Global eCommerce is a growing industry - brands are now looking for solutions that cross borders and languages, and it can be a difficult situation to navigate.
Having an eCommerce experience that’s in a customer's native language is integral to an easy purchasing experience and is a sure way to ensure your growth to new locations, also grows your conversion rates.
In this article we’re going to break down how localising and regionalising your eCommerce store through a multilingual solution is possible with Shopify Plus - despite its flaws.
We’ve created bespoke solutions with Shopify Plus (you can check out this article for more on Shopify Plus) for global brands before, so have learnt our lessons and worked through the best setup that can allow businesses to scale their offering effectively, no matter how big their global ambitions are.
Shopify plus is a great eCommerce platform and they have really focused on perfecting this aspect. Because of this though, it does lack in the CMS side of things, especially in regards to multi-language capabilities. However, it's clear Shopify has picked their focus and niche and run with it, so we can’t blame them for letting multi-language take a back seat while they work on creating the best SaaS platform for commerce.
You may be thinking, but I swear Shopify has a range of plugins that can help me with my translations, even if their CMS can't manage it. Although yes, this is true plug-ins come with their own problems.
Plug-ins are designed for more stock-standard website translation, if you’re a larger scale business with global ambitions and the need for a more custom multi-language solution, you will find that plug-ins won’t tick all the boxes for you.
Oftentimes they are buggy, laggy and can seriously slow down your site performance - as they essentially create a layer on top of the original site with your translations. If you’re competing in the eCommerce marketplace site speed is one of the most important things, so we really don’t recommend jeopardizing this.
Shopify Plus has the option to create multiple Shopify Plus stores from a single subscription. This essentially means you can pay one fee of 2000 USD a month for Shopify Plus, but you can create up to 12 different stores, or instances, to cater to different markets and languages. Each Shopify Plus store and backend manages one currency and language, so for each region/language you set up one of these instances.
So now you may be thinking “yes! So this is the solution to the multi-language issue then?” Well it could but there are some added challenges.
Having multiple storefronts means multiple parts to manage - so if you decide to go seriously global and maximise on all 12 instances - that means 12 separate eCommerce backends to manage with Shopify. That doesn’t sound super scalable does it?
Some of the things that should be considered with multiple instances are laid out below:
You can basically times the workload by however many stores you’ve created. So if you’ve gone for the global domination route with 12, that means managing your store content 12 times over in each language. This means if you want to change a product description in one store, you have to do it in all 12. Same goes for updating imagery, products, campaigns and apps. This can be a lot of extra work
Since you’ve decoupled your stores, your customer base is also split. With customers managed in the store they purchased from only. This means customers are fixed to the store they purchased in, which can make it a negative experience for them when it comes to customer service.
Because your store is split into multiple instances and languages, when google indexes your store(s) they will do so separately - meaning separate domain authority. Having a single focused domain authority is always going to better in the long run and with the above set up you’re likely to have “www.be.brand.com or www.nl.brand.com - whereas for the best URL structure with SEO, it’s better to have something more along the lines of www.brand.com/nl instead.
This basically means you can’t have euros and dutch and euros and english managed in the one store. So your english speaking customers in the Netherlands will be forced to use the dutch version of the website and muddle their way through it. This can be a frustrating user experience for some and doesn’t allow customers the flexibility to see the currency and language that suits them.
Much like managing the content in multiple places as above, any apps or third party plugins you use also falls under this. Although the management of multiple instances with apps is a pain in itself, it also means if you’re paying a subscription for these third party apps, you also have to pay a subscription times the amount of instances you have - this could add up quite quickly and cut into your monthly profit.
The only real way to get around the multi-language problem is through headless. If headless is all new to you, then you can read our article on headless commerce here.
As we’ve talked about earlier in this article, Shopify has really focused on providing an excellent eCommerce solution. So much like they have picked a lane and stuck to it, other companies have picked their lanes and stuck to them. This is why we love working with Storyblok (more on that here), Storyblok is a dedicated CMS system that plays very nicely with Shopify plus. With a dedicated CMS, you can really scale up the whole content side of your eCommerce experience, including with multi-language capabilities.
Essentially this means you’re using two specialised systems to run both aspects of your store to the best of their abilities, with Shopify Plus for eCommerce and Storyblok for content management.
The best way to work multi-language with one currency is to set up one Shopify store with Euro as the currency (so even if you want to manage a store across Europe, you can have one instance with euro, yet still cater to multiple languages), and use one Storyblok login to manage all the content for each region. Handling multiple currencies still requires you to create multiple instances (until Shopify updates this), but the frontend can still be managed for both within the same Storyblok login. Thing to remember is one Shopify instance, does require one payout account also, so if you need something different to this, you may need to look into a seperate solution.
If this does work for your needs however, it means it’s a lot simpler to manage content through one system and login, with access to all regions/stores frontend.
The structure of the URL’s will also be much better with this solution, helping you gain domain authority across the languages you have available on your eCommerce site.
No, it is possible to do headless with regular Shopify, but there are some limitations that make it less scalable. You can check our article here for the difference between Shopify and Shopify Plus.
If you have Shopify Plus, languages are basically unlimited! However with regular Shopify you can have up to 5.
You can have up to 12 individual stores under one Shopify Plus account
It's certainly an investment at 2000 USD per month
If you have a proper set up as we've described above, then all the languages you want to include and have translated will be integrated into your store without Google translate needing to do anything.
Multi-language is possible with a template, though it does use the plug-ins mentioned above, which can result in slower site speed. If your site is simple enough then this may not be a problem.