Country specific localisation : Why cultural awareness is vital for global eCommerce success

Country specific localisation : Why cultural awareness is vital for global eCommerce success

There’s no doubt that the world of global eCommerce is booming, and there’s no sign of a slowdown. You could be forgiven for assuming the US boasts the biggest number of online shoppers, but when it comes to global ecommerce revenue by market, it’s China in the top spot with an ecommerce market worth over $3 billion US dollars in 2023. The US, UK Japan and South Korea are also in the top 5 countries in the list.  

Thanks to free cross-border selling tools like those offered by Shopify Markets, even the smallest start-up can expand globally and has the potential to reach anyone on the planet with an internet connection. But with such fierce competition, today’s merchants need to be smart with their marketing efforts to compete in  a crowded marketplace and  attract savvy online shoppers.

It's never been more important to gain a deep understanding of your customer’s culture and to tailor content that will appeal to the specific  audience in each target country or region. This will help to build your brand and relationships gradually with foreign consumers, eventually resulting in increased international sales.

So how can merchants make sure their website connects with each country’s culture to make their brand visible, maximise sales, and build a loyal customer base in these markets? Welcome to ecommerce localisation.

There are 2 key considerations when it comes to ecommerce localisation for cross-border commerce; linguistic and cultural. And both go hand in hand.

Consumer research is clear; 73% of global consumers want product reviews in their own language, and a huge 40% of online shoppers would never buy from a website which was not in their own language. There’s not much point in tailoring your product offering to meet cultural differences if you can’t communicate with your target audience.

When we talk about cultural understanding, we mean having a deep understanding of  people, religion, and their way of interacting and buying, to see if your product fits the local lifestyle. If you don’t understand and appreciate the culture of the nation you are trying to sell to, you are setting yourself up for failure before you launch.

eCommerce sales by country 2023 chart

The 4 C’s to consider when localising content for international markets

Essentially merchants need to think carefully about these 4 x Cs when it comes to building a robust international ecommerce strategy to attract and convert customers from different nations:

Content – product information needs to relate to the buyer journey in the local country. Blogs, video content, and paid ads should all be localised in the target language. Merchants should pay close attention to creative content localisation like campaign slogans and brand names and terms, and never, ever rely on machine translation only.

Currency & sizing – buyers expect to be able to purchase in their own currency, and shop in familiar metrics and sizes. Merchants need to add local currencies and conversions accordingly. Products with size variants need to be shoppable in local units, which could mean converting metric to imperial sizes for product weights and dimensions, or displaying an international sizes or at least an international size chart for clothing and footwear

Culture – tailor your store to meet the needs of the local culture. At a practical level, this means design, layout, colours, fonts, offers, and discounts need to resonate with your target audience. But culture goes much deeper than this. Understanding cultural sensitivities of the target market in terms of laws, religion, customs, values, and interests will also help you to connect with natives and avoid embarrassing cultural faux pas. Such errors could alienate potential customers, or cost your company a lot of money if you breach local laws and regulations.

Contact – you need to be able to communicate and ideally speak the native language, or hire a professional who can help with customer service communications. This includes email communication, customer service support chatbots, phone enquiries, and social media responses.

Head over to my article on the importance of ecommerce localisation and how to craft a successful website localisation strategy.

Cultural awareness diagram, including customs, interests, religion, Laws and values

How do cultural differences in different countries impact ecommerce buyer behaviour & website localisation?

Cultural differences can significantly impact eCommerce buying behaviours and brand localisation strategies across different countries. A one-size fits all approach in ecommerce won’t work when selling online overseas. People in different countries have very different priorities when it comes to how they shop online and what’s important to them when making a purchase decision. Cultural differences in international SEO and marketing strategies need careful consideration and should be tailored to each specific country or region to have a strong chance of competing with well established native brands.

There are many elements brands need to think about to ensure a full and robust website localisation process to compete in local markets. It’s not enough to translate a store and offer local payment methods to engage local consumers with your product or service. Brands need to adapt every aspect of the store to align with the buyer behaviour and the local culture, tailoring everything from communication styles and marketing messages, web design, customer service, shipping policies, to even the product offering.   

In some cultures, brand reputation and trust are paramount. For example, Japanese and German consumers place high importance on brand reliability and quality. In these countries, brands really need to focus on building a trustworthy reputation through positive reviews, testimonials, and transparent business practices. In markets like China and South Korea, influencer marketing and use of local celebrities is very common and highly effective with local online consumers.

Japanese crowded city centre full of shoppers in the street

When it comes to communication styles, western countries often prefer more direct communication, while many Asian countries favour a more indirect approach. In Asia, decision making can also be more collective than individual, meaning that brands might wish to focus on community reviews and social proof because these elements can influence buying decisions in these collectivist cultures.

Use of colours, symbols, and themes are also important in marketing materials and web design. For instance, the colour red is a symbol of good luck and prosperity in Chinese culture but can spell danger and warning signals in the UK market.

Preferred payment methods can also vary widely by country and offering locally preferred methods can significantly improve conversion rates. In Germany, bank transfers and invoice payments are common, whereas in China, digital payments like Alipay and WeChat Pay dominate the market. Japanese consumers are also cautious when it comes to online transactions, so ensuring robust security measures displaying trust badges on sites can help to alleviate concerns.

Understanding these cultural nuances and how to adapt your store to create a more personalised and engaging shopping experience for each country that resonates with local consumers can help build trust and loyalty, enhance customer satisfaction, and increase your chances of success in very diverse markets.

Asian woman shopping online holding credit card

Country specific eCommerce localisation guides

With the exclusion of the UK market, over the next 4 weeks we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the top ecommerce markets ( starting with China, Germany, Japan and the US).  We’ll dive into all aspects of business etiquette and the aspects brands need to consider when localising stores for each of these individual markets. Our individual country guides will cover: 

• Website design
• Buyer behaviour
• Language
• Payment methods
• Shipping & returns
• Marketing messaging
• Customer service
• Seasonal trends

global with country flags on top of laptop keyboard

5 tips for eCommerce merchants to navigate cultural differences

In summary, if brands follow these essential 5 building blocks as a framework when building an international marketing strategy for each market, they  will soon be on their journey to global ecommerce success.  

  1. Conduct thorough market research: Learn as much as you can about the cultural norms and practices of the country you want to sell to. Use tools and surveys to understand local customer preferences and buyer behaviours.
  2. Localise your online presence: Fully translate and localise all aspects of your website, product descriptions, and customer service to fit local tastes and expectations.
  3. Collaborate with local Influencers: Engage with local influencers to build credibility and reach your target audience effectively.
  4. Offer multiple payment options: Cater to local payment preferences to reduce shopping cart abandonment.
  5. Customise marketing campaigns: Tailor your marketing messages to resonate with the cultural values and norms of each market.
person typing on laptop with online floating shopping icons

Final thoughts

Remember: adapting to cultural differences is not just a strategy but a necessity for thriving in the global e-commerce market.

Understanding and respecting cultural differences can lead to more successful international expansion. By doing your research and really getting to know how your target audience’s buyer behaviour, you have all the tools to create a robust international e-commerce marketing strategy that will resonate locally and drive global sales.

Further guidance for international expansion into global markets

The UK Department for Business and Trade have identified 14 markets which have high potential for UK businesses in the ecommerce sector; Australia, Austria, Brazil, China, Germany, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Romania, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and the US.

Check out their individual market guides for more information on export opportunities and look out for our country specific guides which will be published over the next 4 weeks.

Ready to boost your existing international marketing strategy or embark on a new international expansion journey? Get in touch with our international marketing team today to drive your global business growth.

Sobre el autor

Jo Silverwood

Jo Silverwood, Head of International

Our Head of International is a Hull University graduate with a BA in Hispanic Studies and lived in Spain for a year. Jo speaks Spanish, Italian, French and is currently learning German.
She has 20+ years combined experience in Communications, Marketing and export sales, combined with a passion for languages, exploring other cultures and worldwide travel.

growing shopify giants

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