How Language Accessibility is Driving Retail Growth: Smartling's Retail Data Report

We anaylzed top 5 of the major retail brands to understand how localization is driving global growth.


It's no secret that the retail landscape has changed. Dominated by online sales, brick-and-mortar retailers have seen a major shift in the way they interact with customers.

In fact, this trend is driving a 15% growth rate over 5 years, with the global apparel market expected to grow to 1.5 trillion dollars this year.

So what we were curious to learn was how does language accessibility tie into this trend? After all, this is global sales we're talking about. For brands to tap into the massive potential of global retail, they need to embrace localization. At least, that's our hypothesis.

To find out how true this really is, we put five of the biggest global retailers under a microscope -- ASOS, H&M, TopShop, Uniqlo, and Zara -- to learn more about how global language accessibility has contributed to their growth over the last few years.

What is language accessibility?

To tap into the massive potential of global commerce, brands make their websites, experiences, and applications accessible in different languages. The number of languages necessary to penetrate the market on a global scale has grown over the last few years.

But, when we discuss offering a localized experience to customers in a new region, there's more to consider than simply translating the text on your website.

Language accessibility includes a variety of localization factors that help capture the message of your website or app and translate that into an authentic experience. Therefore, language accessibility includes a variety of factors:

  • Product offerings — Different demographics have different interests and needs. For example, selling summer clothes in a country that’s always cold just wouldn't make sense.
  • Currency — Shoppers don't want to have to make conversions on the fly, or turn to Google to find out how much a product will cost them. Brands need to support a wide variety of currencies in their localized experiences.
  • Payment options — Not every region will utilize the same form of payment methods. In the APAC region, for example, users prefer to utilize digital, conversational payment methods.
  • Localized product images — The best practice here would be to utilize images for your products that are generic enough to adapt to all regions.

Language accessibility is critical for retail growth

Right off the bat, the major takeaway from this report is the positive relationship between language accessibility and business growth. Brands with the highest level of localization have seen the highest growth.

Digging deeper: according to a 2018 report published by Common Sense Advisory, in 2017 it took 14 languages to reach 90% of the world's eGDP, and 52 languages to reach 99% of the world's eGDP.


But what's also interesting to note here is that in 2027 those same 14 languages will only cover 76% of the world's online population. So, there is an upward trend of new buyers entering the market, and the need for businesses to meet those buyers where they are.

The story was only confirmed when we took a look at the growth of the top 5 brands we analyzed for this report.


As we can see, there is a positive relationship between the language accessibility of these retailers and their five-year growth rate. The brands with the highest level of growth, ASOS, Zara, and H&M, also offer the highest level of language accessibility.

This means that if your brand wants to sell online and tap into the massive growth opportunity that is available, you need to strongly consider language accessibility in your brand experience.

As this trend only continues, brands will need to incorporate even more languages to hit the same level of accessibility around the globe. Therefore, brands will need to increase their language accessibility over time for continued, sustained growth.

A deep dive into the top five

Let's take a closer look at each of the five brands to better understand their individual story, and language accessibility has become a core pillar for their growth strategies.


ASOS is a British based online fashion and cosmetics retailer, founded in 2002.

  • Local Presence: Online only with over 200 experiences and 12 websites
  • Role of eCommerce: ASOS is a 100% online sales business
  • Key Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese
  • Localization Efforts: Strong - ASOS offers 10 different payment methods, accepts 19 currencies, enables users to set their experience preference by both language and region that sets the language, alters offers, and changes payment options. The entire website is translated as well, with no leftover source content.
  • Growth: 149% over the last 5 years


H&M is a Swedish multinational clothing-retail company known for its fast-fashion clothing for men, women, teenagers, and children. Founded back in 1947.

  • Local Presence: 72 online market sites, 33 of which are shopping enabled
  • Role of eCommerce: H&M views their eCommerce websites as an expansion of their physical stores
  • Key Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese
  • Localization Efforts: Increasing - H&M is planning to upgrade its online store and add additional payment options for greater language accessibility. However, the current language preference option doesn't always translate the entire page, for example, the bottom navigation menu remains in English on some experiences.
  • Growth: 39% over the last 5 years


Zara is a Spanish apparel retailer based in Spain. The company specializes in fast fashion, and products include clothing, accessories, shoes, swimwear, beauty, and perfumes. It is the largest company in the Inditex group, the world's largest apparel retailer, founded in 1974.

  • Local Presence: Selling in 202 different markets with 26 websites
  • Role of eCommerce: Zara offers a global experience, fully integrated into both their stores and online sales platform
  • Key Languages: Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Korean, Chinese
  • Localization Efforts: Increasing - Zara is planning to introduce more payment options to their online sales, and a complete global experience to be launched this year. What's interesting to note is that not all experiences are completely translated, for example, the German experience still includes English content.
  • Growth: 37% over the last 5 years


Uniqlo is a Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer, and retailer. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fast Retailing Co., Ltd. Founded in 1949.

  • Local Presence: Selling in 14 countries
  • Role of eCommerce: Uniqlo has experienced double-digit online sales growth in FY2018, raising the proportion to 15% of total sales. The brand has a goal of doubling this to 30% of total sales.
  • Key Languages: English, Japanese, Korean Chinese, French Russian
  • Localization Efforts: Increasing - Uniqlo currently offers a fully translated website, but with images unchanged on all experiences. The brand also plans to open global flagship and large-format stores in major cities to directly learn from their customers and tailor the experience to their feedback.
  • Growth: 48% over the last 5 years


Topshop is a British multinational men's fashion retailer, with men's clothing counterpart Topman. Founded in 1978.

  • Local Presence: Selling in 31 countries, mostly Europe and the US
  • Role of eCommerce: While currently not a major focus, Topman recognizes that the retail landscape has changed dramatically, with increased competition from online retailers having a significant impact on the brand's performance.
  • Key Languages: English, Japanese, Korean Chinese, French Russian
  • Localization Efforts: Weak - Websites are available in only English, French or German, as the retailer is trailered mostly to US and European sales. All of these pages are nearly identical to the US version, with translated text and currencies. The bottom navigation and blog content all remain in English for every experience. Any other region is sent directly to the English version.
  • Growth: 0% over the last 5 years

The bottom line

Brands that place a strong focus on eCommerce sales need to invest in localization to uncover the vast potential of growth available, as evident in the five brands we analyzed closely.

Simply by making your website easy to buy from, no matter what language the customer speaks, your brand can unlock entirely new revenue streams for steady growth year over year.

However, that doesn't mean simply translating your website and leaving everything as is. True language accessibility incorporates currencies, payment methods, imagery, and even product offerings tailored to that unique demographic.

The real growth is unlocked with full language accessibility, by offering the same great, complete experience in a new language.

So if you're wondering how to even get started, don't worry, we're here to help! Chat with one of our experts today to learn more about localization, and how your brand can leverage Smartling to translate at the speed of life.