We all know that Europe and Asia are on the road to catching up with the United States in e-commerce.
Estimates vary slightly, but they all indicate that revenues from European e-commerce will grow tenfold between now and 2003. By 2004, it is estimated that the Asian Pacific area will reach $1.6 trillion in e-commerce sales. Even Latin American e-commerce is expected to grow to $8.3 billion by 2005.
If U.S. companies do not take advantage of their head start by globalizing their e-commerce sites, they will lose out to the international competition, which will soon be well entrenched. That means you have to begin selling your services and products internationally as soon as possible.
Globalization = Internationalization + Localization
To globalize your e-commerce business, you have to internationalize your Web site, then localize it for specific markets. As someone who is in the business of Web site localization, I want to make sure you understand what is meant by these terms and the two-step process they represent.
Internationalization is the process of preparing your product (which, in e-commerce, is your Web site) for distribution throughout the world. The primary purpose of internationalizing your site is to allow it to be translated into different languages. This will prevent you from having to redesign it to handle the different formats and character sets that are standard to different geographical regions. If you want to internationalize your existing site, you have to retrofit it with localization in mind.
Localization is the process of adapting a product for use in specific markets and countries. It takes into consideration cultural and linguistic conventions, translation, changes in graphics, adaptation of documentation, resizing of dialog boxes, resolution of hot-key conflicts (hot keys are keys or key combinations that cause some function to occur in the computer), quality assurance of user interface, etc. — all geared to a specific country.
If you’re still at the designing stage of the site, think of what you will need to do to launch it successfully in multiple languages.
Pay close attention to possible functional, formatting, and linguistic ambiguities that could arise because of the way you initially designed your Web site. Remove these ambiguities to guarantee linguistic coherency across languages and localized sites. This will ensure that key conceptual vocabulary and vocabulary crucial to branding your site across languages and cultures is consistent.
Any terms that can be standardized should be indexed. Later, you can recall them from the index, thus streamlining the localization process. Acronyms, abbreviations, words not to be translated, technical terms, product terms, industry terms, and corporate terms are the primary candidates for this process.
Other areas to consider when designing your site for the international marketplace are:
- Date and time formats
- Credit cards submission systems
- Phone numbers and area code formats
- Address and zip codes
- Line length restrictions
- Hot keys
- Menu items
Once these points have been addressed — either when you’re building your Web site or when you’re retrofitting it for globalization — the quality of your localized site will not only be much better, but it will be in line with the corporate image of the native site.
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