A Complete Guide: How to Translate Your eCommerce Website

A multi-language website can drive conversions and sales for ecommerce stores.

With so many people turning to online shopping, Statista predicts that global ecommerce sales will be worth US$6.4 trillion by 2024. But, with a significant number of these sales coming from non-English-speaking countries like China (US$2,779.31 billion), Japan (US$144.08 billion), and Germany (US$101.51 billion), appealing to these customers should be a priority for ambitious ecommerce retailers. One way of doing this is with a multilingual website.

By making their Shopify store available in multiple languages, online retailers can make their eshops more appealing to customers in many different countries. A 2020 study by CSA Research found that 76% of online shoppers prefer to make online purchases in their native language. Moreover, 40% say they would never buy from websites in a different language.

For this reason, many ecommerce merchants are considering translating their website into different languages. But, whether this is suitable for your online store right now depends on what your business goals are. New merchants may want to focus on their local market while starting out, and in this case, there may be no need to translate their ecommerce site. But, for retailers who want to appeal to customers in different markets, website localization can offer many advantages.

To help you understand if a multi-language website is the right choice for your online store, we'll take you through the benefits of offering your store in multiple languages. We'll guide you through deciding which languages your site may need—and which parts of your site might need translating—and give you some ideas for how to translate your Shopify website.

Why do I need a multi-language website?

There are many reasons to translate an ecommerce website. The overarching benefit is being able to reach more customers in more markets—which, by extension, generates more sales for your business.

Here are a few other reasons why ecommerce retailers have chosen to create a multi-language website:

  • English may not be the preferred language of all your customers.
  • Offering a multilingual experience builds trust with potential customers.
  • Your site has visitor traffic from different countries, but you’re not currently generating sales in these markets.
  • Multiple languages can increase your SEO, making your site easier to find.
  • A multi-language website can offer a competitive advantage in saturated ecommerce markets.
  • In some markets, the law may require website localization, especially concerning privacy policies and terms of use.
  • You want to offer a great customer experience, no matter where your customers are.

What do I need to translate my website?

Once you’ve decided that you do need to translate your store, you may wonder whether you need to translate your entire site. The short answer is no. But, the more detailed answer is that you may need to translate more of your website than you think.

Here are a few elements that should be translated for a multi-language website:

  • Product Descriptions: Having a good product description is crucial to helping customers make purchasing decisions. It can also help your SEO in local markets.
  • Privacy Policy/Terms of Use: Data privacy is a growing concern for internet users, and some online shoppers may want to check your site’s data use policies before they make a purchase. Having your data use policies in local languages is helpful for these consumers; some countries may also require this by law.
  • Help Centers/FAQs: Your customers may have plenty of questions that they need answers to before they make a purchase on your site. By putting frequently asked questions in local languages, they’ll be better able to find what they need.

How do I decide which languages to translate my website into?

Before you translate your ecommerce store, you’ll need to think about which languages to use. To help you decide, take a look at your current website data. Are you seeing traffic from certain countries but no sales? These markets could be ripe for sales, and translating your website might help you reach customers there.

If you are considering expanding your business to other countries, don’t forget to think about:

  • Whether there is a market for your products in these countries—for example, is it legal? Are there any government restrictions? Are there cultural considerations?
  • Whether you might need a license to sell your products there.
  • What import taxes and duties you may have to pay.
  • Whether online shopping is popular in these markets.

Once you’ve decided which countries you want to sell in, you'll have a pretty good idea of which languages you'll need on your multi-language website. Don't forget that some countries may speak multiple languages. For example, Singaporean merchants may want to reach customers across Asia, but not all Asian countries have the same level of English proficiency as Singapore. While Singapore has an English Proficiency Index score of 611—the highest in Asia—potential markets like Japan, Vietnam and Thailand have scores in the 400s, signifying low English proficiency. For this reason, merchants wishing to target customers in these countries may want to translate their website into Japanese, Vietnamese, or Thai. Similarly, in Switzerland, locals may use a combination of French, German, Italian, and English. In this case, your localized website for these countries may need to offer several language options.

A woman uses a dictionary for ecommerce website localization.

How do I create a multi-language website?

If you already have an online shop and are now thinking of going global, you’ll need to extract all your website content so that you can give everything to your translator at one time. You'll need to pull everything into one file, though this may be in XML, HTML, CVS, XLS format. Once you’ve done this, you can begin the translation process. New merchants can have their website content translated before they launch, which means they’ll be able to offer a Shopify store in multiple languages from the start. You’ll have several options for translation.

Automated Translators

For new merchants or those on a tight budget, it can be tempting to translate your website using a web-based translator like Google Translate. A word of caution: these usually offer quite basic translation and are often quite literal. At best, you'll end up with a simplified translation; at worst, your translation may be filled with mistakes that could damage your brand.

Freelance Translators

For retailers who can afford to spend some money on translations, freelance translators can be a good option—they'll often get the job done well and at a reasonable price. Before you start, check that they have native fluency in the languages they’ll be translating—if they have translation qualifications, that’s even better. Don’t forget to provide some guidelines and best practices to help get the translations done precisely the way you want them.

Translation Agencies

There are plenty of language translation agencies around, and these are great for big projects. If you have a significant ecommerce site or want to have translations in many languages, an agency can ensure you have high-quality translations done quickly. They may also offer more comprehensive services that include SEO translations, for example. The only caveat is that agencies are far more expensive than freelance or automatic translators.

Can I have my Shopify store in multiple languages?

The Shopify multi-language options make it easy for merchants to translate their Shopify website. All Shopify merchants can translate their shops into five languages; Shopify Plus merchants can offer up to 20 languages. You just need to download a translation app from the Shopify app store and have a theme that allows multiple languages—all of Shopify’s free themes allow this—and has a language selector. You can then add and manage your Shopify multi-language store through your dashboard. Each language will also automatically generate a country-specific URL. For example, for your French site, your URL might be shopping.com/fr.

Are there other elements of website localization to consider?

A successful multi-language website uses localization at many levels. It’s not enough to translate your ecommerce store into a different language. A good website localization strategy considers all aspects of the local customer’s ecommerce experience. As such, you’ll have to think about all of this if you want to translate your Shopify website.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Design: If you plan to take your store global, you should design your website with the potential for website localization. This means thinking about how different languages will appear on your site and if different visual elements are needed in different countries. This may all affect the overall layout of your site.
  • Dates: Consider differing conventions around date formats. You might use the British-style day-month-year formatting for your dates, but if you want to reach American customers, you may want to try the American-style month-day-year format to remove any confusion around sale and delivery dates.
  • Measurements: Many countries use the metric system for measurements. But to reach customers in countries that use other measurement systems, you should include this in your website localization plan, especially if you’re selling clothes and shoes.
  • Currency: Using local currencies can help you ensure that your prices are competitive in local markets across the world. It can also help customers make faster purchasing decisions because they don't have to take the time to convert prices.
  • Payment options: Offering credit card or PayPal payments are great. But to simplify the checkout process—and impress your customers—try offering more localized payment options. For example, offering GrabPay can help you reach more customers in Singapore and Malaysia while using WePay or AliPay could help you generate more sales in the Greater China region.
  • SEO: Different countries and languages might have different popular search terms from what you're used to. They might even use alternative search engines—for example, shoppers in China would use Baidu instead of Google. Your website localization plan should take this into account, too.
  • Local regulations: A multi-language website might also need to consider local regulations in the countries it wants to operate in. You may need to think about how local laws around privacy, taxes, and terms of service, for example, may differ.

FAQs about multi-language websites

Do I need website localization to start my online store?

The short answer is no. If you're just beginning your ecommerce journey, you might find it easier to start by focusing on local customers and creating a website in the local language. You can always add languages as your business grows and your goals change. But, if you want to reach international customers as soon as you launch your store, you might find it helpful to translate your ecommerce store from the beginning.

How many languages should I offer?

This depends on how many countries you want to reach. For new merchants, one or two languages may be enough. But, established retailers with a large international customer base may wish to offer a broader range of languages. You should also think about how many languages your ecommerce platform allows—Shopify allows five in most cases, and up to 20 for Shopify Plus merchants—and how much time and money you can afford to spend on translations.

Can I use Google Translate to translate my website?

You could, but it should probably be your last resort. Automatic translators like this usually generate literal translations, which may not read that well for native speakers. Instead, using an experienced translator or quality translation app will offer a much higher quality translation that will be more appealing to potential customers.

Can a multi-language website boost sales?

It could. Translating your website into different languages could help you reach more customers in different countries. It could also help drive conversions with international customers because many online shoppers feel more confident about making purchases in their native language.

Reach International Customers with a Multi-Language Website

A multi-language website can offer many benefits to online retailers—the main one is that it can increase sales by reaching more customers. There are many things to think about when considering website localization, including which languages you want to use and how to translate your ecommerce store. You'll also need to think about what platform you use to host your eshop, as this can affect how your store works. For example, the Shopify multi-language option means that merchants on the platform can add five languages to their store—more for Shopify Plus users—and use country-specific URLs for their store. Whichever platform you use, website localization can be helpful for retailers who want to reach international audiences.


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