Friday, October 30, 2015

E-Commerce in the Multilingual Digital Single Market

I have started my business as an online retail site in a country in the EU. Do I need to completely restructure it, when I cross a border into the neighboring EU country? Really? Can I not just call my translation agency and the problem is solved? I mean everyone is doing this!

Have you ever taken a look at a multi-country online shop? Take IKEA as a sample:

They share some basics but in reality it’s just like having a different shop in each country. They are all distinct. Even the first blue line doesn’t have the same items listed. Also, if you click on privacy policy at the bottom of the page you will notice the content is quite different. Each country website operates under a different legal system within the EU.

Is there a solution to this problem, disregarding the abyss of decision making in Brussels? European legislators and politicians are working on the legal problems in copyright and VAT in the Digital Single Market, but the core problem isn’t mentioned much.

Multilingual Market

The core problem is the organization of the multilingual product offering. Why? There must be flexibility in the online presentation of the shop to help the customer find what he/she is looking for. 

Surely, this is basically a technical problem. And yes, there are solutions available. However, this is not being addressed. Currently, the website, not the products, is structured.  This is repeated for every website in each country. It  is very expensive. Worse, it does not achieve the main goal – help the customer find what he/she wants to buy.
Instead companies should structure the products in a meaningful way so that they can be easily found. If you have ever tried to find something in an EU online shop and you don’t know the exact name – good luck! The forte of the US e-commerce competition is great search and serious product organization. This is why, in spite of the EU legislation, they outsell European retailers cross-border in the EU by a factor of 15 (fifteen)!

Graphs and Surface

The solution to these cross-border problems is to think of product offerings as a tree or a graph. This structure is then coupled with the surface terms to be found in the relevant languages. The products should be organized as a multilingual taxonomy of multiple relationships that are learning from what people search for and are adapted accordingly.

You need to be as careful organizing your products in your online shop as you are in the physical shop – chewing gum by the cashier and so forth.  The thing is, that in the EU, every online shop needs to be flexible and adapt to national priorities and wishes. What you need to do is carefully handcraft your product descriptions to make sure key words in each language are activated through search.

This is my first blog entry on The Multilingual Knowledge Blog. I am co-founder and Chief Strategist at Coreon GmbH. Our tag line is ‘Knowledge meets Language’. The unleashed synergy between these two fields is what highly motivates me. I believe that Multilingual Knowledge Systems are the information infrastructure for today’s most challenging IT fields: Interoperability, Globalization, and (Product) Search. 

You will find more information at


  1. Fully agree with "every online shop needs to be flexible and adapt to national priorities and wishes."
    But I would like to add that "What you need to do is carefully handcraft your product descriptions to make sure key words in each language are activated through search" may not be enough. There may be cultural differences as to how the tree is organized.
    While "Ayran" is regarded as a dairy product by German consumers, Turkish ones may see it as a beverage.
    Similar things can be found all over the food area (vegetable or spice?), but I'm sure this is not the only rea of concern.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Yes, this is very true and also the reason why translation is not good enough. If you try to find Ayran under beverage in the Turkish online shop - you wont find it - if it was organised according to German perception. The solution is to have multiple links - in fact Ayran can link to both Beverage and Dairy - this is one of the main reasons for using multiple parents for organizing the products. We find that a simple Taxonomy doesn't do the job but an Knowledge Map does!


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