June 5, 2014

Which Languages Have the Most Power in E-Commerce?

Posted by Janna Leyde Category IconConversions & UX Category IconInternational


The Internet is a realm without borders. You can reach anyone, anywhere, in any country. Yet there remains one digital border: language. In 2004, Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of the global blogging website Global Voices, made an observation one evening while he was having dinner with about a dozen of his blogger friends in Amman, Jordan, all of whom were yammering away in Arabic even though they were all blogging in English. Back then, most people on the Internet used English even if it wasn’t their native language. It was just easier.

Today, although English remains both the most translated and most widely-used language on the web, the whole world is no longer telling stories and browsing solely in English. Over 200 million words and phrases are spit in and out of Google Translate in 80 different languages on a daily basis, which goes to show that there are online barriers to break through.

It’s important for e-commerce companies to understand language trends, especially those that proliferate online. Internet users prefer to use their native languages when shopping, so an online business only using one language will only speak to that market. According to Reverbeo.com, 52 percent of non-English speakers surveyed only buy from websites where the information is presented in their language. This goes up to 60 percent when looking at French and Japanese shoppers!

Translation is the key to crossing language borders in the e-commerce world; let’s look at three factors that determine which languages are the most powerful and the most profitable in the online buying space.

The Top 10 Languages spoken in the world, both native and non-native speakers:

  1. Chinese
  2. Spanish
  3. English
  4. Arabic
  5. Hindi
  6. Portuguese
  7. Bengali
  8. Russian
  9. Japanese
  10. German

Source: Language Intelligence. Population does not directly correlate to Internet penetration. For example, India is the second-most populated country in the world, yet ranks well below Japan in terms of Internet users.

Top 10 languages used on the Internet

  1. English
  2. Chinese
  3. Japanese
  4. Spanish
  5. German
  6. French
  7. Korean
  8. Portuguese
  9. Italian
  10. Russian

Source: Internet World Stats. With more knowledge as to the language preferences of online shoppers, it is now worth knowing which of these native speakers are the biggest online spenders.

The Top 10 e-commerce countries based on global retail e-commerce

  1. China
  2. Japan
  3. US
  4. UK
  5. South Korea
  6. Germany
  7. France
  8. Brazil
  9. Australia
  10. Canada

Source: 2013, Global Retail E-Commerce Ranking, by ATKearny.com. Where these three language rankings intersect is where online retailers can focus on breaking through international digital borders. So if you have yet to accommodate those who speak Chinese, Japanese, German, and Portuguese on your website, it’s time you do.

Chinese, English, Portuguese, Japanese and German are the languages that most widely used in the worlds as well as on the Internet and Global Retail E-Commerce.