There are a multitude of translations companies the will tell you that the most important thing for international ecommerce is multi-language. The fact of the matter is, that’s not true. Ask them to provide tangible numbers and case studies on how introducing multi-language has generated excess profit above the cost of managing translations. Chances are, they won’t be able to.

On average, for a UK company, offering multi-language provides approximately a 2% uplift in international ecommerce potential. There are other factors that are far more important, for example trust and preferred payment gateways. These should be focused on first.

So why doesn’t multi-language account for more ecommerce potential?

We must consider how brands and retailers sell online. As a brand, the primary goal is usually to inform potential customers of the existence of the product. As a retailer, the primary goal is usually to sell products that there is existing demand for.

You can find out more on the difference between brand and retail strategies here.


Traditionally, retailers tend to have some level of geographic limitation. This is because consumers shop near to where they are. There are companies, such as Walmart, who can operate near globally. However, these are few and far between.


Because these larger retailers are shifting to become marketplaces, as well as the emergence of marketplaces like Amazon, it gives retailers the opportunity to become multi-national. Retailers can now sell on marketplaces across the world, without having to change their own website.

If, as a retailer, you are selling popular products, the chances are the products are already set up in international markets. So long as you can be cost competitive, you can list your stock on these marketplaces and generate sales. You don’t have to pay for or manage translation or localisation, because Amazon is doing this for you.

Of course, you need to pay marketplace fees, but doing this is likely a lot more cost effective than trying to do it yourself.

Own ecommerce website

If there is demand on emarketplaces, then likely you can sell these same products on your own site.

However, language still doesn’t matter that much. Many overseas consumers can speak English, and the UK is trusted internationally as a shopping destination. So long as you can accomplish the other more important factors, the opportunity is very real.


Top reason for cross border ecommerce sales from the UK is that international customers can’t find the products in their home country. At this point, customers have already made the decision to purchase internationally. So long as consumers are able to purchase, brands don’t have to have multi-language capability. Even when consumers are not able to speak English, tools such as Google translate do a great job giving consumers enough to make orders.

When can it provide a ROI for ecommerce?

The cost of offering and managing multi-language is massive. It can be more than several hundred thousand pounds when done properly. However, for some companies, it is worth it.

If you are turning over £100m online, then a 2% uplift accounts for £2m. Assuming a 50% profit margin, this means £1m gross profit. If spending £100k on translation means a net increase of £900k, translations are a sensible investment.

Every company considering multi-language needs to invest in a proper cost/benefit analysis. Increased profits from multi-language implementation is the exception, not the rule.

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