August 30, 2004, 12:00 AM

Selling La Vida Loca

(Page 2 of 3)

MotionPoint’s services range in cost, in Fleming’s words, “from single-digit thousands of dollars to north of $1 million.” Maintenance and ongoing translation amount to 20-40% of the initial investment, he says. MotionPoint uses a software program that identifies repetition and automatically populates fields with repeated words for which the retailer does not pay a translation fee, the company says. Malaga wouldn’t reveal how much paid for translation, but says, “It was less expensive than the other options. Because of their cost, the other options weren’t really options for us.”

London-based SDL International, another translation company, takes a combined human translator/automation approach in a product it calls Knowledge-based Translation System. Under that system, recently implemented by worldwide hotel franchiser Best Western International, SDL technology identifies the unique words on a web site. Humans translate those words. The company then creates a custom dictionary that is housed on a translation platform, runs the site through the translation engine and re-populates the site with the translated information.

$2 million in savings

The Knowledge-based Translation System reduced the 1.4 million words on the Best Western site to 43,000 unique words, reports Kathleen Bostick, vice president, North America of SDL. “At 20 cents a word, that’s massive savings,” she says. Ultimately, Best Western will translate 4 million words into French, Spanish, Italian and German.

Best Western figures it will save $2 million in translation costs in the first year. “We are able to achieve high quality translations in half the time and at substantially lower cost than traditional translation processes,” says Ric Leutwyler, senior vice president, brand quality and member services.

Once the site is translated, retailers must ensure that the translated site communicates the desired image and experience. Many retailers tackle part of that problem upfront by agreeing on a glossary beforehand. Then some spot check the translation with staffers who are fluent in the target language. Others, such as, survey shoppers to learn what they thought of the experience. And others rely on the quality assurance procedures of the translation vendor.

Viola stresses that, when it comes to Spanish translation of U.S. sites, retailers have many options in the kind of Spanish they employ and the decision as to which to use could affect the success of the site. “Look for a neutral Spanish,” advises Viola, who was born in Argentina and reared in Venezuela. “Choose carefully to maximize the number of potential customers who will understand it.”

Fleming characterizes the Spanish that MotionPoint’s translators use as non-confrontational. “This approach is important because the U.S. Spanish-speaking population is unlike any other, in that it’s composed of a diverse group of individuals from many countries and regions with many differing dialects,” he says.

Yet another consideration in translating to Spanish is that Spanish translations usually result in 20-30% more characters than the equivalent English words, Fleming says. So retailers need to make sure that the translated sites preserve the look and feel of their original sites. That was a concern at, Malaga says, as the company didn’t want longer description boxes pushing the Compre (Buy) buttons deeper on the page.

After the Spanish site is launched, the fact that it is in Spanish will present other challenges. Marketing, for one. While there are tons of metrics on which English keywords produce results in search engine marketing campaigns, such depth of data does not exist for Spanish. Thus retailers with Spanish sites will be at an earlier stage in pay-per-click and page optimization search engine marketing than they are elsewhere in their operations.

Spanish sites will also prompt customer service calls in Spanish. “You shouldn’t be caught off guard by more calls to customer service in Spanish,” Fleming says. Retailers should also be prepared for e-mail inquiries in Spanish, although many leading brands-even those with Spanish content on their web sites-have a dismal track record in that area (see accompanying story).

Retailers who have made the conversion to Spanish say the investment has been worth it. While he won’t provide details, Viola notes the fact that has a tab on its home page directing shoppers to the Spanish site indicates that the company likes what it has experienced a year after the launch of its Spanish language site. “Real estate on the home page is very valuable,” he says. “That’s an indication of how important this is to us.” He adds: “We’ve been very pleased with the results so far.”


Ask it in Spanish, get the answer in English, if you get one

The value of the Hispanic market may be well known, but many online companies are not doing a lot to serve it, says a test of Spanish language e-mail inquiries conducted this summer by consultants Common Sense Advisory Inc.

To gauge how well the brands responded to the growing U.S. Spanish-speaking community, Common Sense researchers sent the same questions to brand sites in Spanish and in English. The results “demonstrate that many companies have yet to capitalize on these opportunities in English and seriously call into question their ability to respond to messages sent to their global gateways in Spanish or any other language,” the report concludes.

In a request for product information sent in Spanish, 46.9% got a reply-but only half the replies were in Spanish. The overall response rate to the product information request was 42.7% For a message that contained a minor complaint about the site, only 35.8% of Spanish messages even got a reply (vs. 49.4% overall), and only 51.7% of them were in Spanish.

A third message, a compliment about the site, got almost equal response rates in Spanish and English-35.4% and 35.6%, respectively-but only 44.8% of replies to the Spanish inquiry were in Spanish.

The fourth message, a question on where to buy the company’s products, got the highest response rate of any of the four messages when sent in English-50%-but only a 33.3% response when submitted in Spanish. Only 51.8% of replies to the Spanish inquiry were in Spanish.

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