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Can’t Read, Won’t Buy
March 25, 2014 - By: - In: In the News / Awards, Language, Localization, Multilingual Web, Translation - Comments Off on Can’t Read, Won’t Buy

Global marketers who stick to English only reach a global audience of illiterates.

I was a soda jerk at Friendly’s Ice Cream when I first confronted the challenge of selling to the illiterate. Some jocular old coot asked me to read him the names of the ice cream off the sign. At first I thought it was just a demonstration of customer authority thing, but by flavor 28 I finally realized that his bravado was a cover for his inability to  read. Entrepreneurial lesson learned: Illiteracy complicates the sale.

I used to think of that guy when I first got to Japan and my own illiteracy blossomed. I’d be looking hungrily in the restaurant windows at all those yummy-looking food models, unable to read the signs identifying each dish. I always got a smile and a helping hand when I would confess to passersby, “Excuse me. I can’t read. Can you tell me what this says.” Much preferable to the obligation entailed when you bring out someone from the restaurant to point and gesture.

Nowadays it’s just like that on the  English-language Web too, because most people in the world are illiterate in English. And most English-language web sellers are equally clueless when it comes to reaching those audiences.

Evidence provided by Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research) and their recent report “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: 2014.”

“There is a longstanding assumption that enough people on the web feel comfortable using English, especially when buying high-tech or expensive products. Our research in 2006 proved that 72.4% of consumers surveyed were more likely to buy products in their native language. Our 2014, larger-scale behavioral study of consumers again validates this preference and, in fact, concludes this demand is increasing, with a full 75% of respondents saying they want the products in their native language,” says CSA chief strategy officer Don Depalma.

3000 consumers were surveyed in Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Spain and Turkey in the official language of each country. Researchers looked at online language preferences and their impact on purchase decisions. 55% of respondents, including English speakers,  reported buying only at websites where information is presented in their language. And that’s the good news. Those with limited English proficiency buy only in their own language 80% of the time.

More Scary Facts for English-only Marketers:

  • 30% of the 3,002 respondents never buy at English-language sites, and another 29% rarely do.

  • Across the 10-country sample, 56% either spend more time on sites in their own language than they do in English, or boycott English-language URLs altogether.

  • Automotive and financial services are the products that consumers are least likely to buy if the website is not in their native language.

  • Exactly half would prefer that at least the navigation elements and some content appear in their language, and another 17% strongly share that preference. This finding contradicts the conventional industry wisdom that you should localize everything or nothing.

  • Global brands can trump language, causing buyers to choose such products over those with information in their own language. Egyptians constitute the nationality that is most infatuated with global brands (83% agree or strongly agree with the statement). Those least won over are the Germans (56%).

  • There is more to cross-border purchasing behaviors than language. Privacy, payment methods, delivery, and customs are major components of a localization strategy and can affect the global online experience. Egyptian and Turkish respondents were most concerned about sites asking for personal information.
    What does all this mean? Keep translating. That’s where the money is. Any questions? Call me at 1-800-Translate. That number again… 1-800-872-6752.
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