Translating for Retail

Translating for Retail
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With the advent of modern technology and having found ourselves fully within the communications revolution, the world is becoming an increasingly small place.

Companies which at one time conducted business transactions across town are now striving to reach customers across the globe. Rapidly growing economies such as China, India and the Middle East are now pivotal players on the world stage. As they develop and open up new opportunities exist for entrepreneurial firms to maximise their returns in these exciting new markets. This is especially true for the retail sector where new customers and partner relationships can be created relatively quickly online.

Combining this with an environment at home that has seen an unprecedented amount of competition (due in part to a prolonged recession), the continued growth of retailers exist in international opportunities. Anyone from the retail world understands that clear consistent customer communication and customer service are two of the most critical success factors. Do them wrong and you run the risk of irreversibly destroying brand value. Do them right and you can build a love mark, a brand built upon love and respect.

Ask yourself if your product (or brand) would pass the Hershey bar test – is it so good that someone would cross the street to buy it or would they buy the 2nd best competitor located closer?

Translating the Written Word

Identifying the most relevant languages according to the demographic or region you’re targeting is essential and should be easily obtained from your marketing team given the amount of tools they have at their disposal. This provides vital information for your retail translation team to work on. It’s best to include them as early as your NDAs allow to give them time to research, test, align and help other people in the supply chain with complex character sets.

This noted, it’s not always the same for each company, there are still a large percentage of enterprises that are accustomed to a more local approach. The extent at which the language service is embedded into your company’s operations depends largely on the level of complexity and impact it occupies within your company. For example, one of our customers is a bakery in the North of England who has twelve different factories across the United Kingdom and has seldom need for our service except as a reaction to the ever-increasing multicultural workforce.

On the other end of the client spectrum is one of the largest retailers in the world that we manage translation assets for, translating all customer-facing material, managing interaction with a multitude of partner companies in the supply chain and control all language policies across the group. The two require a very different level of Account Management (the latter being completed using the KAM model) but at the core is a dependable language service which they can trust.

The World is Getting Smaller

The retail sector has seen an explosion in interconnected markets. While many may have joked only a few decades ago about products made in China, this country is now one of, if not the strongest, economies. The growth of the Chinese middle class means they will soon become the biggest consumer in the world of things like healthcare, life insurance and luxury goods. This trend looks unstoppable.

Major foreign corporations and retailers are now well aware that western businesses are eager to become involved in the retail trade in new markets. They know that not all companies will boast the linguistic capabilities to effectively communicate. Companies abroad are searching for those enterprises, retailers and e-commerce organisations who are proactive enough to accommodate the need for a multilingual translation service. We’re certain that this will become a hygiene factor for most businesses if it’s not already.

Last quarter we were asked to work on a project for a Chinese retailer who was meeting with the top three retailers in the United Kingdom for their product with a view to expand their customer base. All three domestic companies sell similar products, their figures have been strong and each is asking for a similar relationship.

Two of the companies presented their proposals in English. They had no on-site interpreter present and there were questions around the Chinese firm’s understanding of what was actually being said. We helped the third company who used our translation service and even made the effort to have a native speaker present during the negotiations. Out of these three companies, which one did you think was approved for a contract with the Chinese retailer?

Real Priorities in Real-Time

The strengths of a professional translation provider go far beyond the scope of the negotiating table alone. Imagine that a domestic corporation needs to be briefed in regards to the latest quarterly sales figures from a sister company in Germany. What good will this report do if it is not translated and properly formatted in English? Another example may be a retailer about to unveil a new international marketing template targeting Japan. This company needs to know the exact results of their recent experimental sales campaign before spending millions to adopt an entirely new branding. In either case, a “rough” translation of figures and results simply will not do. An error or even a misunderstanding could derail their entire strategy. The astute company will adopt a flexible service that can meet their bespoke requirements.

The services a good translation company can offer the retailer are:

  • DTP/Artwork of foreign language files
  • Translation aligned with current legislation
  • Management of translation assets such as translation memories and glossaries
  • Support for interacting with local legislative bodies (government and/or trade)
  • Integration online with content management and translation management systems
  • Support for negotiations with local retailers/partners

To maximise your ROI all of these services should be integrated into your own workflow processes. Pick a partner who has adopted interoperability at the centre of their workflow. Caution should be raised with solution providers who use their own closed systems as the cost of connecting stakeholders’ systems together when there is hidden resistance can be enormous.

Translation 101: Streamlining the Process

The process of translation needs to be controlled using specific workflows. The total time spent on the task can be shortened by adding lots of translators all working in a shared environment to complete the project faster. When this approach is required, you need to ensure a robust solution is applied.

By controlling the source documents, the amount (and associated costs) of translation can be significantly reduced. Having worked closely with a German white goods manufacturer we helped them to create images and symbols which could be used across their customer base. This reduced their requirement for translation by 70%. Saving valuable time in the product launch process and still presenting an accurate picture of the most pertinent facts.

Also, the translation process does not necessarily need to translate every single word of a document. An alternative solution based on translation using computer algorithms (Statistical Machine Translation) can have dramatic effects in certain applications. Especially when stakeholders need to appreciate the essence of the article or document as opposed to being given a fifty-five page RFP to read.

While there is no doubt that the advancements in this area are growing each year the technology, if used in isolation, is far from perfect. Look at some of the free translation services online and you will quickly understand the inherent unreliability of these kinds of solution. Even some of the highest valued software will often fall short of the mark, particularly when dealing with important and grammatically difficult languages such as German, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.

The human touch is an extremely important factor. Professional translators and/or post-editors are adept at understanding and appreciating the cultural nuances that will often slip by a computer-generated translation.

Awareness of the Trend

Of course, these are but a handful of reasons and factors why it is all but essential for retailers and e-commerce companies to employ a professional translation service in order to reliably support the expansion and maintenance of their international operations. Other factors that need to be considered are the technicality of the subject being translated (an owner’s manual as opposed to a legal document), the experience of the content creation team, knowledge of the industry and the value of their services.

Above all, it is first necessary to appreciate that this field will only grow as businesses become increasingly reliant on cross-border and international trade relations. As businesses abroad are aware that reputable companies will actively utilise professional linguists, some are actually opting not to do business with those who are unwilling or unable to procure these services. The results of this decision can be devastating for the ongoing operations of a domestic company.

Accommodating a foreign demographic is actually very much a part of the sales process; engaging others in their language represents the very real effort of a company to adapt to a fluid and changing environment. Investing the time in a language partner who understands the world of retail, your target customers cultural nuances, the associated legal challenges and who can demonstrate a native-level fluency is one of the most important factors that will allow a retail or e-commerce business to thrive in any new markets. Make your brand a success, be local, be global.