This is a paper presented by Mandi Ciocca, a recent graduate of the Global Digital Marketing and Localization Certification (GDMLC) program. This paper presents the work being produced by students of The Localization Institute’s Global Digital Marketing and Localization Certificate program. The contents of this Paper are presented to create discussion in the global marketing industry on this topic; the contents of this paper are not to be considered an adopted standard of any kind. This does not represent the official position of Brand2Global Conference, The Localization Institute, or the author’s organization.
The San Lorenzo Leather Markets in Florence, Les Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris, The Queen Vic Market in Melbourne. These open-air marketplaces demonstrate the physical interaction between buyer and vendor in a multi-seller environment. There is no doubt that since “People cannot act or interact in any meaningful way except through the medium of culture” (Hall, 1976), vendors must market their products accordingly to successful reach their customer. But how can this be done when the physical interaction becomes virtual? How can sellers interact with buyers culturally in an online marketplace?
What are online marketplaces and who uses them?
According to Statista, there were 1.52 billion online shoppers globally in 2016 and they have forecasted that by 2020, this number will rise to 2 billion. Whether looking for a specific product or trying to browse many products to find the right one, consumers have many options to do so by shopping online. One option that has become an increasingly dominant solution is the online marketplace. CPC Strategy found that out of the 96% of Americans that shop online, 71% use large omni channel retailers, which includes marketplaces, that give buyers the option to browse thousands of products from different sellers to fulfill their shopping needs. The most popular US online marketplaces are also extremely popular globally, think eBay, Amazon and Google Shopping, along with sites like Alibaba and Aliexpress from China that draws users from all over the world. Whether a marketplace is vertical, horizontal, small, or large, nationally diverse users come to see what international sellers can offer them. Selling on a marketplace is also extremely beneficial for sellers. Translate Media states that, “From a seller perspective, an international marketplace can be a good way to raise sales volumes. Amazon claims that sellers often report a 50% increase in sales when they join the Amazon marketplace.” This then begs the question, how do you reach customers in different locales while using a global marketplace?
Localization efforts need to be taken in order to target products towards your audience but as marketplaces are made up of culturally diverse audiences, difficulties in this process can arise. Localizing products in a large online marketplace can be challenging not only in translating the content accurately, but considering the socio cultural distance and diverse cultural values that exist between seller and customer and among customers themselves. Examples of these issues can be detected among merchants selling on US and international marketplaces varying in size, popularity and product space.. How can these localization issues be addressed? What is the best way to scale localization efforts in order to reach such a diverse crowd of users/customers?
Why is Marketplace Localization Important?
Firstly, it’s necessary to address the question of localization v. standardization. Why can’t a merchant simply standardize their product feed and display it on various marketplaces? Specifically, if English is the second most spoken language among native and non-native speakers worldwide, it is seems to be an easy decision to standardize your product feed to reach that large demographic. In fact, if you browse various international marketplaces in different locales, you will find a large amount of products that are either entirely in the English language and also those that have only translated product titles but the remaining product metadata in is English. However, 40% of users prefer content in languages other than English. Therefore, if almost half of online shoppers are more prone to show interest in products listed in their target language, language standardization may affect clicks, conversions etc. from this large portion of online shoppers. Apart from personal preferences, issues of cultural distance come into play with standardizing a product for one global audience.
The Socio Cultural environment in an international marketplace will include various languages, cultures, colors and symbols that will not reach every user equally. Products sold on a marketplace are essentially advertisements for that products, possibly the merchant as a whole, and the representation of those products in their title, description, attributes, images and other metadata need to be adapted both linguistically and culturally depending on the audience the seller hopes to reach. For example, if your product, even if translated to the target language, has a description that tells a narrative rather than presenting the main functions and specs of the product, it may not have much success in a low context, individualistic culture that would prefer to know the functionality of the product outright. This concept can also extend to the title of the product. Consumers from a high context culture may surpass your product if the title is simple and generic and those from a low context culture may find longer, “markety” titles to include too much extraneous info to be relevant to their search needs. Product image can also be affected by these contextually different cultural values. If your product contains multiple images showing the product in use by other consumers with which a buyer can relate, this may appeal to a high context culture. On the other hand, a low context culture may prefer direct images of product use and angles.
While product representation in different cultural environments is important to consider, it’s also important to localize these products to benefit search optimization and reliability of product data. Particularly important in this area is the actual translation and accuracy of that translation for that product. Are the concept, object and term all in agreement? Additionally, is your metadata accurate and are your keywords being used properly for the audience you’re hoping finds your product on this large marketplace? There can be fault in using too many keywords to draw a larger audience by reducing reliability and trust that your product is indeed what it claims to be. These questions can help determine if users can easily find your product in search and then click through to consider for purchase.
Examples of Localization Issues on International Marketplaces and Proposed Solutions
With 20+ locales, Google Shopping is globally dispersed. Merchants from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds may choose to advertise their products in various locales. This however can cause issues when translation and localization efforts are not made. For example, given the proximity in location, it is likely that merchants from Mexico, a Spanish speaking country, may choose to have their products be displayed on the US version of Google Shopping. There may also be reasons that a Mexican merchant may choose to not translate their product feed into English as roughly 14% of American residents speak Spanish as first or second language. In fact, if you do a search on Google Shopping for mochila (backpack), you do return a large amount of results that are indeed backpacks. This however can be problematic in terms of violation of policy. Guidelines for Google’s Merchant Center, where merchants are able to manage their product feeds for display on Google Shopping, state that you must use the supported currency and language for the locale in which you are advertising. Additionally, as Google Shopping does not have a Google-hosted checkout page, the landing page for your product must also be in that supported language. While there are locales that support multiple languages, i.e. Switzerland can support English, Italian, German and French, the only support language for the US locale is English and the only supported currency is the USD. Therefore, although a merchant may think it beneficial to appeal to Spanish speaker users residing in the States, they may face penalties and suspensions by supplying products in an unsupported language. Most importantly, their products may simply not be advertised. It does appear that some merchants use both mochila and backpack in their product titles and supply the rest of their metadata in English, perhaps in order to satisfy this language requirement. In order to avoid such issues, merchants should certainly abide by the guidelines of the marketplace and consider that this sort of bilingual tactic may not yield positive results.
Amazon has quickly become one of the largest online marketplace both domestically and internationally. Currently, they have 11 marketplaces (in 12 locales counting both English and French Canadian). However, Amazon does ship products from each of these locales globally in case, for instance, you’re located in Switzerland, which does not have a locale specific site. Swiss German users are then able to purchase items from the German site as products would be available in the same language. This practice however doesn’t come without localization issues. While products may be available in the German language to Austrian, Swiss German or other German speaking customers globally, there are other linguistic and cultural differences to consider. For example, if a Swiss German speaking customer does a search for a mobile phone, they’re more likely to use the word handy rather than mobiltelefon which is much more common term in Germany. By doing this search on Amazon.de, handy returned 7,000 results whereas mobiltelefon returned more than 100,000 results. It is certainly possible that a Swiss German customer may be aware of this difference and adjust their search accordingly as this is a rather common and widely known product type but the takeaway here is that vocabulary differences may impact your products’ searchability across locales. How can sellers address this issue in their product feed? Firstly, it’s necessary to determine if this level of localization is scalable. If your product’s popularity is much higher in Germany than Switzerland, it may not be worth your efforts. Additionally, if your product type already has lower clicks and impressions, this detailed level of localization may not best spent on these product types. It is therefore necessary that a merchant look into the analytics for these products in order to determine the level of localization that will be the most beneficial and feasible given the merchant’s resources and global sales goals.
Like Google Shopping and Amazon, eBay has different sites for various locales where you can choose to sell your items. However, eBay also offers a global shipping program in which a merchant can choose to ship their product to any eligible country. On a site like eBay that has been historically criticized for fraud, a customer’s faith that a product description is true and reliable is extremely important. This should be taken into consideration when attempting to localize your product data or standardize your product data if choosing to only sell on one locale and ship globally. For instance, if you’re a seller from a Japan attempting to sell your items on the US site, you may be more inclined to use a verbose product title including embellished information that low context buyers in the States may see as signs of an unreliable product as the product’s main intended purpose is not explicitly stated. For example, a search for face masks from Japanese sellers on eBay returns within its results a product with the title “☀PURESA☀ Utena Face Mask 5pcs. Vitamin C Prune enzyme Try Japan quality!!”. The title includes some text symbols which are uncommon in English, is rather long and also puts an emphasis on the quality of the product. The description of the product gives additional information on quality and results using exaggerated language and reviews of the product which may not appeal to culturally low context consumers. Finally, the product’s main image is of the product package with only Japanese language visible for title, description and directions of use. While the packaging for this product may only exist in this form, the main image could have been more carefully selected as to not include linguistically specific information if hoping to reach a broader audience. In this case, standardization may have been most useful.
From the examples above, one can conclude that there are indeed many factors that must be taken into consideration when deciding to sell internationally on online marketplaces. Linguistic accuracy is important not only to potential customers but also in order to follow marketplace guidelines that ensure your product is visible to consumers. Vocabulary choices are also important so that user search results display your product. Issues also go beyond text. Image and symbolic aspects of your product must also be culturally and linguistically adapted. While the marketplaces and products in the examples above are for tangible goods, online marketplaces also exist with the intent of selling of intangible goods, such as services. UrbanClap is such a marketplace listing providers of service for various types of tasks from installing your TV to interior design, Fiverr offers freelance professional services such as graphic design or digital marketing. The question then becomes: How do you localize service representation if these marketplace also become global? Is this possible if these services can be rendered remotely? This question certainly require more research to answer but considering important localization factors for tangible good marketplaces may be a good place to start.
I have nothing but positive feedback for the course. I thought it very thorough yet focused on broader aspects of digital marketing and localization that helped me to understand concepts and real-life application. I like the flexibility of the course as well as I was working full time while completing the course.
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