Launching an Ecommerce store in a bilingual society is never an easy task.
As a business owner, you’re constantly worried about your brand image, messaging, and copywriting. Are you talking to your audience in a language they understand? Are you pulling at the right emotional levers?
When it comes to translating content from one language to another, it’s easy for things to get mixed up and it’s sometimes impossible to find a proper replacement word.
What do you do? Should you launch in English and hope that the rest of the audience just magically adapt, somehow. Or do you launch in a separate language and spend hours plugging away at Google Translate?
That was the conundrum facing Alex Ma, one of the co-founders of Hong Kong mattress store Skyler.
“From the start, we wanted to have our store in both English and Chinese, which I think is typical for websites in Hong Kong [...] because it's a multi-language region where both languages are commonly used,” he explains. “There's a significant amount of people who would feel comfortable browsing in their own language, either Chinese or English.”
While both English and Chinese are official languages in Hong Kong, almost 90 percent of the population speaks fluent Cantonese.
Alex agrees - he says “more than the majority of people, up to 70% are comfortable browsing in Chinese.” But he’s also quick to add that Hong Kong is a global city, where segments like expatriates and young, western-educated Chinese only understand English and might not be able to read Traditional Chinese. It was important for his business to be able to target both segments.
When Skyler first launched, it was available in both Chinese and English. Rather than spend hours manually translating content and plugging it into the backend, the team used Weglot, a nifty translator add-on for Shopify stores.
“As we progressed building the website, we were looking at different app options [to translate our content],” says Alex. “We decided on Weglot because we thought it was quite user-friendly, a good interface, and with several neat integrations.”
While Alex and his team did use a professional translator as well, mainly to ensure that the nuances of what they were trying to communicate in product features weren’t missed out by Weglot, he remains a loyal, paying customer and is very satisfied with the app’s output.
“We found that Weglot was very accurate with shorter texts and worked quite well with that. The only time we needed some assistance was with longer copywriting, which is why we resorted to professional translation. Plus, sometimes you need a little bit of help to be able to tailor the tone more towards the local audience,” he adds.
Weglot’s translations aren’t final by any means, too. Users are allowed to edit all translations inside the tool itself if they feel a particular word could be strengthened or replaced with another.
How Weglot works is that it detects a users’ browser language and automatically serves them the relevant page. Someone more comfortable browsing in Chinese will undoubtedly have their browser setting in that language -- a factor Weglot leverages. And if you want to switch languages, click the option on the homescreen.
Running a Bilingual Store
Skyler’s now in its third year of operations. I press Alex on how it’s been like to run a bilingual store - is he satisfied with the processes and has it helped his sales?
“We really think that having a bilingual site is pivotal to our business model because we're appealing to the mass market here in Hong Kong, and it has contributed to a lot of success. We can see say from Google analytics, where people come from, the browser language that they use, and I think it's about 60%, they come from Chinese language, and 40% from English,” he explains.
The team’s also analyzing the language people use when they check out and it’s been consistently at 50% each, Alex claims.
“[The bilingual site] has contributed a lot as people can understand in their native language and get all they need to know about their products. Especially for mattresses as it’s a very expensive product and it’s important that they understand our brand, what’s inside the mattress, and all they need to know about Skyler.”
Has running a bilingual site helped with conversion rates and checkout optimization? Very much so, confirms Alex. The baby-faced entrepreneur explains that existing customers have also helped in the site’s development -- their feedback helps them make improvements in the text and understand ways of communicating product features better.
“A lot of people ask about a particular thing -- we might find that it's not clear on our website then we tailor the language to address that issue,” he adds.
At the moment, Skyler services Hong Kong which, as mentioned, has a population that understands both English and Chinese. I ask him if there are any plans of expanding to other countries and creating new versions of his store.
“We may, depending on which countries we expand to,” he reassures me. “I think currently for Hong Kong, English and Chinese is sufficient. Of course, if we go to another country, Japan, for example, and if it warrants a translation to a language they understand, it will happen.”
“Translation increases the website's credibility and lets your users know that you speak their language too. It increases the bond between the store and the customer.”
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Conceptualizing and Building Skyler
Skyler solves a unique problem in Hong Kong. The city is extremely crowded and real estate is at a premium. This means most apartments are tiny and lifts can’t handle regular, queen-sized mattresses. As a result most deliveries have to be carried up flights of stairs, sometimes thirty, forty floors up.
And if you’ve seen Hong Kong’s skyscrapers, you can understand the magnitude of this task.
Skyler’s mattresses can be compressed to fit a small box which makes for effortless delivery.
With regular mattresses, there’s a lot of additional costs involved and much more hassle in the delivery process.
“Whereas we can compress the mattress to fit a very compact box for delivery,” says Alex. “This makes it very easy to fit through these tight spaces into lifts and have it delivered to the customer's home very easily.”
The entire idea behind Skyler, which launched in early 2017, came about after Alex, and his co-founder Jason, both childhood friends, embarked on a shopping trip to buy a new mattress.
Both of them wanted replacements but were horrified at what stores were quoting.
The mattresses they liked cost tens of thousands of Hong Kong Dollars. What’s more, the products wouldn’t be available for delivery before two to three weeks. That mystified the duo -- was this the standard method of mattress shopping in Hong Kong?
To their horror, they discovered that yes, it seemed to be the only way they could get a reliable mattress in the city.
That’s when work on Skyler started.
“A lot of our customers really appreciate how we've been able to use technology to compress our mattresses into one-fifth of its original size. It just makes it a lot easier for people to purchase mattresses and also for us, it helps us save costs on storage,” says Alex.
Work on the product culminated in an online presence since early 2017. The store’s been run and managed on Shopify since day one -- with Alex hailing the platform’s ease of use and integration with third-party apps as pivotal to the site’s success.
“We found Shopify from the start when we researched different options, I think Shopify is one of the most user-friendly platforms that we came across,” he explains. “Plus you can add a lot of different apps that help us with our marketing, logistics, and it's a very plug and play kind of platform. It helps us because we don’t have a coding background,” he laughs.
And Skyler has been growing very steadily since, too. Alex says they’ve “helped thousands of customers sleep better,” and that the company is on track to meet internal revenue targets.
Regional expansion is on the horizon, especially as the young startup hones in on its core message of enabling better sleep, simplifying the mattress purchase process, and ensuring fast delivery timelines.
“I think the market really has a lot of potential, across the region, and we just really have to continue building on the brand,” he adds.
However, Alex is careful not to spread the young company too thin. He wants to conquer the Hong Kong market first before venturing out into markets “where there’s a natural fit.”
But for now, he’s confident that Skyler can continue its upward growth trajectory.
—Written by Osman Husain
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