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Going Global: Localize Your Message for Holiday Retail Traffic

By Liz Elting

Search Engine Watch – November 5, 2012         

Retailers widely recognize the benefits of expanding their brand to global markets; the rewards are more customers and a higher rate of sales. But without creating a strategy for localizing brand messages to these markets, retailers put these benefits at risk.

If initiatives to optimize consumer-facing opportunities are offered in English only, site owners will miss the opportunity to increase revenues and build brand loyalty with the largest segment of the online shopping community – both local and global – who need or prefer to shop in another language.

The holiday season is nearing and retailers everywhere are gearing up to attract an influx of shoppers. It’s also a prime time for retailers to develop and implement successful online global strategies.

How Debenhams Grew Its Market

One of the largest European retailers with 171 stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland with an additional 69 international franchise stores across 26 countries, Debenhams expanded its global presence by launching an online store in Germany.

Debenhams chose the German market because it has been consistently one of the company’s top performing countries online – and because Germany is the second largest e-commerce market in Europe. Now, German shoppers are increasingly turning to a British department store when they shop.

When retailers develop strategies for entering new markets, they need to pay special attention to content localization if they are to succeed. Brands have to recognize local habits, preferences, and traditions in different markets.

To perfect localization, brands have to partner with localization experts who have a current knowledge of local cultures. In doing so, retailers can use their websites to capitalize on brand engagement and converting shoppers to buyers.

That’s exactly what Debenhams did when it fully translated and localized its site for a German audience, from product listings to enabling full transactions in euros. The department store offers womens wear, mens wear, childrens wear, home, and health and beauty products. It also offers its own brands, including Designers at Debenhams, as well as international brands and concessions.

The product localization work was extensive. The new German site includes the localized descriptions and information on 58,000 products from English into German. The German version of the online retail store launch is part of the company’s goal to better serve its non-English speaking customers.

In addition to launching the German online store, Debenhams took other approaches to grow its multi-channel strategy. In September, Debenhams reported a 40 percent rise in online sales in its latest financial year, confirming that its multi-channel strategy was working.

Debenhams saw that its focus on mobile resulted in a 27 percent growth in its mobile channels. Its mobile success played into increased traffic to the website: visits to Debenhams.com were up by more than 50 percent in the period, a surge that was due in part to its mobile strategy.

4 Tips for Success

Like Debenhams, retailers can increase global sales through traditional marketing, multilingual website content, video, social media, and mobile platforms. Online shoppers have choices, and they want to be exposed to content when, where, and how they are used to getting it.

Here’s how e-commerce companies can reach a wide scope of holiday consumers in different cultures.

  • Localize your message. “Holiday” has different meanings for different people, and retailers should recognize these differences across their websites, social media, mobile, and advertising campaigns. El Dia de los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, is a gift-giving celebration common in the Hispanic community, and Japanese tradition calls for the exchange of o-seibo gifts. Both occur between December and January but both are distinct from exchanging Christmas gifts. Know the target markets and understand that a simple translation is likely insufficient if you don’t want to appear as an obvious outsider.
  • Translation isn't localization. Retailers want consumers to find their site when the turn to the web for holiday shopping. Straight translations of keywords aren't always effective, as customers might search for products using local words or phrases. Optimizing content for the local language and culture will help appear higher in search engine results. Even within English, a jumper is a skirt with shoulder straps, usually worn by children in the U.S., but it’s a sweater for all ages to shoppers in the UK.
  • Images are an important part of your site. Images are often forgotten in the localization process, but the wrong choice can speak volumes. Localization experts can help choose images that accurately reflect the brand’s image and messaging, and carry positive connotations in each target market.
  • Regularly update your content. Static content won't produce the SEO results desired, so updating content and keywords is necessary, whether that be when a new product line comes out or at the change of the season.


With the holiday season quickly approaching, brands are stepping up their online consumer-facing strategies by using a localized approach to reach international customers on a global scale.

Consumer behavior studies show that approaching international shoppers can increase the conversion rate up to 40 percent. By demonstrating cultural awareness, retailers will attract and appeal to more customers, finding success this holiday season.