Localisation for ecommerce: adapting product descriptions to country, culture and place

30 Apr 2018

Localisation for ecommerce: adapting product descriptions to country, culture and place

The internet is a truly global marketplace. According to Internet World Stats, 75%  of browsers are now non-English speakers. What’s more, a third of that group  – accounting for 23% of total global traffic – favour languages other than the most common 10, indicating a growing diversity of cultures and audiences surfing the web. It should therefore come as no surprise that, as internet and smartphone penetration continues to skyrocket, demand for localisation is also on the rise.

While such statistics may make interesting reading in their own right, they are also of huge importance to ecommerce brands with global ambitions. In a survey of over 2,400 consumers hailing from eight different nations, Common Sense Advisory discovered that 72% of consumers (perhaps unsurprisingly) spend the vast majority of their time on sites in their own language and an equal number would be more likely to buy a product described in their own tongue. In fact, over half of consumers reported that gaining information on a product in their native language was more important than price.

This preference holds even among multilingual consumers. A report from the European Commission indicates that 42% of respondents – drawn from 27 highly multilingual European member states – have never purchased services or products in languages other than their own. The evidence is clear: the cultural diversity of online customers is growing, and with it the demand for product content in multiple languages.

While this may seem like a problem for global-aimed businesses, it is in fact an opportunity. Brands that can produce strong, well-localised content have a chance to cater to – and win over – foreign target markets. The key is to recognise the unique and inherent issues in ecommerce localisation, and how these problems can be overcome.

Localisation – it’s more than translation

So we know that localisation is important – but is it really that hard? We live in a world where Google Translate exists, after all.

Even assuming that automated translation is perfect – which it isn’t – word-for-word translation and true localisation are very different things. As Faye Morrison, Senior Production Editor at Quill, explains: “Understanding the requirements of the client – and the sensitivities of the target market – is key. Copy that sells jackets in English does not do the same in Japanese, and vice versa. Here at Quill, we never do direct translation; it simply doesn’t work!”

Instead, Quill offers three distinct services when adapting written content for international audiences:

– Localisation, where content is adapted to the requirements of a particular market with fidelity to the source material.
– Transcreation, where content is created from scratch via a brief similar to the original.
– Origination, where the entire brief and strategy are overhauled to suit the target market, resulting in completely bespoke content for each market.

“Localisation and transcreation work well for markets with fairly superficial differences to our own,” says Faye. “For example, product descriptions in German require a more formal tone when compared to English, so we would transcreate these for preference. However, for audiences with completely different expectations and buying habits – for instance, those in Central and East Asia – an origination approach is often more successful.”

Even with a strong knowledge of a particular audience, it is near-impossible for brand representatives of one locale to understand the expectations of a foreign target market. As a result, outsourcing to native speakers is almost always necessary, and gathering such teams is  a hugely challenging process in itself.

Quill, recognising this problem, built a solution for itself: a 2,500-strong network of creatives working in over 40 different languages. Highly skilled, pre-screened translators are gathered and trained on a common brief, overseen by trusted native-speaking freelance editors.

“Localisation is obviously more of a challenge than English content creation in terms of transparency,” says Faye, “in that we can’t always measure the strength of the copy for ourselves. That’s why we’ve formed relationships with a network of dependable, professional editors of multiple nationalities – people we trust to enforce the brief on our behalf and make appropriate tonal judgments.”

Localisation at scale – a task for technology?

Localising a single advert or blog post is one thing – but what if you’re an online retailer with thousands of product descriptions, each requiring localisation to multiple different markets? The sheer scale of effort inevitably results in spiralling costs and drawn-out timelines.

Quill’s Product Manager Lucy Hart has spent the last year working on the development of the Quill Cloud. This content technology and production platform, designed to facilitate the delivery of high-volume content projects, allows central project managers to oversee thousands of tasks and remotely-located freelance contributors via automated workflows.

Since these freelance teams both compose and submit work through the platform, the Cloud has been optimised to support not only standard copywriting and content creation, but the localisation process as well.

“Here at Quill, we take what we call a ‘humans in the loop’ approach to content technology,” says Lucy. “Although AI isn’t at a stage to fully replace human decision-making, it can nevertheless handle the ‘grunt work’, enabling our creatives to concentrate on the nuanced tasks that really matter.”

“To this end, we have experimented extensively with various automated translation tools, all with a view to streamlining the localisation process as much as possible. The latest version of our platform will incorporate glossaries, translation memory and machine translation, all trained to the requirements of one brand’s brief. The interface will be interactive, meaning it learns from and adapts to translators as they work – a bit like predictive text, or the suggestions in a search bar.  It also allows our users to view the source and target text alongside one another while they work.

“The result is a very cool piece of software that helps our Network translators work more efficiently and to individual brand brief, maintaining an extremely high level of quality across any volume of translated content.”

Multi-language content creation presents a terrific opportunity for ecommerce brands – and an equally daunting operational challenge. With the appropriate tools, however, localisation at both speed or scale is possible. Get in touch below to discover how Quill can use its unique combination of Network and Cloud content technology to help you conquer overseas markets.


Susanna Quirke @ Quill ContentContent Marketing Manager at Quill, examining digital, SEO and e-commerce trends from across the web.

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