Oct 24, 2019

4 Lessons in Localization from Famous eCommerce Brands

Say, you are checking out a few items that are for sale on a website. If you see pictures of a person belonging to a region or culture different from yours using those products, how likely are you to buy that product? I’d say, probably not as likely as when you see someone from your own region who you can relate to more easily.

In the first article of this series, we looked at the history of eCommerce and how it opened up a lot of doors for small and big businesses alike. It helped them find and cater to customers beyond the boundaries of cities, states, and countries. Today, all eCommerce brands have a customer base that is diverse – their customers speak different languages, belong to different cultures, and have varied sensibilities. Localization comes really close to providing a personalized eCommerce experience to individual customers.

However, eCommerce localization is easier said than done. Localizing every element of your website – language, visuals, descriptions, symbols – can be quite challenging. One must have an in-depth experience of that particular culture and be a native speaker of the language to do a good job of localizing the website. Hence, many brands seek help from eCommerce localization services to create a culturally relevant experience for their customers.

Localization, when done wrong, can offend your customers or cause them to lose their trust in your brand. In this article, we’ll discuss some eCommerce localization mistakes brands have made and the lessons we can learn from them.

Lessons in Ecommerce Localization

1. When Snapdeal sounded funny in multiple languages

After realizing that a major part of their customer base in India consisted of non-English speakers, many eCommerce brands rushed to make their sites available in multiple Indian languages. Among these languages were Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.

Snapdeal, too, got its interface translated into multiple languages through machine translation. While this decision was expected to be met with cheers from their non-English speaking Indian customers, it resulted in many inaccurate translations.

For instance, the product tagline for Davidoff Cool Water Men (125 ML) was translated to ‘एक सूक्ष्म अभी तक बोल्ड छाप बनाता है’ in Hindi. When translated to English, the Hindi tag line means “one subtle till now makes bold imprint.” If you are a native speaker of Hindi, you would know that something is not quite with the translation. For instance, ‘अभी तक’ when translated to English means ’till now’, and not ‘yet.’

Snapdeal Hindi Translation Mistake
Snapdeal’s chose machine translations and ended up with many translation mistakes.

Snapdeal chose the machine translation route as “they upload over hundreds of products and associated content online on a daily basis.”

Each language is very culture-specific and carries certain nuances that need to be considered while translating. These nuances can only be understood by a human translator who is a native speaker and can understand the cultural context well. Snapdeal failed to understand the importance of this context and may have lost its customers’ trust.

Takeaway: If your eCommerce brand has a consistent requirement of translation and localization projects, it would be wise to seek the help of a human translation service that can handle enterprise volume. Getting an expert to proofread your translations will ensure that you put across information and marketing messages correctly.

2. When Best Buy thought “what’s in a name?”

The famous electrical appliance eCommerce brand Best Buy acquired China’s Five Star Appliance in 2006. With this bold step, Best Buy aimed at replicating its success in China’s retail market. In order to appeal to its Chinese target audience, Best Buy localized its brand name to “百思买” (Bǎisīmǎi). This name was a combination of words that, when transliterated, was ‘best’ (Bǎisī) and ‘buy’ (mǎi). Now, Bǎisī in Chinese means “think deeply.” This translation made the Chinese connect this brand name with the famous Chinese idiom – No matter how hard you think, you will never think it out.

Chinese idiom

This interpretation worked completely against Best Buy’s message as it told people to “think twice before buying.” This localization mistake was reflected in the fact that Best Buy’s local searches in China didn’t even exceed 500 after its launch.

Takeaway: Best Buy made the mistake of not considering the cultural and linguistic nuances of its audience in China. If you are planning to launch your brand in a new market, localizing your brand name is a great idea. A localized name will help create a great brand recall value among your audience. 

However, it’s essential that you seek the help of native speakers. Your localized brand name must convey your brand’s primary marketing message in the best possible way to make a great impact.

3. When eBay’s organic traffic suffered due to SEO issues

Given the large number of pages and descriptions, eCommerce sites have, ‘thin content’ is a recurring issue for quite a lot of them. For Google, any content that matches these characteristics is ‘thin content’:

  • Doesn’t add value
  • Is too short – not descriptive enough
  • Isn’t relevant to the title or meta description
  • Is duplicate content

When Google updated its algorithm to identify low-quality content, eBay lost more than 33% of its organic traffic. It fell from position 6 to position 25 within a course of 3 days. eBay’s fall in search ranking happened mainly due to its category pages which had just a few lines of text for each product, along with many links to similar product pages.

Takeaway: If your eCommerce website has multiple pages, all of them contribute to its SEO. Hence, it’s important that your translation service provides SEO friendly translations that don’t just maintain your SEO ranking but also improve your site’s ranking in local searches.

4. When Target didn’t quite hit the bull’s eye in Canada

For a U.S. based company like Target, it would have been easy to expand its reach to Canada. U.S. and Canada have quite a few similarities and Canadians had shown great love for Target stores in the U.S. However, the brand shut down its stores after just two years of launching the brand in Canada. While people blamed bad customer service, inadequate logistics, and a hurried launch plan for Target’s failure, its unimpressive online localized experience was a factor too.

Canada has two official languages – English and French. Target’s website was not localized or translated for 7.2 million French-speaking Canadians, except the check-out page. Also, the website allowed customers to select their currency as USD when the selected region would be ‘Canada.’ This meant that customers saw double the cost of the item at check out as the total amount would include Canadian taxes and duties. 

Takeaway: Before you launch your eCommerce website into a new market, it’s wise to ensure that you have localized customer experience in place. This experience includes researching the target region’s linguistic diversity and translating content to make it convenient for every customer to access information on your site. Also, localizing currencies and prices are very essential. Confusing the customer at the check-out stage leads to cart abandonment and loss of trust.


Creating an end-to-end localized experience for your eCommerce brand takes some time, effort, and money. On the other hand, localizing your eCommerce listings or website is half the battle won. You would’ve done your part to ensure that your potential customers feel like the entire experience was designed especially for them. And what is better than appealing to your customers in all parts of the world?

Share on

Aarohi Pathak

Aarohi Pathak

Aarohi Pathak is the Senior Content Writer at Translate by Humans. A former English literature student, she believes that the world's best stories are yet to be written. Given a choice, Aarohi happily wears the copywriter's hat and combines words that drive action. She has previously written content for finance and insurance, FMCG, and technology industries.

When she's not writing, Aarohi spends time collecting mugs, reading, and checking TV series off her 'to watch' list.

img Leave a Comment

Similar Articles

Ruju Patel
May 14, 2020

How to Deliver the Ideal Customer Service in a Crisis

A business or economic crisis can erupt at any time and may root from anything; strained political relations that result in war, a devastating natural disaster, or a ...

Ruju Patel
Apr 23, 2020

Your Team's Guide to Ease into Working from Home

Since the onset of the COVID19 pandemic, lifestyles have changed all around the world. A significant part of that change has been adapting from working in physical o ...

Aarohi Pathak
Apr 16, 2020

10 Things That Need to Be Made Accessible During a Worldwide Health Emergency

Note: Translate By Humans is currently offering complimentary translations for any COVID19-related documents. You can drop a note at support@translatebyhumans.com wi ...