Translation vs Localization: How Amazon Sellers Can Localize Product Listings to Increase Sales

6 minute read

If you want your Amazon business to go international, you’ve got to speak the language of your audience. Even though English is the most internationally used language, it’s more effective to communicate with your e-commerce customers in their native tongue.

This isn’t just a random observation, according to statistics:

    • Content that’s locally targeted drives six times more engagement
    • 49% of surveyed marketers say that geo-targeting gives the highest ROI
    • Localized ads performed 86% better than English-only advertising campaigns

Thus, assuming that your target overseas audience will be as interested in buying your Amazon products as your local English-speaking audience is completely wrong.

So, if you sell on Amazon and want to expand your e-commerce business to foreign markets, you should at least have your listings translated. But the trick to real success on Amazon foreign marketplaces isn’t only in translating: it’s localizing your product listings.

Translation vs. Localization

These two terms often overlap and marketers often used them interchangeably.

But knowing the difference between these two terms can help globalize your business and drive more sales of your Amazon products.

So, what’s the difference?

The majority of product descriptions on Amazon are just translated, not localized. Many Amazon merchants use machine translation to automatically get their product listings and descriptions in a different language.

Let’s look at an example product listing, this one is from Amazon Germany:

translation vs localization

Here’s an example of the word-for-word translation from English to German:

From first glance, the translation seems fine in terms of accuracy. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that ft (feet), which is a unit of length, used primarily in the United States, hasn’t been changed to a corresponding unit of length, used in Germany (= approximately 4.6 meters).

So, a buyer from Germany who views this Amazon listing can be potentially interested in buying the product. But without having relevant information about measurements, they may be more likely to change their minds. This is why localization is so important.

What’s the Difference between Translation and Localization?

So, after taking a look at our example, let’s get into some specifics about the terminology. What’s the difference between translation and localization?

Translation is changing the original (source) text to another language. As a result, you create a target text that heavily depends on its context. However, the realia of the source language aren’t changed according to the realia of the target language.

On the contrary, localization takes into consideration the target culture and its realia and uses them when translating the text. Target text, as a result, becomes more clear for the target audience to understand, as they receive something they can relate to.

Localization also takes into account:

    •  Regional specificity of a language
    •  Societal codes (humor, etiquette, rituals)
    •  Societal values
    •  Date and time formats
    •  Contact information formats
    •  Geographical references

Why Machine Translation Isn’t as Effective
for Ecommerce

For Amazon merchants, relying solely on machine translation (and hoping that it works out) can mean missing out on potential customers from other countries. Besides, using machine translation can sometimes cause embarrassing situations, as a certain word can acquire a whole other meaning in a different language (so-called false friends). For instance, the English word “gift” in German means poison. If not translated correctly, you can end up with a very unattractive (in this case, alarmingly so!) product description.

Martina Peterson, head of the localization department at PickWriters, shares some other disadvantages of machine translation compared with localization:

  • Machine translation does not recognize the nuances of translation. So, like with false friends, machine translation is unlikely to differentiate various meanings of a word
  • Machine translation does not recognize the context
  • Grammar and tonality, which are important to any context, are also ignored

Many Amazon merchants have very engaging product descriptions in English. So why not make them like that in another language? Speaking the language of your foreign target audience will help you win more hearts and minds.

So How Can Amazon Sellers Start Localizing?

Localization of product listings and descriptions on Amazon is a process that consists of multiple steps.

To optimize localization to European languages, Amazon recommends taking it one step at a time:

Step #1: Use Amazon Listing Translation Tools

This is just to get you started. Amazon has built-in translation tools that can help you start localizing your products. Amazon tools are largely based on machine translation. However, if you’re only starting to sell on Amazon, you can benefit from this option.

Step #2: Use FBA and Free Online Translation Tools

Fulfillment by Amazon is a program that supports Amazon sellers and helps them deal with issues like shipment and customer satisfaction. FBA services are available in Europe and other places around the world like Japan and China. So, if you don’t speak a foreign language, FBA will help you deal with the issue coming from abroad.

For translating your listings and product descriptions, you can also use free online translation tools.

Step #3: Hire a Native Speaker or Translator Specializing in Localization

If you want to do ongoing translations for the products that keep coming, it’s better to hire a professional who you can outsource the task to. This way, you’ll make sure that all information about products is highly accurate and in line with the localization requirements.

translation vs localization

What about Online Sales in China, Japan, and Korea?

These languages often appear to be problematic for machine translation. So, if you want to expand your Amazon store or e-commerce business to the Chinese, Japanese or Korean markets, it’s better to outsource the localization to a professional translator directly.

Amazon generally requires all sellers, who plan to sell globally, to have:

  • All listings in a local language
  • Have a localized customer support

However, as we’ve seen in the example at the beginning of the article, these translations are rarely checked. So, all the responsibility lies with you as an online merchant. And, although it’s a time-consuming process, investing in localization can help you optimize your listings and product descriptions for foreign marketplaces.

The Bottom Line on How Amazon Sellers Can Use Localization to Drive Sales

Eventually, every Amazon seller wants to go international and win the hearts (and the pockets) of the buyers from overseas. However, someone who doesn’t understand your product won’t buy it. No matter how good your product is.

So, localization is an important step for every Amazon seller, who wants to go international. You can implement this process gradually, as your business grows, eventually providing your foreign audience with perfectly localized content.

Hopefully, this article gave you some valuable insights into how localization works. Localization is more preferable for you than a simple machine translation. So, don’t be afraid to invest in it, ask an expert in localization questions if you’re still unsure. Just following the steps we discussed in this article will help you win over more customers in foreign audiences.

Guest post by Elisa Abbot of PickWriters

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