Blog Post

Can’t Read, Won’t Buy – Speak your customers’ language

“The rest of the world speaks English”, is a phrase which we hear uttered often among Northern Ireland’s business community. It provides them perhaps with some sense of justification of why they do not need to worry about putting their resources (website, sales and marketing literature, instruction manuals etc.) into the language of their potential non-English customers. Our government continues to say that exporting matters ( and it is therefore important to challenge this view.

So, is it true? Is it sufficient to ignore the language of your potential customer and still be able to grow our export base? I suggest that it is not and that to think so is going to crush our success in the globalised market place. Please allow me to explain:

The Common Sense Advisory published some research in April 2014 based on a survey of 3,002 consumers in non-English-speaking countries, including Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Spain, and Turkey ( The updated findings echoed those from the famous original report they carried out in 2006, called “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” (

The updated findings spell out why this attitude is harmful to successful exporting and is hindering our economic growth through export. Some quick facts which highlight this:

  • 87% of consumers who are unable to read English do not purchase products or services from English-language websites

  • For those whose English is limited, the preference for purchases in their mother-tongue increases to 80% or more

  • 55% of respondents solely purchase from websites where information is presented in their language

  • 56% of respondents either spend more time on sites in their own language than they do in English, or even boycott English-language sites altogether

  • 60% of those surveyed rarely or never buy from an English-language site

  • The percentage of those who buy only from local-language websites jumps to more than 70% for consumers in Japan

  • More than half of respondents favoured making purchases from sites in their own language: France (61%), Turkey (61%), Germany (58%), and China (54%).

So there you have it, Northern Ireland businesses. An attitude of the “the rest of the world speaks English, so we will be okay” does not reflect the facts. Consequentially, if we are to raise our game and see this region of the UK gain success in exporting, language does matter. Want to increase your international sales? Then seriously consider speaking to your customers in their own language.

If you would like more information about #LanguageForExport or need some help with language to enter a #NewExportMarket, please do not hesitate to drop us a line. We’d love to meet you for a coffee and a chat!