INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Singapore
Aron Frost

Building a Multilingual E-commerce Store


Setting up an ecommerce store is no easy feat. Not a lot of people realise the amount of time and effort that goes into building an aesthetically pleasing, functional, and easy-to-use website. It involves a great deal of work.

According to Statista, the revenue earned in Hong Kong through eCommerce has grown by 23.3% year on year. The most profitable market segments being fashion, electronics & media, hobbies & toys, and appliances.

But what if you are also trying to tap into a new market? A new market that has great potential but poses one big roadblock: language. What do you do now?

As with everything else, you adapt. Growing your revenue streams means expanding into new markets. Often, your website or your online store would be the first thing that your new market sees. Online transactions in Hong Kong are growing. Back in 2013, 66.4% of Hong Kong residents shopped online, up from 57.9% in 2011. These figures have climbed in recent years, as more brands launch apps and make their products available on online platforms.

So, the question now is whether your website can service an entirely new culture and language. To ensure that you make a great first impression, consider building a multilingual e-commerce store. 

Why is having a multilingual e-commerce store important?
A multilingual e-commerce store should be able to do two main things: translate your website accurately based on the language of your new market; and provide visitors with a coherent user experience. Keep in mind, however, that your new market might not respond well to your current marketing strategy. Apart from language, you would also have to consider context, culture, and values as potential challenges you would have to address to avoid getting lost in translation.

Remember, these website visitors are potential leads that could turn into paying customers. And, if pleased with your product and service, these paying customers could turn into repeat business. Win-win.

But how do you create a multilingual e-commerce store? Where do you even start?

Pick your platform wisely
When building an e-commerce store, the first thing you must do is choose an e-commerce platform that best suits your business. It really all boils down to what you, as a business, need. One thing we would like to emphasise is the importance of integrations.

Your e-commerce store should allow integrations that help with managing your content, handling your SEO, and optimising your online store for various platforms such as desktops, tablets, and phones. Even your website’s multilingual capabilities depend on integrations.

Additionally, your e-commerce platforms should also allow you to seamlessly integrate your website with all your other marketing efforts. Will your e-commerce platform integrate with your socials? How about your email marketing campaigns? Is your e-commerce platform capable of integrating multilingual options?

Popular e-commerce platforms in Hong Kong according to Builtwith:

  • Around 2367 websites are using Shopify
  • Around 3210 websites are using WooCommerce
  • Around 2412 websites are using Wix Stores
  • Around 1651 websites are using OpenCart
  • Around 738 websites are using Squarespace


Always start with the data
If you’re unsure which languages to add to your website, well, look at the data. As with all projects, you need to do your research before making any business decisions. In today’s world, data dictates everything. From risky business decisions to whatever has 5 stars on Yelp, it’s important to look at the data to help mitigate risk or… you know... a bad lunch.

If your company is based in Hong Kong and you are planning to expand, it only makes sense to look to the broader Asia Pacific as new markets. Do you get website hits from Taiwan? Are these website hits coming from both the English-speaking and Chinese-speaking residents of Taiwan? If you are planning to expand to Malaysia or Philippines, are you getting enough website hits from Malay or Tagalog-speaking visitors to justify the integration of another language in your website?

Once you have collected solid data about the market you are trying to tap into, you are ready to proceed with the next step.

(Pro tip: Google Analytics will be able to provide you location-specific and demographic information about your website visitors. This creates an opportunity for your e-commerce business to effectively target which customers are interested in your product as well as the languages they speak.)

Don’t forget the human touch
Some websites rely on automatic translations services. Whilst this may be an easy and cost-effective method to translate your website to another language, it also poses some risks. Context is important no matter what language is involved. 

Some marketing strategies that European or American brands use might not sit well with an Asian audience and vice versa. At the very least, have someone proofread your website to ensure that your translations are accurate and culturally appropriate. Pay attention to the quality of your translation above all else.

Optimise user experience
Having a multilingual e-commerce store doesn’t just involve translating one language to another. You have to take into account the user experience you are giving your customers. User experience is important for your conversion rates.

If you are unsure what factors to consider, ask yourself a few things:

  • Are my translations affecting my conversion funnel? If so, where can I make improvements?
  • Is my branding consistent no matter which language my visitors select?
  • Where should my language button be?
  • Should I check if my translations abide by SEO best practices?

Check your SEO and localise your efforts
Translating your website’s language is different from translating your SEO efforts. You also must consider SEO best practices of another language when providing multilingual options. Are you targeting the right native keywords? Are your SEO efforts localised? Do you have accurate currency conversions? When translated, are your page titles and meta descriptions still within the character limit? The list goes on. 

It may not be the cheapest option but hiring a native speaker and ecommerce SEO expert should help you with your localised efforts. You know what they say: you must spend money to make money.

Key takeaways
As the business landscape continues to evolve, the potential for increased profits evolves with it. Building a multilingual e-commerce store is not easy, but it should not hinder you from expanding your market reach. Whether you are a bakery or an insurance company, you can adapt your business model to sell egg tarts online or digital insurance. So do your research on the plethora of tools available out there or invest in a local agency to ensure that you are providing accurate translations on your website. In doing so, not only are you ensuring a seamless user experience, but you are also overcoming potential cultural barriers.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Aron Frost

Aron Frost

Aron Frost is the SEO team lead at First Page Limited. He oversees the digital strategy and execution of campaigns across Asia Pacific for leading Hong Kong brands. With over 5 years’ experience in international search engine optimization, he aims to broaden the digital literacy rate of marketers in Hong Kong. He is passionate about user experience, digital storytelling, and analytics. You can read more about these topics on his blog.

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