International websites, local language…why bother?

Living abroad you are faced with situations that you took for granted back home.  For me, an example of this, is coming to terms with continental European retailers which have e-commerce websites, but not multiple language options.  So if it is a German retailer, the site is probably only offered in German, the same for France, etc.

Yes, I understand that a website should be offered in the official language of the country where the company is based, so I get that a Netherlands-based retailer will have a website offered in Dutch.  But what I have a hard time figuring out, from a business standpoint, is why more major retailers operating in The Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and the rest of Europe, aren't focussed on huge opportunity that exists in terms of potential revenue growth with the retail globilzation brought about by first the internet, and now advances in mobile technology .  Coming from the fashion and retail industry, and being an English-language only speaker living in Holand, I may be more attuned to this glaring issue than others perhaps, but considering how the internet has grown the potential pool of shoppers for any brand with an online presence, wouldn't that be one of the first areas of investment? A multi-language option on the site?  Not even just to service potential foreign customers, but what about the expat residents in your country that don't speak the local language!

Perhaps these retailers need to refer to the travel and tourism sector.  Almost every tourist site of a major city in Europe offers multiple language options.  English, for sure, but also German,  French, Spanish and some Portuguese, as well.  Another consideration,  just looking at The Hague, the third largest city in The Netherlands and the one in which I happen to live, is the statistic that 40% of the residents are foreign-born.  Now while I do admit, there are some Dutch territories outside of Europe, and the possibility that some residents of those terruitories may have immigrated to the Netherlands and if so, may know Dutch, I highly doubt that these immigrants from Aruba, Curacao or Saint Marten are a large part of that 40%. Rather, there's a higher chance they are from other places, which, in turn, means there is a much higher chance that this community speaks more English than Dutch, if they speak any Dutch at all.

And going back to the point of how the internet has made everything global, if it could be justified that a large number of Dutch speakers exist in other countries, I would consider that suggestion and perhaps admit that maybe someone did give it some thought in regards to the business side potential, and decided it wasn't beneficial enough to make the investment to have a multi-language website option.  But, alas, that is not the case.  According to the Wikipedia entry: List of Languages by Native Speakers, which categorizes languages into six classes based on sheer number of native speakers, English falls into the first, 100 million and up, with an estimated 328 million native speakers (and speculation that up to 1.8 billion can speak English as a first, second or foreign language).  Just as an FYI, Mandarin has the highest estimated number of native speakers with 1.2 billion. But when considered on a global scale, being spoken as a first, second or foreign language, it still rounds off to the same 1.2 billion, meaning, of course, that the huge native speakers of Mandarin are not spread across the globe in the same way English speakers are, but are predominantly located within China.  

Dutch on the other hand…does not fall into that same category in the Wikipedia list. Nor does it fall into the second or third.  It makes an appearance in the fourth class, 10-30 million, along with Hausa, Gan, Sindhi, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, well…you get the point.

Perhaps the lag in multi-language options comparing the European retail sector with the European Travel and Tourism sector, is due to the fact that the latter aren't operating e-commerce sites, so there isn't the same issue involved with currency exchange, import or export duties, etc.  But in this day and age, there are companies you can outsource that part to.  So it will be interesting to see how long it takes for European merchants with an online presence to catch up with the travel and tourism offices, which have obviously concluded that it is mandatory to offer multiple language options if you are hoping to attract any business from outside your borders.


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