Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: How Localization Increases Sales Worldwide

5 min read

 

Common Sense Advisory, the research company focusing on global business and commerce, recently published a paper on how localization increases sales around the world. There’s a wealth of information that’s definitely worth reading, but for those who don’t have time to read a 50 page document, we thought we’d summarize the main points here.

They surveyed 3,002 people from 10 countries—Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Spain, and Turkey. Each country was represented by 300 people. The countries were chosen by their online economic value.

They found a substantial preference for content in a consumer’s’ native language. When people aren’t confident in their reading skills, they spend less time during their visits to English-language websites and they complete purchases at a much lower rate. People who are proficient in English are 8 times more likely to buy at English-only sites.

The first thing the survey asked was a self-assessment of their English competence. While they could have conducted tests to objectively determine this, one of the main things they were looking for was confidence in English, which is best represented subjectively. Almost half spoke English with little or no problem, while 18% said they had insufficient knowledge and 10% had no knowledge of English (the survey was translated into respondents’ native languages).

English ability determines how long people stay on a website, and people who spent more time on a website are 1.3 times more likely to make a purchase. The primary reasons for making a purchase, regardless of English ability, were cost, selection, and quality, but this drops off as a consumer’s English skills decrease.

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55% of consumers prefer to only buy in their native language and 53% are more at ease buying in their native language. Countries that most preferred to buy in their native language are France (61%), Turkey (61%), and Germany (58%). Countries most comfortable making purchases in English are Egypt (85%), Indonesia (78%), and China (78%), while those who were least comfortable are Japan (34%), France (42%), and Germany (43%).

What Parts Of Your Website Matter Most

Post-sales support, user reviews, and navigation were the most important content to localize. 74% of respondents were more likely to make a second purchase if post-sales support was offered in their native language, and 50% want navigation options in their mother tongue even if nothing else on the site is translated. But the feature that matters the most, across all levels of English ability are user reviews: 72% of respondents want reviews in their native language above all else—even 54% of confident and 70% of good English speakers.

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When Language Isn’t As Important

They found that price, payment, and performance were all more important to consumers than languages offered, although their tolerance for English-only content decreased as their ability went down.

Price is a huge factor in buying decisions: 57% of respondents would rather pay less than have access to content in their own language. Though, not surprisingly, price matters less as English ability drops.

As we’d expect, global brands were less affected by a lack of localization. Two thirds of respondents prefer buying from a global brand without content in their own language than from a lesser-known brand with content in their native language.

What’s Next

While the results of this survey are undeniably helpful for companies who are or are thinking of localizing their content, it’s important to remember that tolerance for English-only sites is only going to go down as the rest of the world comes online. These results are skewed by the fact that currently, people who have internet access are more likely to be educated, wealthy, and young, all factors in English ability.

Basically, the type of people who already have internet access are more likely to know English than those who don’t. Localizing content will become exponentially important as more of the population gains access to the internet.

Don’t forget about how user experience differs from country to country. For example, Chinese products have a vastly different UX than American products. Cultural differences and the increasing use of mobile devices (especially in developing countries) will affect how people interact with products and websites.

It’s clear that content localization is very, very important for any company looking to do business internationally—or should we say, succeed internationally. So where to start? We’ve written before about how to choose your first language to tackle, and overall it comes down to your target market and overall strategy. Where are your ideal customers? Which countries and languages have the highest economic value online?

Don’t forget to consider how many countries each language is spoken in. For example, France is spoken in 31 countries, many of these in Africa. Africa is experiencing a huge boon in internet access and French will become more valuable for localization as this continues.

The first place to start is to look at your site analytics. Where are people visiting from? How are they using their site, and how often are they abandoning without buying anything compared to other users? Talk to customers and potential customers who are located in foreign countries to see how they feel about your current content and if they have feedback or ideas on how to improve their experience with your product.

Overall this choice is no different than any other business decision. Look at the data, look at your goals, look at your target market, and talk to customers. If you approach the process with thoughtfulness and an open mind, you’ll have no problem.

 

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