July 9, 2013, 11:02 AM

Israeli underwear e-retailer Under.me boosts conversions with web site translations

One Hour Translation helps the retailer to sell effectively in other countries.

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After Israeli underwear e-retailer Under.me created a German-language version of its web site aimed at online shoppers in Germany, its conversion rate in that country jumped from about 1% to 2%, says CEO and co-founder David Balsar. Similarly in France, when the retailer translated site content into French, conversions went up from about 0.67% to 1%, he says.

Under.me initially launched in English and Hebrew in Israel, where the small group of shoppers who view the site in Hebrew convert three times more often than those viewing it in English, Balsar says. However, the retailer found that most of its customers were in the United States and Europe and, to sell effectively in Europe it needed to communicate in consumers’ native languages, he says. That, along with providing local currency options for payments and customer support in native languages, makes the site approachable to foreign shoppers, he says.

For the web site translations, Under.me uses technology and services from vendor One Hour Translation, which provides staffers who can translate a few paragraphs of copy on a web site into another language in roughly an hour, Balsar says. Larger projects, for instance translating all of Under.me’s web pages from English to German and all the pre-formatted e-mails the retailer sends to German shoppers, such as for order confirmations and tracking information, takes a few days, he says.

After the translators create copy for the web site, One Hour Translation provides a bit of code that Under.me plugs into its site so that the correct language displays according to the country tied to a customer’s IP address. “Our I.T. guys plug in whatever needs to be linked, and it starts showing the right translations immediately,” Balsar says.

Sometimes, usually when a translator has made a significant change, Under.me approves the text before making it live, he says. For example, many product names in German end up much longer than in English, which not only looks awkward on web pages but can be harder for foreign customers to use in site searches. One Hour Translation’s staff may suggest a better version—or sometimes take direction from Under.me directly—for making up a new product name, he says. For instance, on the English site two T-shirts, “the cee” and “the vee,” appear on the German site as “Under.Me Damen-T-Shirt” and “Under.Me Damen-T-Shirt mit V-Ausschnitt ,” which mean “Under.me women’s T-Shirt” and “Under.me women’s T-shirt with V-neck,” respectively.

This thoughtful editing feature is the biggest benefit of using humans rather than computer programs to do the translating, Balsar says. “They put it in context,” he says. “They go on site, see the images and products and understand the sentiment and language.”

In addition to English, Hebrew, German and French translations, Under.me is adding Italian and Spanish, he says. Eventually, the e-retailer would like to make its site available in at least 10 languages, he says. One Hour Translation also translates Under.me’s store on Amazon.com Inc.’s marketplace in Germany, Balsar says.

“Translation is a gating factor for market penetration,” says Ben Sargent, a senior analyst at independent research firm Common Sense Advisory, which specializes in international business, translation and localization. E-retailers that provide just English sites will only scrape the surface of possible sales in countries whose residents speak other languages, he says.

“One rule of thumb is that the closer you get to the consumer’s skin, the greater the need for translation,” he says. “If you sell professional gear like zoom lenses for wildlife photography, you may get further in English; if you sell shaving cream or lingerie, you must get as local as possible or people just won’t be interested.”

One Hour Translation’s services cost less than $100 for a few paragraphs of text, Balsar says. Translating a full site, including the related e-mail messaging, costs more, he says. He declines to reveal exactly how much, but says that Under.me’s initial German investment began to pay for itself after about a month. One Hour Translation says it charges $0.07 per word for translation into 75 languages, with a discounted rate for customers translating more than 50,000 words. 

On June 13, the vendor released a new technology to automate web site translations, called WeST web translation services. With that, retailers insert a snippet of code into their web sites that provides automatic, continuous translations into several common languages; the correct language displays based on a shopper’s location. Unlike with the older service, customers do not have to extract content from a web site or content management system to send it to be translated.

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