US, UK and the Importance of Localisation in Ecommerce
The impact of Covid-19 saw physical stores close across the globe, causing a dramatic shift to ecommerce and making the digital space more competitive than ever. This seismic move to online channels has also helped to speed up digital transformation in industries beyond ecommerce, with McKinsey estimating that the digitisation of customer interactions was accelerated by three years globally as a result of the pandemic. These advances have brought with them global opportunities and have made it easier than ever for brands to expand internationally.
With 70% of online buyers purchasing from foreign websites (eMarketer), it is clear that there are plenty of opportunities to gain success in new markets. However, expanding into new locales and reaching new consumers effectively is not just about having state-of-the-art technology and a great ecommerce strategy. You may have a great website in place, but if you are not speaking your target audience’s language, you probably won’t obtain the desired results. According to CSA Research, 40% of consumers will not buy from websites in other languages, so having an end-to-end localisation strategy from the start is vital for smooth and successful international growth.
A personalised purchasing experience starts with language
When consumers are shopping for a product or service from your website, they want to feel they are in an environment that is familiar and secure. Moreover, they want to feel that the purchasing experience is authentic and has been personalised to meet their needs and preferences. A shared language is the very basis of creating this experience; thus, localising all your content and communications — from product descriptions and emails to marketing campaigns and SEO strategy — is key to ensuring your target audience and your brand are on the same linguistic page.
You might be thinking: 'Wait, I’m a US-based brand looking to expand to other English-speaking markets, such as the UK. I don’t need localisation. We already share a language — English is English, right?' Well, yes and no. Localisation is not just about words: it’s also about culture and the ability to bring a message to life in a very different context and for a very different audience. So, if you don’t have a localisation strategy in place to adapt your content for your overseas target audience, your recipe for biscuits and gravy will probably be met with horrified stares from your UK-based consumers.
So, if you are planning an overseas move, where do you start?
US>UK localisation and vice versa can sometimes be as challenging as adapting content from different languages. Even though English operates as a linguistic bridge over the Atlantic, these two markets have a broad range of colourful (or colorful?) differences when it comes to their ways of speaking and writing. This means that there is a range of aspects — both linguistic and extralinguistic —that need to be meticulously adapted to provide your potential customers with a customised, localised experience from first click to checkout.
Spelling and punctuation. This is probably the most straightforward phase of the localisation process. The UK and the US have their specific variants, and customers are quick to pick up on things like a 'z' where they would normally expect an 's' or a 'theater' instead of a 'theatre'. Likewise, subtleties like the use of periods with titles such as Mr or Ms vary, so while it may feel like a minor issue, keeping an eye on these aspects will help build an authentically local feel to your website.
Non-linguistic elements. Your customers expect to have an end-to-end customised experience when shopping on your site, so make sure the localisation process goes beyond words. Currency, date and time format, shipping options — all these things need to be adapted to reflect local usages and customs.
Preferred terms and expressions. Don’t get your panties in a bunch (or your knickers in a twist) over this, but, despite sharing a language, the UK and US have their own versions of similar idioms, as well as different terms and wordings for the same (or similar) concepts. From 'cinema' vs 'movies' and 'petrol' vs 'gas' to 'cash machine' vs 'ATM' and 'can I have…?' vs 'can I get…?', the two sides of the pond have their own ways of expressing themselves. Making sure you use the right one (especially when it comes to adding to 'basket' or 'cart') will not only make your content more consumer-friendly but also contribute to building trust in your brand in a new market.
Cultural references. Thinking about making a joke on social media about spending Thanksgiving with that unbearably boring family member? Or writing an article about the best snacks for hosting a Super Bowl party? Make sure you check the relevance and relatability of these references for your target audience, so you avoid baffling your consumers with content they may need to Google to understand.
Humour. This can be a challenging facet of localisation, as jokes often rely on a shared cultural background to work. Likewise, different societies have different styles and conceptions of what is considered funny and what is not. For example, the drier, more ironic banter the British are known for would probably not be as easily successful with US audiences. To avoid running the risk that jokes don’t resonate across cultures, review your witty comments to carefully assess whether they will elicit smiles from their intended audience.
SEO. Most brands make optimisation a priority when building their domestic site — so why should it be any different when it comes to your localised site? Having a localised SEO strategy is essential even when the two markets share a common language. Consumers may be searching for your product, but they might be using entirely different terms to get to it. So, for instance, if you are a specialist foods online retailer selling snacks, you probably will want to know that US 'chips' are called 'crisps' on the other side of the Atlantic, and that UK online searches for 'chips' will bring back an entirely different result ('fries'). So, while 'English is just English', make sure you adjust your keywords to reflect local usage — otherwise, you risk not being able to attract the right audience to your site.
While localisation is a highly effective tool to bring your existing content, website and campaigns to new audiences, sometimes a greater level of adaptation is needed for them to work in a different market. Perhaps at the core of a topic lies a humorous focus that relies on an 'inside joke' the target audience needs to connect with instantly for the piece to have the intended impact. Maybe there is a specific trend or subject that is relevant only in the target market, and so there isn’t the existing content to localise in the first place. Even in cultures that on the surface may not appear too different, such as the UK and the US, these idiosyncrasies can make all the difference when a brand attempts to connect with audiences in new markets.
In these cases, brands can opt for other approaches. In the first example, transcreation can help create a new version of the existing piece of content that adapts the humorous twist more freely and creatively but still retains the original’s core message and spirit.
Alternatively, for the second scenario, content creation can produce completely original pieces crafted with the specific target market in mind. This approach, tailored to a particular locale, will help your brand stay relevant and build a meaningful connection with your local audience.
Local holidays and special events are a good example of the importance of having a market-specific content creation strategy. Boxing Day, for example, does not have an equivalent in the US, so US brands operating in the UK would need to plan and create campaign content from scratch if they wanted to celebrate this day. Researching the target market’s important dates and keeping an updated content calendar is key to having visibility of the topics and formats you need to create in advance and the ones you can easily adapt or repurpose.
Native-to-market expertise to support your global journey
A successful global ecommerce strategy relies on understanding the target market and creating a shopping experience that has been tailored specifically to it. Speaking the way your potential customers do is essential to this personalised approach.
At THG Fluently, we work with a network of native-to-market linguists to ensure that the online experience you offer your target audience is familiar, authentic and engaging throughout the purchasing journey. So even when your domestic and target market share the same language, our teams will make sure you find the right words and expressions to talk to your audience confidently every step of the way.
For almost 20 years, we’ve provided expert localisation services to ecommerce businesses going global. In that time, we’ve learned what it takes to help global brands grow in new markets. So, if you’d like to learn more about how we can support your business by connecting you with the best talent for your project, feel free to get in touch.