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Due to circumstances known to all, many activities have moved online in recent years, with online shopping clearly leading the way. In 2019 and 2020, online shopping has grown exponentially on a global scale, and knowing that the current situation is a marathon not a sprint, we can expect the numbers to increase even further this year.
All this presents a great business opportunity for online store owners, but with so much competition, you need to stand out from the crowd. How? The importance of a nice looking website and high-quality translation of its content is hardly a secret. If asked what word will catch most attention on an online store, the majority of people would probably say it’s “discount” or “sale”. Make no mistake, these are definitely among the first ones on the list, but “YOU” and all its derivatives still come out on top.
People value a personal approach, so content that is aimed specifically at us is what draws us in the most. This is relevant for addressing customers both on websites and in emails, but can we address them in the same way in all European languages? Formal or informal form of address?
In some languages formal style is not always the best choice when addressing customers, as it can make a website or email sound strange and may dissuade customers from making a purchase on your e-store. So, apart from Slovenia, using the formal form of address is a good idea in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece and France, and you will also not go wrong if you use it in Germany, even though informal style is becoming increasingly widespread there in recent years.
The level of formality when addressing customers often also depends on the type of online store and its target audience. If your shop sells rather specialized or specific products, using formal style is also a good option in Poland or Romania, where informal style is reserved for more general online shops. If your target group in Portugal is young, informal style is good idea there as well.
How about addressing customers via email? Is starting an email with “Dear Madam” a good approach in all languages? If your email is received by, say, a lady from Italy, she will not only find the greeting “Dear Madam” strange, but she might even feel old reading it, so a greeting like “Dear Francesca” (or “Cara Francesca” in Italian) is a much better choice. On the contrary, a recipient in Czech Republic will most likely find a greeting by name alone very inappropriate.
Unfortunately, the formality level of the greeting and that of the actual content of the email don’t always go hand in hand. Although the Slovaks and the French generally prefer to be addressed in the formal style, it is more appropriate to start emails to them informally, with “Dear Peter” for instance, and then switch to a more formal style. A greeting containing a first name only will also be appreciated in Poland and Romania.
What about sign-off? With regard to this, customers generally like it best if you sign the email off with just the store name or simply add “team” in front. If only one employee is in charge of communicating with customers, a sign-off that includes the employee’s first name is also a good option.
So, if you want to stand out from the crowd, we strongly advise you to pay attention to adapting to the specific cultural and linguistic norms of your customers. Address them in the appropriate tone and use the right amount of personal pronouns to emphasize the personal touch, but be careful not to overdo it since, as with all things in life, moderation is key.
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