Can’t read – won’t buy: The dos and don’ts of international CRO

With many of the world’s consumers shifting their purchasing intentions online, the vast growth opportunities from international expansion are well worth pursuing. The global ecommerce market is expected to be worth $3,056.3 billion by 2023, up from $1,808.5 billion in 2019. But to succeed on an international scale and really boost conversion rates, the single best thing you can do is to focus on your product description content.

Research shows that poor product descriptions are consistently among the top 3 factors which dissuade shoppers from making a planned purchase, whereas informative, persuasive product descriptions will boost conversion rates – and basket sizes. But convincing new audiences that your products are relevant to their needs and expectations will not be possible without optimising product descriptions for each of your individual target markets.

Maximising your international reach will mean penetrating markets where many of your potential customers don’t speak English – or don’t feel comfortable shopping in anything other than their native tongue. In fact, 40% of shoppers simply won’t buy from a website in a foreign language.

Human versus machine translations

The temptation to resort to machine translation is obvious, especially given the high volumes of product descriptions required for ecommerce, but the apparent simplicity of this solution can belie significant pitfalls. Indeed, machine translations can result in some embarrassing gaffes, and the reputational damage to follow may be no laughing matter.

Last year, Amazon oversaw a humiliating market launch in Sweden, marred by a series of automatic translation blunders. Elsewhere, Facebook found itself hastily deactivating the auto-translate feature across its platforms in Thailand and issuing a grovelling apology, after its automated translation of a post about the King’s birthday insulted the Thai monarchy. In local terms, the latter offence could potentially have merited a 15-year spell in a Bangkok prison.

Such faux pas may be extreme, worst-case scenarios, but even the most blamelessly accurate of automated translations can sabotage your bottom line. As our own research has demonstrated, machine translations will struggle when it comes to capturing your brand’s tone of voice, or evoking those emotive, inspirational elements that support brand affinity – and critically – purchase intent. When comparing product descriptions across fashion, technology, homeware and beauty verticals, a decisive 79% of consumers said they were more likely to buy after reading the human translated product descriptions, while 80% said that the human translations left them with a better impression of the retailer than the machine translated content.

Ticking all the boxes

1. Tone of voice: getting your tone of voice right for international markets means striking a careful balance – between content that replicates your brand identity and an awareness of regional or cultural expectations. For example, Germans tend to prefer a direct approach – so quirky, pun-heavy content is likely to fall flat, whereas Koreans respond to ‘cute’ themes and a more personalised tone.

2. The right approach to localisation will vary, depending on the market. Localised translation of product descriptions may suffice when adapting English content for European consumers, but content for the Latin American markets may need to be transcreated, and in China and other Asian countries, even originated – from scratch. 

3. An awareness of cultural sensitivities, such as not mentioning body parts in Russian (‘full-leg’ length), is vital, not just to avoid offense, but to demonstrate to your customers that you’ve taken the time to get to know them. A CMO Council report has highlighted how successful global brands such as PepsiCo have deployed cultural sensitivity to stand out from the crowd, enhance their brand reputation and remain relevant to their international customers. Brands that are serious about engaging with consumers in foreign markets “need to offer a more culturally relevant connection with their audience.”

4. Focus on your customer, rather than the product. Contextualising their motivations for buying from you will help you to infuse your product descriptions with the most appropriate message. In the case of an English heritage brand, UK and French consumers may well appreciate a more dynamic or revamped offering, whereas Asian consumers will respond to a brand’s history and tradition.

5. Subject matter expertise: experienced content creators with in-depth local knowledge will enable you to target markets with the most effective and compelling terminology.  For example, the Arabic language lacks the nuanced system of colours found in English, and some everyday fashion terms (such as ‘pencil skirt’) may be mystifying to many Middle Eastern shoppers, but local experts can help supply the best colloquial substitutes.

6. Looking beyond content: if you are committed to optimising conversion rates on a global scale, embarking upon qualitative and quantitative UX research in all key markets is likely to pay dividends in the long term.  This process should flag up any logistical hurdles, from knowing to avoid packaging items in 4s in Japan, to adapting your mobile experience for the most popular local devices or offering locally popular payment options. If you can also incorporate multi-variant testing of different product description lengths, layouts and approaches across your target markets, all the better.

Many brands with global ambitions are still failing to achieve these goals because they – and the traditional agencies they work with – lack the ability to scale multi-language content production at the speed required for ecommerce, where product turnover is lightning fast. It’s only Quill’s unique model, combining efficiency driving technology with a global network of talented content creators, that enables us to create high quality ecommerce content at unparalleled speed and scale.

Embarking upon this process of optimising your international product pages is worth every bit of the effort, because international CRO has been demonstrated time and again to be a great return on investment – even before factoring in the savings on costly product returns by giving customers all the important information they need upfront.

Please contact us if you’d like a Quill Quality Score in specific languages to assess how well optimised your content is for international conversions.



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