Do B2B Buyers Value Localized Experiences?
“Would you pay more for a localized product?” That’s been a core question in CSA Research’s long-running “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” (CRWB) series of survey-driven reports. Since our first analysis in 2006 we’ve seen a strong preference for local language and localization, even if it costs the buyer more. That partiality for a user experience persisted in our 2020 survey for B2B buyers of technology products but was less of a factor for our B2C respondents whom we quizzed on more than 20 purchases – from household commodities to sophisticated financial services. That pattern continues even among the four countries we just added to each dataset. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of business users told us they’d pay up to 30% more for a localized product, and just a bit more than one-third (34%) of consumers said they would also be willing to dig deeper into their wallets for products adapted to their language and market.
Before analyzing the differences between these two datasets, I’ll mention one key similarity: Rather than accept whoever happens to answer the phone or respond to an email blast, we sourced both sets of participants through Kantar, the leading company for qualified global survey panels. For both the B2B and the B2C samples we specified attributes for every panelist we surveyed: 1) for B2B, they included job titles, actual usage, language ability and business usage, purchasing authority, and several others; and 2) for B2C, we filtered candidates on criteria such as internet usage and purchasing history, plus age and gender to match the population pyramid in each target country. To qualify the 1,116 respondents for the B2B analysis, Kantar processed 8,498 candidates. For the B2C, it took 36,425 consumers to reach the 9,909 total.
Both our B2B and B2C respondents professed high levels of self-assessed proficiency in their ability to understand written English. However, strong majorities of both panels said they prefer interacting with products, services, and websites in their own language, as well as having the non-linguistic aspects of the user or customer experience localized to their country. In fact, individuals in countries with high levels of English proficiency – such as Sweden and Germany – were among those most dedicated to having content in their own language. We’ve long remarked on this cognitive dissonance – that is, the mismatch between confidence in English and their preference for localized products – and concluded that their desire for translation and adaptation is a much more powerful determinant of behavior than self-professed English language knowledge.
With the “would you pay more for localization?” question we focused on the respondents’ assessment of the value of a local-language experience: Is it a nice-to-have feature or one for which they would put their money where their mouths are? Of course, today, in most cases, localized products cost the same as ones that are not so this is more often than not a hypothetical question.
Why Would Somebody Pay More for Localization?
Why do business buyers favor localized high-tech products? Why do consumers prefer their own language for some goods and services but not others? The short answer is that most people won’t pay more for commodities. But for goods or services with higher value, longevity of use, or business-critical functions, they need assurances that it works and that they can use it effectively. Three factors underscore the value of localization for business buyers and users:
- ROI: B2B buyers demand long-term usage and value. They expect that high-tech products and services used in business can demonstrate a long-term return on investment (ROI), be usable and fit to purpose, connect and work with other solutions, and have accessible user interfaces and customer support – that is, documentation and phone support that they can read and act on. Failure to meet any of these requirements has downstream effects such as loss of customer engagement, higher support costs, and bad brand optics.
- Risk management: B2B buyers cannot tolerate product failure. The impact of a failed seam or zipper in a winter jacket or a squeaky speaker in an audio product is low – both products are returnable or easily replaceable. However, as product cost and importance to the business increase, expectations about high-tech products – enterprise attributes such as sustainability, resilience, security, and usability – rise, companies need assurance that the products and services will scale across their outward-facing applications and internal DevOps, regardless of the location or language.
- Uncertainty: Comfort with high-tech products goes only so far. Most electronics work out of the box, self-instructing during set-up, helped along by familiar interfaces like file-edit-view, radio buttons, and other UI conventions. The problem with high-tech gear emerges once you get beyond basic functionality and that first-level of familiarity. Anything after the defaults gets tougher because it involves having to read deeper and understand what the implications are – and raises the risk of something not working when you finish. Localized interfaces with systematic help, deep product documentation, and customer support remove some of that uncertainty.
A Brief History of “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy”
CSA Research’s CRWB research on B2B preferences for localized content began way back in 1996 when I outlined the business case for product and website localization in my report on “Software Sans Frontières” as part of Forrester Research’s analysis of the still new (but not quite World Wide) Web. In 1998, I interviewed 50 large enterprises for “Strategies for Global Sites” and identified six companies in those still early days that had actively monitored international visitor behavior on their websites. Those pioneering adopters found that: 1) Visitors lingered twice as long as they did at English-only URLs; 2) business users were three times more likely to buy if addressed in their language; and 3) customer service costs dropped when instructions were displayed in the user's native language.
That line of analysis led to Business Without Borders, published by John Wiley & Sons in 2002. Its focus on helping companies compete on what I labeled the “Eighth Continent” – the internet – led to the founding of CSA Research and the CRWB survey-based research we first published in 2006, then revisited in 2014 and 2020 with qualified panels. What has been striking over the years is the continuity of preference for localized products, services, and sites that we analyzed in a report on the eternal truths of localization. For further validation of these trends, watch for more analysis of and enhancements to the “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” datasets that will be appearing soon.
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