Last Updated: July 4, 2019 8:07AM
Any global retailer who believes that English is king is sorely mistaken. Millions of new consumers around the world are engaging in the global marketplace, and their native languages are capturing growing slices of the world’s multilingual pie.
E-commerce has exposed retailers to a world of customers. The savviest companies know that truly resonating with buyers means communicating with them in their own languages. If you want to engage global buyers, where do you start?
Take a look at these 10 fast-emerging languages of global consumers, based on rate of e-commerce growth and number of native speakers:
More than 160 million people in Russia speak Russian as their native language. Unlike the citizens of many other high-income countries, most Russians do not speak English. Although about 30% of the population knows “some” English words, only 3% actually speak the language fluently.
Russia is a hot spot for e-commerce penetration. Fueled by a largely young population of technologically savvy buyers, Russia’s Internet market could triple in the next three years. According to Morgan Stanley, “Russia is the last major emerging market without a dominant online retailer. Russia is at an inflection point.”
Currently, Russia lacks a dominant e-commerce platform like Amazon or Ali Baba. The market is wide open for Russian-language e-commerce retailers who want to capitalize on new, motivated buyers in their native language.
Nearly 425 million people speak Hindi as a first language, and another 120 million count it as a second. Hindi is the official language of India, the second-most populous country in the world and one of its fastest-growing economies.
While global leaders have traditionally relied on English to conduct business in India, the country’s burgeoning middle-class entrepreneurs have upended that custom. Today, the importance of linguistic diversification is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in India, which has a whopping 22 official languages.
Speaking at the Wharton School of Business, Shiv Khemka, a member of the Lauder board and vice chairman of the SUN Group, said, “It is no longer a few large industrial groups that control the Indian economy. Many of these young entrepreneurs feel comfortable [doing business] in Hindi. So it is extremely important for business people and students who want to do business in India and understand the culture to speak good Hindi.”
World War II devastated Japan. By the 1980s, though, the Land of the Rising Sun had recovered and become the world’s second-largest economy. Though the country struggled economically in the 1990s, it rebounded again in the 21st century.
Today, the U.S. government states that “Japan is the third largest—and one of the fastest growing—e-commerce markets in the world. The growth rate has become stable over the past few years, with annual growth estimated at 9.1% in 2017. With Internet penetration estimated at 93.3% of the population, Japan represents a significant market opportunity.”
Despite widespread English education, relatively few Japanese citizens speak the language fluently. In Japan, the language of trade is still Japanese—and to succeed with this prosperous island’s customers, retailers will need to engage with them in their language.
Hausa is a Chadic language of West Africa. 40-50 million people speak it as a first or second language. It’s the most common trade language throughout the region.
West Africa is home to Nigeria, the continent’s most populated country. Here, millions of people are increasingly making online purchases. A major African leader in the IT boom, Nigeria helped position the nation as an emerging market for e-commerce. While cyber crime and logistical issues present some challenges, the opportunities in Nigeria are enormous for retailers who can capture attention and trust from the nation’s Hausa-speaking digital natives.
The second-most widely spoken language in India and the most widely spoken in Bangladesh, Bengali has approximately 200 million native speakers, making it the seventh-most spoken language in the world.
Although many Hindi and Bengali words derive from Sanskrit, the two languages are not mutually intelligible. Therefore, any e-commerce business working in India needs to provide services in (at least!) both.
India’s Internet user base of 475 million people is the second-largest in the world behind China’s. India still trails the U.S., France, and a handful of other countries in e-commerce market penetration, but the country’s sheer size compensates for its relatively small (for now) market penetration. Internet business is booming in India, and now is the time to get in.
Despite originating in a relatively small European country, Portuguese has proliferated around the world, with large groups of native speakers in Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and East Timor. Approximately 260 million people worldwide speak Portuguese, including 220 million native speakers.
In particular, Brazil holds a vast population of Portuguese speakers. Home to Latin America’s largest e-commerce market, the world’s fourth-largest Internet market, and fifth-largest smartphone market, Brazil is a country upon which savvy retailers have trained their proverbial eye.
Indonesian is the lingua franca of Indonesia, a nation of 264 million people and a fast-growing e-commerce market. Indeed, a recent report from management consulting firm McKinsey projects that the value of Indonesia’s e-commerce market will rise 800% between 2017 and 2022, due to robust macroeconomic growth.
Thanks to pervasive smartphone use and Internet penetration, Indonesia’s middle class enjoys more purchasing power than ever before. Because Indonesians on average speak less English than their South Asian peers, facility with local language is incredibly important for e-commerce businesses that want to move products into this booming market.
More than 20 million people in the Philippines speak Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines. Although most Filipinos speak passable English, many have embraced a hybrid language of sorts, frequently switching between the two languages—sometimes in mid-sentence.
A business’ ability to communicate in Tagalog opens a cultural door to the retail-minded and highly digital population of the Philippines (about 63% of Filipinos use the Internet). According to the U.S. government, “The rising middle class, high consumer spending, and a young and vibrant, tech-savvy population is driving e-commerce forward by leaps and bounds.”
Over 40 million people speak Polish as a first or second language. Most Polish speakers live in Poland, the ninth-largest country in Europe.
U.S. officials say that “In Poland, e-commerce is one of the most important drivers for economic development, contributing to the rapid growth of logistics operations.” Already, Poland is serving as a hub for many e-commerce companies that operate in Europe, such as Amazon and Zalando.
Spoken by 76 million people, Vietnamese serves as the trade language of Vietnam. Currently, 35.4 million Vietnamese people engage in e-commerce, and experts expect another 6.6 million people to join the online buying crowd by 2021. At that point, 58% of Vietnam’s population will be engaged in e-commerce.
Much like Indonesian, Vietnamese is a crucial language for retailers hoping to tap into the emerging Southeast Asian digital marketplace.
Want to engage emerging buyers around the world?
You need to communicate with them in their native languages. As technological and economic advances yield a growing group of interested buyers, the language requirements for retailers just keep growing.
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