The Changing Language and Culture of eCommerce
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”1
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
Language Statistics and Internet Use
It is true that English remains the dominant content language of the internet, responsible for 61.2% of the top 10 million websites online. However, if demographics truly are destiny, website localization presents an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and dominate the international market. The privileged position that English has as the lingua franca of the internet is only logical, as the internet was invented in the U.S. and originally created in English. But the language of the internet is overdue for some radical changes. In fact, the trends all point toward the explosive growth of a multilingual internet, one with the ubiquity of smartphones and increasing penetration in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The growth of English-speaking internet users has stalled at a rate of 742.9% between 2000-2021. That may seem like a large percentage but not when compared to the growth rate of Arabic- (9,348.0%), Chinese- (2,650.4%), Portuguese- (2,167.0%) and Spanish-speaking users (1,511%) during the same period.
Data Source: Internet World Stats
These growth trends in the number of internet users whose first language is one other than English indicate that there is a mismatch between the supply and demand of internet content. It also indicates an opportunity available to businesses brave enough to hurdle the language barrier. Website localization is the key to reaching the millions of internet users who might be looking for your product or service but are unable to find it (or unwilling to engage) because you are not speaking the same language.
What are people searching for?
The key question to ask in order to position your company for success in the international market is, “what language does your target audience prefer to use online?” A 2020 survey by the Common Sense Advisory (CSA) titled “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” polled 8,709 global consumers in 29 non-anglophone countries in Europe, Asia, North America and South America and found that “76% of online shoppers prefer to buy products with information in their native language. In addition, 40% will never buy from websites in other languages.”2
According to CSA’s Chief Strategy Officer and founder Don DePalma “there should be no question about localizing your website and product information if you want to sell more goods or services to global customers… Localization improves customer experience and increases engagement in the brand dialogue. It should be a rigorously planned and executed business strategy for any company looking to grow internationally.”3 In fact, DePalma goes on to say that companies that choose not to localize their websites risk losing 40% or more of the total market. When it comes to online consumers, “most would rather think, act, and buy in their own language.”4
Further research by the Harvard Business Review found that 56.2% of consumers believe “the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.”5 This means that consumers are even willing to pay a higher price to ensure that they are understanding all of the information presented to them. The bottom line is that internet users want to find information on products and services in their native language. If your company invests in localization services, you will not only find your target market but will ultimately seal the deal.
Corner the Market
The most promising aspect of the internet, according to one of its founding fathers, J.C.R. Licklider, is that “intellectual community may be achieved despite geographical distribution.”6 In order to succeed in the global market, it is vital that companies both large and small start to see linguistic, cultural, and geographic differences as opportunities rather than barriers. Localization is a key strategy for bridging all of these gaps and enabling your company to penetrate its target market whether that is in Brazil, Japan, or Germany. There is an untapped market of millions of people who are searching for information in their native language and you have the opportunity to be the only one communicating with them directly. This will enable you to build trust with your key demographic — your number one brand ambassadors. Word of mouth spreads quickly, and by cultivating a loyal base of consumers in a particular language, you will surely be able to expand on your initial success.
Across all industries, the first step to the success of your business is communicating clearly and directly with your client. When your company is operating in the international marketplace, it is crucial to have a localized website that accurately conveys your message to your target audience. At Ingenuiti, our web-designers and translation teams have the cultural understanding and technological expertise to create content-rich, user-friendly websites for all international markets, including in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Additionally, our trained linguists are experts in the specialized vocabulary that your industry requires whether in life sciences, manufacturing, travel, or finance. We provide accurate and culturally-relevant localization services for online interactive content, graphics, and multimedia, including audio and video. Website localization has the power to shrink the distance between you and your international clients, creating a community that transcends borders. It is time for you to expand the horizons of your business and connect with a global audience.
1 Wittgenstein, Ludwig. “Tractatus Logico Philosophicus,” 1922. Project Gutenberg, 2010. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5740/5740-pdf.pdf
2, 4 CSA Research. “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: 2020.” Common Sense Advisory, 2020. https://csa-research.com/More/Media/Press-Releases/ArticleID/655/Survey-of-8-709-Consumers-in-29-Countries-Finds-that-76-Prefer-Purchasing-Products-with-Information-in-their-Own-Language
3 CSA Research. “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: 2014.” Common Sense Advisory, 2014. https://csa-research.com/More/Media/Press-Releases/ArticleID/31/Survey-of-3-000-Online-Shoppers-Across-10-Countries-Finds-that-60-Rarely-or-Never-Buy-from-English-only-Websites
5 Kelly, Nataly. “Speak to Global Customers in Their Own Language.” Harvard Business Review, 2012.
6 Licklider, J.C.R as quoted by Hauben, Ronda. “Creating the Vision of the Internet.” Columbia University.
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