Local cultures and preferences are typically accounted for in brick-and-mortar stores, but these intricacies are often not reflected online. However, recent global research from GfK shows why retailers can no longer think of in-store and online shopping as separate entities.

Shoppers across the globe indicated that they are engaging with the online experience while in stores – using mobile devices to compare prices, contact family or friends for advice and take photos of products they might buy.

According to this research, shoppers in South Korea, China and Turkey are the most likely to compare prices in-store on their mobile phones, with 59, 54 and 53 percent respectively saying they regularly do this. Additionally, shoppers in Mexico, Poland and Turkey are the most likely to use their mobile phones to contact a friend or family member for advice while in a store, with 55, 53 and 52 percent respectively claiming they regularly do this. With globally dispersed shoppers proactively bringing their online and in-store experiences together, retailers need to ensure they are offering a consistent, localized experience both physically and digitally. Too often, language is an afterthought, but in today’s increasingly global economy, retailers that can replicate the in-store experience and achieve a localized approach to online shopping will have a significant advantage over those who do not.

Contextual online shopping experiences are particularly important when it comes to reaching digitally savvy millennial shoppers. It is projected that this generation will soon reach $2.45 trillion in global spending power, so engaging with them should be a major priority for retailers. In a survey of 1,800 millennials worldwide, SDL found that language plays a critical role in how this important demographic makes purchasing decisions.

The findings reveal that being culturally sensitive goes a long way when looking to engage with these younger and digitally savvy consumers.  However, successfully localizing online customer experiences can be more complex than it appears. To succeed at localization, it is critical for brands to target consumers in their native, not geographic language. Even within the same country, consumers live in multilingual settings.

In the United States, for instance, one in four millennials reported that they speak another language at home. In other English-speaking countries, this ratio climbs to 32 percent. Retailers need to be highly sensitive to this and avoid making assumptions based on geographic location, as reaching consumers in their local language presents an opportunity to successfully connect with many more consumers. If organizations embrace a localization strategy that goes beyond geographic boundaries to connect with customers through culture and conversation, it becomes much easier to establish trust and build brand loyalty.

Additionally, customers are paying more attention today to how technology is used to market to them, so simply offering two to three language options to customers on a website is not nearly enough. In order to provide truly relevant experiences, brands need to build a language and cultural content strategy that enables them to engage with customers on their terms.  Consider looking into more sophisticated possibilities that go beyond just translation. Retailers should collect cultural preferences, including language along with other data sets, and bring all this information together in order to engage consumers. Because consumers are aware of their data being collected by brands, they expect it to be used to tailor brand messages aimed at them with the right language and location.

Even further pointing toward the critical need to make language a priority not an afterthought as part of a customer experience strategy, 46 percent of millennials surveyed by SDL said they’re more likely to make a purchase if information is presented in their preferred language. To reap the benefits of developing localized, culturally relevant customer experiences, brands should make it a priority to keep the conversation active – in the customer’s language — going beyond the sale.

 Creating a culturally-specific experience that goes beyond pre-sale, purchase and support is a critical piece of building relationships with customers and fostering brand loyalty. For instance, five out of six millennials reported that they connect with brands over social networks. This is a great opportunity to foster engagement with potentially loyal customers beyond the sale in a way that can expand relationships. When consumers share information in their language of choice with their networks, it opens the door for brands to expand their presence in cultural market segments by keeping this conversation alive. In addition to social media, making a broad spectrum of self-service assets accessible for customers in their language will keep them coming back and engaging with a brand.

In the global economy, retailers must be prepared to interact with sensitivity and awareness of language preferences as cultural borders can be difficult to define. If brands successfully implement a localization strategy, consumers will feel compelled to share content and foster brand advocacy in their language of choice. Don’t limit the opportunity to engage with a global audience – but to reap the benefits of a superior customer experience across borders, organizations must be prepared to take the necessary steps to cater to consumers’ preferences in both the digital and physical realms.

Paige O'Neill

Paige O'Neill


Paige O’Neill is Chief Marketing Officer of SDL.