Online Exclusive: How Online Retailers Successfully Reach Customers Around the World

The Internet is the single most powerful sales and marketing channel for retailers looking to expand into international markets. Yet, it also can be the most challenging channel to manage, as it yields customers with ever-changing and very diverse needs. The first challenge, therefore, global retailers must confront is how to effectively create an online presence that supports their own business goals and their prospective customers’ needs.

Global retailers spend millions of dollars annually to manage and refine their brand, and they want to see their efforts extend beyond a small patch of the country in which they are headquartered. Their challenge is to ensure that the brand attributes are correctly and consistently represented in each of their target markets. But, they often default to local brand management, where brand managers adjust each brand for that individual mark.

As each new market evolves, this strategy can lead to inconsistencies in brand message, additional costs for redundant staff, processes and technology. This lack of compliance with brand content can occur when well-intentioned, but narrowly focused, in-country employees create sites while keeping only the specific needs of their market in mind.

There are many parts that go into the whole of creating a trusted retail brand, but the quality of print and the effectiveness of online content are certainly two of the most important communication vehicles. To begin adapting this communication for international markets, many retailers have invested in enterprise content management software for tasks such as document management, Web content management and record management. Many of these retailers, however, have made these investments without also considering globalization and are thereby putting their brand image and revenue at risk.

How globalization enables brand development? Globalization is the process of translating and localizing content in multiple languages and formats. Large, global retailers from travel reservation sites to home improvement retailers to toy retailers can benefit from complementary globalization solutions to:

· Promote a consistent brand, message and image worldwide.

· Lunch multilingual content to international markets in a timely manner.

· Translate and adapt messaging for local markets without changing the brand essence.

In terms of branding, the end goal of globalization is to provide customers with an experience that is familiar by location, language, culture and purchasing practices. This is called “localization of information” and it has become a basic cost of doing business as businesses compete with international rivals long accustomed to offering service tailored to local markets.

With localized information, customers in each foreign market should be able to serve themselves with features such frequently asked questions and product information in their preferred languages. In addition to improving customer service, this in-language approach also reduces other costs and activities associated with customer service. Ideally, customers also can review product offerings, safety advisories, technical data and competitive descriptions, thus allowing sales and customer service representatives to focus on value-added activities.

Case study — Continental Airlines. JupiterResearch recently calculated that consumers will book 56 percent of travel this year directly on supplier Web sites, a figure predicted to increase to 62 percent in 2010. Continental Airlines is one example of a large, global retailer that decided to purchase globalization software to take advantage of this growing revenue opportunity while also minimizing translation costs.

Continental’s plan to launch a Spanish language Web site came directly from its CEO, who laid out an aggressive launch schedule. The goal was to more effectively target consumer and business travelers in multiple languages and locales. To complete this project, the airline deployed globalization software that could quickly, easily and cost-effectively automate many of the manual processes involved with translation and localization.

With this in place, they were able to translate key components of their online reservation system — flight booking and rewards, billing, check-out and travel history features — and to get these customer-facing sites up and running within the allotted time. Continental has now built new efficiencies into current localization processes and will be able to more effectively target consumer and business travelers in multiple languages and locales.

Choosing the right technology. With the right solution in place, any global enterprise can gain a competitive advantage by delivering more content in more languages through a range of communications vehicles. Fortunately, there are many globalization software solutions available that can leverage existing content management investments to improve/accelerate translation and increase consistency.

Here are some tips on what to look for when choosing a globalization solution for your own business.

· Aim to automate: Current translation processes contain many manual steps for content managers and translation teams. Aim to automate as much global content management as possible to accelerate language translation and simplify support for current and future updates.

· Centralized translation database: Some large global organizations have multiple translation databases that are manually synchronized every few weeks. A single, centralized translation database allows retailers to maximize the use of previous translations, increase productivity and ensure quality and consistency of future translations across the entire organization.

· Interface: The solution should enable non-technical employees and third party contributors to create and edit content directly through easy-to-use interfaces and consistent editing tools. The goal is to ensure content developers and translators are being as productive as possible.

· Growth: Combine increasing volumes of content with increases in the number of languages and the project will grow considerably. The right globalization solution should be flexible enough to support all the retailer’s application and content needs, and should be capable of facilitating localization of multiple forms of content. If you expect to grow your online platform at a steady rate, you will need a system that can easily adapt to new markets, to an evolving customer base and to ever-changing customer needs.

Expanding market reach and accelerating communication in multiple languages are fast becoming business imperatives for the global enterprise. Savvy retailers know consumers can be unforgiving. Executed well, a globalization solution can ensure customers have a meaningful experience that will increase the chance they will gain trust in the site, become comfortable with the offerings and return to the site again and again.

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