Global success with multilingual e-shops

Here’s the roadmap for smart shop internationalisation

What distinguishes translated from localised online stores?

Everything in ecommerce company localisation is aimed at providing international buyers with an online shopping experience that makes them feel right at home.  Translated texts are not enough. It's worth going the extra mile, and paying attention to the small details: From the specification of the units, to common phrases, to the preferred payment system in the target country. With our tips, you can conquer new markets with your online business and multiply your sales in no time.

How do you create multilingual content for e-shops?

What languages do you need?

First of all, you need to determine which countries you want to open up for your e-commerce. A market analysis is helpful for this. Outline your possible countries and determine their market potential and market saturation. This includes more than just looking at the target group and competitors. It is also important to know what role e-commerce plays in the country, if at all, and how high the purchasing power of the customers is. Incidentally, in most European countries, the share of online shopping is higher than that of Germans. So, if you want to expand from Germany to other European countries, you can usually expect success.

When should you internationalise your e-shop?

You may want to get a taste of the international market and gain some experience. This can be done easily via eBay, Amazon or other internationally popular sales platforms such as Alibaba in China. Offering products here first can test the demand and buying behaviour in the respective country. For this first step, you only need texts that have been optimised for the platforms. greatcontent creates special content for Amazon or Google, for example.  If the business goes well there, you can go one step further and upgrade your own e-shop internationally.

What to look for when locating?

Cultural differences require a sensitive use of language, as shown by the following examples:


Keyword research is central to search engine optimisation. Keywords have to be determined anew for each target market, otherwise you might be backing the wrong horse. Let's assume you sell mobile phones. While you advertise "mobiles" in the English-speaking world, you have to go for "Handy" in German, although strictly speaking this is not the correct translation. Search engines also consider the use of synonyms as a plus.

Idioms and jokes

Jokes and sayings loosen up the text, but they can also be significant pitfalls. Even for very qualified second speakers, it remains difficult to translate jokes. Just one example - where “it rains dogs and cats” in England and Castilian Spain, in Catalan Spain “it rains barrels and tons” and in France “it rains ropes”. If you want to include humour, it’s important to spend some time exploring the local context.


Nike or Samsung are a household name almost everywhere in the world. Other brands, on the other hand, are only local. What is Aldi in German is Hofer in neighbouring Austria.  In other countries, there are completely different supermarket chains with a similar image and brand value, but the name Aldi is completely unknown.


You also have to translate cities and place names in the texts. The reader may understand what is meant, since the local name sounds similar, but they don’t feel recognised.


Take care when converting the amounts into the local currency. This can result in expensive mistakes, for example, when the dot or a comma is in the wrong place in large sums.


Information on shoe and clothing sizes varies from country to country. What is a clothing size 38 in Germany, for example, is equivalent to a 44 in Italy, and a size of 10 or just M in the USA. Be careful here to avoid annoying the customer when they have to return it.


The format of the date also differs between countries. For example, in American English, the date starts with the month. So, the 5.7.2021 in the US be 7-5-2021. It can be catastrophic to misspell the start date of a campaign or limited offers.


The difference between the 24-hour model and the system used in English with am (morning) and pm (afternoon) is well known. But it can be even more complicated - did you know, for example, that in Swahili East Africa the day starts at seven in the morning but for them, that is considered the first hour, so their one o’clock.

Which is better - human or machine translation?

A good translation for e-commerce requires human understanding, but translation tools are also getting better thanks to artificial intelligence. The most efficient method is the combination of both. At greatcontent, for example, we use human hybrid teams. First of all, we translate texts with the software memsource. A native post editor will then take care of the fine tuning. The post editors ensure that no mistakes slip through to net and adapt cultural subtleties. The combination of the best of both worlds lowers the cost while ensuring high quality.

How does the user get to the right e-shop?

If you have set up your e-shop for the international market in different languages, all users have to do is come across the online shop that has been localised for them. Don't worry, this happens automatically using GEO-IP user recognition. This allows users to access the right landing page on their own with the texts in the domestic language and the currency of the respective target country. If a reader gets lost in the wrong online shop, for example a Frenchman finds himself in the German shop, then he will automatically get a message and the opportunity to jump directly to the right page.

How to avoid duplicate content in internationalisation?

Duplicate content is known to have a negative impact on search engine ranking. With e-shop internationalisation, it is almost inevitable that the same texts for a product appear in several languages. Google will recognise this and there is a risk of being penalised in the ranking. But that's easy to fix. Set the hreflang to tell the crawlers from Google et al which linguistic variant of the store they are currently moving on. In this way, Google indexes both versions and plays the appropriate variant to users from different language areas in the search results.

What happens to special characters in URLs in e-shop internationalisation?

Special characters in the URLs are created by encoding certain information. They are no problem for search engines. However, they can lead to distrust in potential customers. If you show the users at a glance where they have landed in the URL, they can find their way around more easily. Similarly, users often click URLs without special characters when viewing ads in search engines. So it’s a good idea to avoid URLs with special characters - not because of technical requirements, but to improve the user experience and avoid negative human conclusions.

What else needs to be considered when internationalising web shops?

Do I have to internationalise the payment?

Different payment methods are common in different countries. These should also be used by the online shop to cater to the target audience. Credit card payments are accepted worldwide. There are, however, significant differences. In Germany, for example, customers usually pay by instant transfer or PayPal. In the Netherlands, Ideal is a common payment method, Karna has established itself in Sweden, and in France users prefer the debit card payment system Carte Bleue.

What should you watch out for in shipping costs?

The respective shipping costs should be clear when rolling out the e-shop on the international market. The indication of the shipping costs is an important information for the user when it comes to the total cost of their order. In addition, you should find out in advance how long it will take to ship to the destination country. Nothing is more annoying for customers than waiting longer than expected for the much-awaited new product. Make a realistic estimate of the shipping costs and delivery times and keep them as low as possible. 

Does address validation need to be done?

Incorrect addresses or formatting that does not comply with the regulations of the post office of the respective country can become a costly concern.  All over the world there are numerous different formats and accents in the address display on parcels and letters. Delivery can be prevented by one wrong detail. For example, the house number is in front of the street. If you understand the specifics, you can adapt the address entry forms that are placed online right away.

Which VAT apples where?

The correct calculation of VAT is one of the central topics of the legal aspects to be taken into account when internationalising the shop. Different VAT rates apply from country to country. In addition, the calculation of tax is based on where the company is subject to VAT and whether the sale is aimed at private or commercial customers. They are some stumbling blocks to watch out for. It is important that you correctly calculate the tax for your customers and show it clearly and transparently.

Need more logistics?

Once purchased, the product has to get from A to be B somehow. It’s important to work this out in advance. Are larger storage areas necessary or maybe you need interim storage facilities? The appropriate shipping material must also be in stock and the additional cost of packing should be taken into consideration. Be sure to compare different shipping companies to get the best price. And remember, additional charges may be due in the destination countries for customs, cash on delivery or fragile goods.

Is every range suitable for any country?

Not all products are of interest to the target group in different countries. Analyse the market beforehand to find out which of your product range will be the most worthwhile. It might not be necessary to localise the entire web store. A targeted selection can bring more profit than the broad mass of all the goods or services available.

We at greatcontent have been working in the field of internationalisation of e-commerce for ten years. Well-known online shops such as eBazaaris or momox are among our customers. Together with 30,000 linguists and the support of artificial intelligence, we create texts in over 30 languages.

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