Localization of Websites

We’ve all run into it at least once or twice. We try to order something on a foreign (let’s say a US site – not so very foreign) website and pay for it. When we fill in the information that is required to process our credit card, such as billing address, we move through the fields, select Canada as our country, and then move to the field that calls for “state” (not province). We scroll hopefully through the list of US states looking for Canadian provinces. And, sure enough, all we see is US states. So we skip the step and go to the execute button, but it comes back and tells us that the state/province information is required and we can proceed no further. There may be a way, but we’re not interested in making a career of trying to buy this item. Similar issues can happen, for example, with the labels of zip code vs postal code

This is a failure in localization, that aspect of e-commerce web design that enables people all over the world to execute transactions in their own language, reflecting their local nomenclature and even their local dialects and customs. It’s a large field, and one with a lot of challenges.

Even making the site available in multiple languages can be an issue, because the length of words and sentences can vary tremendously between languages. French and German phraseology, for example, is longer than that of English. That, in itself, means that the fields used for various aspects of the transaction need to be able to accommodate the longest and most verbose of the languages being used. A good example of a properly localized website is that of Jildor Shoes.

Cultural differences can be critical to localize. An excellent example of that is an Indian company which a few years ago tried to sell their ‘Swastika’ brand of clothing in the west. The got a very strong backlash that they didn’t expect. In India, the swastika is a highly revered religious symbol and is viewed with respect and reverence. In the west, of course, it is associated with Nazi Germany.

In the games world, there is a lot of cultural interaction with players, and so games have become a testing ground for localization efforts, particularly those of a cultural nature. References, for example, to an important historical figure in Japanese history may mean nothing to a player from Alberta or Ontario.

With the growth of international e-commerce, and its economic importance, it is no surprise that some specialists and specialized software have emerged to implement localization in websites. Some examples are FiftyOne, International Checkout, and Bongo International, although a number of non-specialist companies offer localization services.

Increasingly, it’s an area that requires attention. And it’s getting more complex as companies expand their e-commerce efforts to numerous countries around the world.