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At Last, Some Multilingualism in Indian E-Commerce
Posted by Vijayalaxmi Hegde on February 3, 2014  in the following blogs: Best Practices, Web Globalization
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Indian online retailer Snapdeal announced last week that it now offers Hindi and Tamil options to users on its website. Common Sense Advisory thinks that Snapdeal’s multilingual initiative could set off a flurry of long-pending localization in the Indian market. 

Common Sense Advisory had predicted that notwithstanding the high level of English proficiency in emerging economies such as India, serious players will need to offer language options if they wish to exploit the full potential India promises. Now that Amazon’s ambitious eye is on India, urban India’s pockets are no longer satisfying enough. Retailers realize that suburban and rural India can be just as much a spendthrift as the major centers. There are some caveats, foremost among them the demand for content that they can read in their own language. 

However, eBay-backed Snapdeal would do well to keep the following things in mind as it goes along this well-travelled path of website localization:
  • Half-hearted translation efforts will only go so far. The menu text on Snapdeal’s Hindi site are still predominantly in English (see Figure 1), though when you drill down to product pages, you will see that the product description has been translated (see Figure 2). We know that Snapdeal has just begun, but first impressions can often be lasting. The Hindi user could be put off by English menus and never reach the product page. Can’t navigate, won’t buy?  

 Figure 1: Snapdeal’s predominantly English menus on its Hindi site

Figure 2: Product description is translated on Snapdeal.
  • Take some lessons from investor. Snapdeal doesn’t have to look too far for localization lessons. eBay, that invested US$50 million in Snapdeal, is a veteran provider of local content, earning more than 60% of its revenue from non-U.S. markets. eBay also regularly makes its entry in our annual study of the world’s best globalized websites – hence, whatever it can teach Snapdeal will help the latter.
  • Please, please, please don’t Sanskritize. We have observed that in India localizing often actually becomes Sanskritizing. If Snapdeal does not speak as its users do and doesn’t make itself understood in a matter of seconds, the entire effort behind localization will be lost. Its language navigation menu on the Hindi site says “भाषा का चयन करें” (“Bhaasha ka chayan kare” meaning “‘select language”), when it could just say “भाषा को चुने” (“Bhaasha ko chune” – still meaning “select language” but in plain Hindi). This change would make it much simpler and understandable because no one would say “chayan” (choose) in daily life when they want to select something. We cannot stress enough the importance of adopting plain language in target and source content
  • Last of all, language will not be enough. Offering language options is part of standard business practice to the leading websites of the world, for they well recognize that the user who cannot read something in their native language, has very few chances of converting into a customer. That is, can’t read, won’t buy. But that said, companies also have to pay close attention to the idiosyncrasies of each market. What should e-commerce sites offer in suburban and rural India? Better packaging? Different payment options and terms? Snapdeal is not the first among its peers to go multilingual: Yepme had previously offered its site in Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, but withdrew them as they weren’t able to engage local users. Snapdeal should investigate what happened and learn from its predecessor’s mistakes. 
What does all this mean to language service providers (LSPs), not only in India but globally:
  • Underserved languages are coming of age, are you ready? Hindi was one of the languages that Common Sense Advisory recognized in our website globalization research of 2012 as having far more market potential than companies had cared to exploit. But it’s not alone. When the tidal wave of demand for content in these languages comes, LSPs should not be caught unprepared. 
  • Change in market size will follow and so should attitude towards technology. New translation markets are emerging and existing ones will get bigger (even if at a slower rate). Indian LSPs, who are really strong in project management must become more tech-savvy so that they can scale faster. That means that technology vendors, too, will need to offer localized versions of their software in the coming years to cater to responsive LSPs. 
Speaking of market size, Common Sense Advisory’s annual state of the industry survey is currently underway. The more LSPs that take the survey, the more able we will be to describe and predict industry trends. Companies like Snapdeal and their translation and localization suppliers will find much insight in the resulting report, “The Language Services Market: 2014.” 


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