The ecommerce industry just keeps getting bigger. There will always be a place for traditional retail, but the level of convenience pioneered by Amazon has changed the game — and there’s no putting that genie back in its bottle. Throughout the world, countless stores battle for online retail supremacy, determined to outperform their rivals and maximize their profits.
This level of competition is incredibly challenging. At all times, they must be wary of threats to their operations, because just one mistake can lead to a brand being leapfrogged by one of its competitors — and there are so many things that can go wrong. A profit margin can be pushed too far, driving people away. A new logo can be roundly mocked. A product revision can bomb.
One of the core elements of ecommerce growth is expansion into new territories — something that’s relatively practical since it typically doesn’t require any local premises — but this can lead to a mistake that’s significant but often overlooked: using poorly-translated copy. In this piece, we’re going to set out 5 ways in which poor translation impacts ecommerce. Let’s begin:
It hampers UI functionality
From a mechanical standpoint, the essential ingredients of ecommerce have been finely polished at this point. Everyone knows what a good retail site should look like, how it should work, and how quickly it should respond. What’s more, there’s no excuse for not meeting an excellent standard: the use of a convenient template-driven retail CMS can provide you with everything needed for an ecommerce site with minimal effort and at a low cost. Consequently, you might think that UI barely needs consideration: but you’d be wrong.
Look at it this way: you can have all the right ingredients in place, but if they’re incorrectly labelled, people will get confused about what they’re choosing. If your core navigation is put through sloppy translation, it might become quite hard to tell what the distinct sections are — and that confusion can lead to frustration or even anger, damaging their interest.
It distorts offers and descriptions
While it’s somewhat difficult to mess up the translation of prices (they can easily be converted to suit alternative currencies), it’s fairly easy to mess up more complex text for things like offers and product descriptions. Think of an offer like “Buy one and get one free” and the various ways in which that message can be worded. If a visitor can’t understand an offer, it won’t tempt them.
As for descriptions, they’re vitally important for explaining what products involve and what makes them so interesting. If the pictures don’t make things clear, a poorly-translated product description can leave the reader perplexed about what they would actually be getting if they actually decided to buy it. This is particularly dangerous when it comes to tech products.
It ruins page formatting
The presentation of a web page matters, and given how much is riding on the performance of an ecommerce page, it matters even more there. Not only can text be doled out in specific quantities to ensure a clean look (3-line paragraphs, for instance), but it can also be formatted to suit specific visual elements such as background containers or panels.
When you run content through poor translation, these formatting requirements may not be acknowledged. Even if the resulting content makes adequate sense, then, it might not look appropriate for the design of the page. In ideal circumstances, ecommerce translation needs to be optimized both semantically and structurally.
It damages brands’ reputations
The issues that we’ve addressed thus far are indeed reasons to be concerned, but there’s a broader problem to which they contribute: the tarnishing of your brand’s reputation. You need to project an air of professionalism, showing prospective customers that you conduct business in the right way and care about achieving high standards — and poor translation undermines that.
When visitors to your store notice the weak translation, they’ll talk about it on social media, sullying your mentions and lowering the effect of any positive comments being made. When other businesses (prospective partners) become aware of it, they’ll question the wisdom in working with you. How can you be trusted to get other things right if you’re willing to cut corners on the quality of your content?
It ultimately raises costs
Why would any ecommerce brand subject its website to low-quality translation? It might be due to sheer ignorance of its importance, admittedly, but the more likely explanation is an eagerness to save money. It might be assumed that cheap translation isn’t that much worse than high-quality translation, so there’s no sense in paying more than necessary.
Unfortunately for them, the frugality justification doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, because — for all the reasons we’ve looked at here — poor translation will eventually need to be replaced, meaning the money spent on it (however minimal) will ultimately go to waste. The best way to proceed is to ensure that the first translation is excellent: it will require more immediate investment, but it will effectively put the matter to bed and allow you to move past it.
While it may sound trivial to some merchants (particularly those who have yet to attempt international selling), the quality of ecommerce copy translation is actually extremely important and needs to be taken seriously.
If you’re expanding into a new territory and want to reach speakers of a different language, don’t settle for translation quality on a level with what you’d get from Google Translate. Invest in a legitimate translation service: you’ll be glad you did.