08 April 2022

Table of contents

E-commerce is booming all across Europe. Already a long-term growing trend, the shift away from physical stores to online alternatives accelerated even further during COVID-19. Even when the pandemic has passed, the e-commerce trend will continue to grow.

Proportion of online shoppers from the total population in selected european countries until 2020


Source: Eurostat May 2021

Fashion is just one of many drivers in international online retail

While fashion has long held a strong position in e-commerce, other product ranges are now catching up. Online retail is gaining an ever-increasing share of the market. In the fashion segment alone, sales volume is expected to almost triple by 2025 compared to that in 2017.

Sales generated by (B2C) e-commerce in germany from 1999-2020 (in billions of euros)


Source: Statista, November 2020; *Forecast

Sales are shifting to e-commerce in germany as well

The trend is clear and the direction will continue – even if Corona should become a thing of the past. To reach your target groups in the future, you need to work on your web presence now and optimise your website or online shop. This applies both locally and as part of a company’s internationalisation drive.

Sales generated by (B2C) e-commerce in germany from 1999-2020 (in billions of euros)


Source: HDE May 2021

Localisation is the key to international e-commerce

The choice to localise – or not – impacts:

  • Consumer perception
  • Brand credibility
  • Consumers’ purchase intentions
  • Conversion rates
  • Brand awareness
  • SEO performance
  • Marketing cost effectiveness

These days, it’s easier than ever to internationalise a company. In many cases, online trading lets you enter new markets without the need for a local branch. Today, even small companies can enter foreign markets – something that used to be the exclusive reserve of corporate groups. Now, all you require is an online shop that is localised for your target countries.

What exactly is "localisation"?

At its simplest, it means making a company's marketing communications suitable for new target markets. Alongside translating content and websites into different languages, localisation requires a deep understanding of cultural nuances. This component is essential to effectively communicate and connect with an international audience. Localisation covers advertising campaigns, promotional materials, sales literature, brochures, press releases, newsletters and even the colours, images and symbols they contain.

Localisation vs. translation: What's the difference?

In essence, translating text means converting words from one language to another as accurately as possible and translators are not allowed to change the content. While this approach might be exactly what a customer wants, a direct translation can sometimes cause problems.

Under certain circumstances, sticking closely to the original text can be a disadvantage. If a target group’s lifestyles and day-to-day reality are not accurately represented in the translation, the text won’t resonate with them, leaving them feeling annoyed and alienated from the brand.

In cases like these, it’s actually better to deviate from the source text a little to make the translation more appealing to readers in other countries. Marketing translations are a prime example of this. To align your messages with your audience's expectations, the content needs to be adapted more than a standard piece of text would.

Sometimes, the line between translation and localisation blurs. When we translate a German article for the US market, for example, we automatically convert times from the German 24-hour system to the target language’s 12-hour structure. Similarly, a translator will change the punctuation to suit each language. In this sense, a translation also contains some aspects of localisation.

When it comes to localising – be it a piece of text, advertising materials or a website – translators have to pay close attention to the target language audience. They identify cultural distinctions in sales copy and adapt them accordingly. This is absolutely crucial to avoid offending, confusing or even losing your potential new customers.

It’s not just the wording that needs localising either. Take photos and images, for example. What might be considered harmless in one country could be very inappropriate in another. As part of the localisation process, these images would be replaced with pictures that are more suitable. Depending on the country or culture, even colours mean different things and sometimes have to be changed to convey the original message.

Occasionally, product names require a re-work. Companies aren’t always aware of the damage that a literal translation can do here. A word-for-word translation of a product or brand name could cause anything from mild confusion to complete catastrophe. Localisation experts will know if a name has a rude or funny-sounding connotation in the target region and will find a more suitable alternative before you take it public.

The same goes for images, such as those used in corporate branding and product design. As a very obvious example, most people know that cows are sacred in India. So, while the image of a cow in a brand’s logo or packaging is perfectly acceptable in Europe, it would likely be met with resistance or rejection in India.

Advertising copy often uses cultural references. The problem is, even when translated, the target audience will only understand them if they have had a similar experience. For the content to work well in other countries, these references need to be adapted for each specific market. At this point, we’re heading into the field of transcreation. This term refers to adapting a message – such as a creative advertising campaign – in a way that makes it equally effective in a variety of cultural environments.

Getting back to localisation, it even plays a part in search engine optimisation. Did you know that the way people search for products and services differs between cultures? This means that SEO has to be handled differently from one country to the next. Simply translating a list of keywords and phrases will only result in “search terms” that nobody would ever type into their search box. To avoid this, a specialist translator identifies the relevant keywords, terms and phrases and adapts the SEO text accordingly.

Unlike translation, localisation allows significantly more freedom to modify the target text. For this reason, we work in close collaboration with our client during the process to achieve the best possible results.

What are the advantages of localisation compared to translation?

A target group reading a localised message written to suit their culture will resonate with the content in the way it was intended. Localising an online shop goes much further than using the same language as your customers’ local shops. It’s about making them feel “at home”. By using local vernacular and cues throughout your online shop, your customers’ experience will feel much more natural to them. They will then spend more time in the shop, spend more on your products and increase your conversion rate.

In other words, you can’t go global without localisation. Just as translation is about more than converting words from one language to another, localisation goes even further by fully adapting content to connect with the target market. Particularly in the field of fashion, it pays to create and maintain a connection with your target audience – because in these fields, the codes used among “insiders” often determine the success or failure of trends and fashion stores.

Why localising a website or online shop is so important

These days, it’s become standard practice for companies to localise their websites and online shops as part of their internationalisation strategy. Shoppers’ expectations have risen accordingly. Customers now expect the same “look and feel” from overseas shops as they would in their own country. They want a seamless experience from search to supply to shipping, or else they leave.

The fact that this feeling is essential for purchase decisions was demonstrated in a global project called the “Underwear Effect”. The study investigated online buyer behaviour and how language affects user choice. It was carried out in over 70 countries in 66 languages with a sample size of 9,209 participants.

The “Underwear Effect” describes how consumers who shop online often make their buying decisions in their most private moments –mobile phone in hand and wearing nothing more than their underwear. That feeling of absolute familiarity stimulates the desire to buy.

People want that comfortable, familiar feeling. And that’s what they get when they shop in their own language. It’s been proven that reading and listening to content in one’s native or local language increases the feeling of familiarity – the “Underwear Effect” – and boosts sales.

Those who don't localise tend to become “outsiders” whose style is negatively noticed. Potential customers might question the credibility of the company or, in the worst case, leave.

This effect was scientifically proven in a study from 2004, in which the authors Singh, Furrer and Ostinelli demonstrated that consumers exhibit a higher purchase intention on culturally-adapted websites than standardised international websites. (Source: Study “To Localize or to Standardize on the Web: Empirical Evidence from Italy, India, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland”).

One conclusion drawn from the study is this: companies that think locally and act globally will conquer the global online markets. This is also known as “glocalisation”. It requires sensitivity to local cultures, codes and symbols. Localisation addresses these aspects and conveys them in a way that is appropriate for the target group.

Do you have any questions about localisation? we're here to help

We have a wealth of experience in localisation and transcreation for lifestyle and fashion companies, and would be pleased to share our practical and extensive knowledge with you. 

If you’re planning to localise your online shop, website or entire corporate identity, talk to our specialists for advice on expanding your business into international markets. We can also tell you more about the localisation processes and tools that we use.

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