Five Ways English-Only Is Failing Your Business

Your competitors are going where the sweet spots are.
Photo by Benjamin Leung on Flickr (cropped)

An English-only website hurts you but you won’t feel any pain until you notice your competitors are enjoying a much steeper growth curve compared to your business and it may already be too late for you to catch up.

An English-only eCommerce website is like only selling red bicycles. Sure, there’s a market for that, but if you’re not a niche retailer, why would you want to give all the non-red bicycle revenue growth to your competitors?

English-only dinosaur skeleton

The real reason dinosaurs died out: Monolingualism

One-half of websites are in English, but only one-quarter of Internet users speak it as their primary language. It’s pretty much a rule of thumb at this point to recognize that people prefer to shop and buy in their language of choice.

Not every business needs to localize away from English-only, just the ones with a growth strategy.

Here are five reasons why an English-only website is inhibiting your revenue goals.

  1. China. This could literally be your biggest motivation for localizing in other languages. China is THE biggest retail market in the world where 72% of mainland Chinese feel they are better off financially than they were five years ago. Young affluent Chinese consumers seek fashion and accessories, beauty products and electronics. Many parents and pet owners prefer to buy American for safety reasons. The Chinese, like everyone else, love a better deal or a real bargain and they’ve found that prices are sometimes far lower on foreign websites. While the U.S. is one of the top-shopped countries for China, the Chinese buy even more from South Korean sites and are also fond of sites that are primarily located in Japan, Hong Kong and France. Chinese eCommerce growth is expected to reach $1 trillion dollars by 2020. Many inhabitants of China may speak English but they don’t always speak it well and millions don’t speak it at all. Localizing in Chinese has always been a challenge but it’s gotten a lot easier within the last year (more on that in a bit).

Related: Three Keys To Success in the Asian eCommerce Market (Yappn white paper)

  1. Immigration numbers are growing. New immigrants bring immense and sometimes immediate revenue potential to new markets. Among the first things you do when you relocate to a new country, after applying for a Social Security or Social Insurance card include:
  • Opening a bank account
  • Applying for a healthcare card (Canada)
  • Finding a place to live
  • Establishing cell phone and Internet service
Asian woman

After Spanish, the most commonly-spoken language in the U.S. is Chinese. Some states may also want to pay closer attention to their German-speaking demographics. Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read on Flickr

These are all services a new immigrant needs to access in their first week, regardless of their English capability. If your bank’s website isn’t localized, or only for what’s commonly regarded as the next obvious choice (Spanish for the U.S., French for Canada) you’re going to miss out on all the new Punjabi, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Arabic speakers who will naturally gravitate to those businesses who can most immediately and clearly communicate their value.

Related: Immigration Projected To Drive Growth In U.S. Working-Age Population Through At Least 2035

  1. The world is becoming more globalized and English-only makes your business look out-of-touch and a bit provincial. The need for bilingual and multilingual business communication skills is growing. The aspiring CEO needs to know more than one language; job boards are filled with requests for bilingual skills; and with half the world online, the percentage of those who primarily speak English shrinks every year. There’s no need to offer a long menu of language options if your business doesn’t warrant it, especially if the translation plug-in only does a passable job. Unless you’re a large, established brand you probably only need a few well-translated languages and if your eCommerce site isn’t extremely local (mom & pop) or niche market (like a red bicycle store) and has a strategic growth plan, an English-only website sends a subtle message that your business just doesn’t ‘get it.
  1. It’s easier to localize than ever before. Not so long ago, it was much easier to localize the wrong way than the right way. Human translation can be cost-prohibitive for many smaller businesses but machine translation wasn’t reliable enough, leading to poorly-translated websites that looked unprofessional and were likely to leave an English-insecure visitor feeling less likely to browse but in the past year, the widespread addition of Neural Machine Translation (NMT) has improved MT by up to 85%. These improvement rates combined with less time-intensive human post-editing means that the costs have come down and you can now leverage several translation options for a near-seamless front-to-back-end translation. It’s also important that while you’re localizing your business that you remember that you need to provide support to your cosmopolitan customers by offering multilingual chat and phone support. With the help of a good localization partner’s guidance you can remove a lot of the strategic risk and plan a smoother translation process.

  1. Storefront retail is struggling, even if widespread reports of its incipient extinction are greatly exaggerated. eCommerce evolution is driven by more secure payment methods and the growth of mCommerce popularity thanks to better-optimized websites for mobiles and easier return policies. Changes in American eating and traveling habits should also take their share of the blame for the newest wave of retail bankruptcies and mall closures. Physical stores aren’t going away but there will be some painful reshuffling of the market as retail evolves and integrates more with e-tail. For many in North America and elsewhere, online ordering is just easier from your mobile. Vastly improved supply chains also enable faster and more efficient delivery from far away. Amazon already offers same-day delivery and it’s free for Prime customers on orders of $25 and over. Better-stocked local warehouses will further blur the lines between whether to order from the U.S. or a cross-border location that’s a little closer, ergo quicker delivery. If your business includes a storefront you’re probably already strategizing to figure out the proper mix of time, resources and attention to devote to online and offline sales and now you need to think about localizing the eCommerce piece.

Related: What In The World Is Causing The Retail Meltdown Of 2017?

Localizing your eCommerce site is no longer a question of if but when, regardless of whether you sell cross-border or not. English-only is hurting your business but it’s been great for your competitors.


Yappn Corp offers enhanced machine translation including Neural Machine Translation in over 100 languages. For more information please contact or call us at +1.905.763.3510 x246.


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Written by Nicole Chardenet, Sales Development Rep at Yappn

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