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Lost in Translation

Companies risk losing international online shoppers if they don’t offer a native language experience.

1to1media.com – September 22, 2011

With so many shoppers strapped for cash in today's economy, customers want detailed information about a potential purchase up front. So, when consumers visit a website that doesn't cater to their native language, companies run the risk of losing their business—yet translation still ranks low on most executives' list of priorities.

TransPerfect's recent study highlights this disparity between brand and consumer expectations for online translation, polling more than 200 executives and shoppers from the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and several other nations. Of the executives surveyed, 65.3 percent hold a management position, with 42.4 percent working for companies of more than 5,000 employees. Of those consumers polled, 41.4 percent are fluent in two languages, with the same percentage shopping online monthly. Additional findings reveal:

  • Among the executives of international companies, only 19 percent rated translating online information as a high priority, yet 63 percent of consumers surveyed claimed they were more likely to buy from a website that was offered in their native language.
  • Nearly three quarters of consumers polled (73 percent) have encountered e-commerce websites that are unavailable in their native languages.
  • When visiting websites not available in their native language, more than half of consumer respondents said they attempt to decipher the sites on their own by translating the material manually or using browser-based translation applications, or they terminate their shopping sessions all together.
  • A surprising 64 percent of executives polled were unsure whether offering translated websites has or will have an impact on global sales.

Key takeaway: Companies should adopt translation as a means for successfully extending business to new audiences. In doing so, they also need to embrace the cultures of those foreign-language speakers to communicate with them effectively, as well as to show care and appreciation for them. In fact, idioms and cultural awareness are among the key factors for providing a quality multilingual website and influencing purchasing decisions. Nearly 68 percent of consumer respondents "always" or "sometimes" encounter incorrect or confusing website translations due to a company's inability to understand their culture, according to the survey. Executives also cited cultural mishaps, with 57.6 percent linking such issues to misunderstanding specific cultural meanings and to poor interpretations.