, access new markets, and deliver greater value to your business.

Smartling provides translation and localization services to global retailers.