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Foreign language consumer groups within domestic markets represent a massive untapped market, and one that doesn’t require e-commerce businesses to alter their shipping, payment or logistics set-up at all...

It’s well-established that if you want to sell to people overseas then you need to communicate in their language, but what about the consumer groups in majority English-speaking countries whose first language is other than English?

People prefer to buy online in their first language. In fact, research by the Common Sense Advisory shows that over 70% of consumers require information in their native language in order to make a purchase, and people who are not proficient in English are six times less likely to purchase from an English-only site.

Now, consider the communities in, say, the UK, for whom English is not their native language, there’s a huge multilingual domestic market just waiting for someone to address their needs.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 7.9% of the UK population were from an ethnic minority when the last census was taken in 2001, which equates to 4.6m people, and the numbers are likely to prove even higher in this year’s census. 

Topping the list of foreign languages are Polish (with over half a million speakers in the UK), followed by Indian and Pakistani languages such as Punjabi, Bengali and Urdu. There are also significant numbers of native French, Italian, Chinese and German speakers living in the UK.

Ethnic minority spending power was estimated at £300bn for 2010, according to a Weber Shandwick study.

Looking more specifically at the Polish market, which has grown markedly over the last five years and received a lot of media attention, the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggests that Polish migrant workers alone have a spending power of between £3.5 and £4bn.

As such, it makes sense that if you sell a product in the UK, and some of your customers are Polish, then you ought to have a localised website for the Polish language.

Parts of the recruitment sector have already cottoned-on to the possibilities of foreign language websites for the domestic market, such as s1jobs in Scotland, which has sites in Polish, Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian, but as yet the ecommerce market has largely lagged behind.

Besides the potential to get a head start on an untapped market, you’ll also find that the return on investment for internet marketing in foreign languages is better than for English, as there’s less competition for keywords in, say, Polish.

This means you'll get to the top of the rankings faster in languages other than English and reach your target audience with greater ease.

The United States has even more potential for great returns, with 20%, or 60m, of the population speaking a language other than English at home (US Census, 2009).

With the majority of these being Spanish speakers, the natural choice for an e-commerce business with interests in the US is to provide a Spanish version of their local website. In fact, the 2008 purchasing power of US Hispanics, of which 89% speak Spanish at home, exceeded the entire GDP of Mexico and Canada at $870 billion (US Census). 

Foreign language consumer groups within domestic markets represent a massive untapped market. Certainly a market worth dipping your toe into...

Christian Arno

Published 10 March, 2011 by Christian Arno

Christian Arno is Founder and Managing Director of Lingo24 and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter

23 more posts from this author

Comments (2)


William King

This is another very important factor required for the success of your small business which needs the special focus of the business owner. Like, you have given the example of UK if you target your clients of a specific region and offer them services in their native language then surely you will get success in building a very good relationship with them.

over 5 years ago

Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

Interesting that the figures quoted by Common Sense Advisory are from 2006. I wonder if there's an update, and if it's changed at all?

over 5 years ago

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