With brick-and-mortar stores forced to close during much of 2020 due to Covid-19, consumers around the world reallocated their disposable dollars to online spending. E-commerce, which was already growing pre-pandemic, was transformed in 2020 as shoppers ordered everything from haircare products to Xboxes from the comfort of their homes.
The booming e-commerce sector was one topic at SlatorCon Remote in May 2021. Experts from Wix.com, Shopify, and language service provider (LSP) BLEND joined the Globalizing E-commerce panel to discuss market growth, cross-border trade, and localization trends.
Wix’s Liat Karpel Gurwicz, the company’s Head of E-commerce Marketing, described how “the pandemic changed e-commerce forever, causing a massive surge in growth and transforming the way people sell and shop online.” Fast forward to 2021 and “now, we like to say that the future is here to stay and shoppers expect brands to meet them where they are — that is. online.”
For Giulia Greco, Localization Programs Lead at Shopify, it was logical that “people flocked to platforms such as Shopify” when the pandemic hit since it already had a history of “enabling e-commerce,” allowing more people around the world to shop online.
The shift to online was not without its challenges for businesses. Yair Tal, who joined Israel-based LSP BLEND as CEO in 2020, said many brands found themselves in uncharted territory at the onset of the pandemic. For example, businesses that were selling indirectly prior to the pandemic (though department stores, etc.) suddenly found themselves responsible for a range of new activities as they transitioned to direct selling online in 2020.
Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of online, cross-border selling are significant for small businesses. “In a brick-and-mortar world, scale wins because it drives down product and distribution costs. Without political barriers to digital trade, cross-border e-commerce is the great equalizer,” Gurwicz said.
According to Gurwicz, Wix “saw more and more brands and businesses starting to sell cross-border into places that they hadn’t been selling before” in 2020. As a result, Wix observed a 29% increase in online stores adding multilingual capabilities and an 81% increase in stores selling in multiple currencies.
As Wix, Shopify, and other e-commerce stakeholders observed massive growth in 2020, localization was also a beneficiary. Tal said BLEND reached out to their customers early on to ask, “What can we do to help you go through this time?” For the LSP, “e-commerce grew dramatically through 2020 and is still growing,” he added.
Tal’s advice for LSPs is to guide customers toward a holistic approach to selling online: “You really need to look at the entire chain of onboarding new products — building those products, building the sales materials, putting products on sites with the right labeling, and providing tools to communicate with your clients in their native language.”
Content Strategies & Trends
Greco described the localization setup at Shopify, which houses three distinct teams focused on Marketing Growth (headed by Greco), Product, and Support. According to Greco, “We sit in different departments and units but we share a vendor, some of the tools, best practices, and some projects and resources.”
This segmentation of teams based on content type or function is reflected in their differing approaches to localization. For example, Greco said, “We are not going to use machine translation in the Marketing Growth localization org because it makes no sense. We do a lot of transcreation and original-content writing in-country as well as copywriting and adaptation of context.” By contrast, MT is applied to Support and some Product localization.
Greco also discussed the trends of video and non-English-centric content. The use of video is increasing in Marketing and Support, she said; and they have also become “very strong at video localization.” Meanwhile, Shopify teams also think beyond English-centric content marketing. For example, a blog piece drafted by a Spanish Language Manager at Shopify might be repurposed for the French and Italian markets.
“In a brick-and-mortar world, scale wins because it drives down product and distribution costs.” — Liat Karpel Gurwicz, Head of E-commerce Marketing, Wix
Wix’s Garwicz identified a similar trend as regards the role of languages other than English, saying, “For e-commerce businesses, oftentimes it makes sense for them to expand in the regions that are closest to them, and that doesn’t necessarily mean English. That’s definitely the trend.”
As for the future of e-commerce in a post-pandemic world, BLEND’s Tal said he thinks “businesses that shifted into global sales will stick with it. Most of them are enjoying and appreciating this new opportunity. My assumption is that the sector will continue to grow and we’ll see this trend going forward.”