Parlez-Vous E-Commerce?

Here's how to give your Website international appeal

(German), .fr (French), or .nl (Dutch).

If cost is an issue, opt to provide translations of as many Web pages as you can afford. Consider automatic translation software such as Transparent Language (www.transparent.com) and Systran (www.systransoft.com). In general, you can get a program that translates up to 10 languages for $60. Or you can opt to hire a service at about $50 to $100 per short page (200 to 300 words).

IF IT DOESN’T FIT …
Emeka Ohuche discovered that the software program he initially used to translate his Website into eight different languages was ineffective. The co-founder and CEO of iKobo Inc. in Marietta, Georgia, notes most of the translation software options convert on a word-to-word basis. Therefore, the actual text that gets converted into a foreign language often does not read properly. “From a grammar standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense,” he explains.

A global online financial services company, iKobo provides easy and secure online money transfers to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Once the money is sent electronically, customers use reloadable debit cards (referred to as i-Kards) to access cash at ATMs and retail point-of-sale terminals in 170 countries (see “Virtual Money Chain,” Techwatch, November 2003). “In order to better cater to these groups, we decided to create a translation engine ourselves that converts by phrases rather than by words,” says Ohuche, who plans to roll out a version of the Website in five foreign languages — Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Ukrainian — by year-end.

The firm has also made its entire transaction process multilingual, including e-mail, voice mail, and other forms of communication. “We created a response system to address people’s questions. For instance, if someone who speaks German forgets to enter the expiration date of their credit card, there is an automatic response in German that says, ‘Please enter your expiration date,’” adds Ohuche. iKobo has 40 people on staff who represent 15 nationalities and speak 20 languages. The company, which projects $5 million in revenues this year, faces online competitors such as PayPal and offline competition like Western Union.

Other issues you’ll have to consider include correspondence with prospective customers in their language, accepting foreign currency, using the metric system for shipping rates, and providing “after-sale” service.

SEVEN SIMPLE RULES …

  1. Hire a local. You need someone on board who not only speaks the language but who can give a good perspective about what’s happening in that marketplace. Consider partnering with foreign distributors or sales reps, for example.
  2. Be aware of regional and cultural differences within specific languages. For example, Spanish is not spoken quite the same way in Mexico as it is in Spain or in Puerto Rico. And there are differences between Cantonese Chinese and Mandarin Chinese and between how people in Taiwan speak versus how they speak in Mainland China.
  3. Include information for foreign customers. Provide shipping rates, tariffs, and assorted taxes, for example. Be sure your order form doesn’t assume a U.S. address but can accommodate international ones. You’ll need money-exchange software that converts dollars to foreign currencies, unless you are accepting
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