Commissioning Retail Translations – Our Twelve Top Tips

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As specialist retail translators, people often ask us what makes a better retail translation. Here are our 12 top tips when commissioning retail translations.

1) Before commissioning retail translations do your research!

Do you need to translate into a particular language? If you are an established multinational retailer, then you will probably select languages based on where you operate. You may also be targeting market entry, for which you need translation. Don’t underestimate the cost and time commitment required to prepare multilingual retail packaging and product user guides. As with any area of business, potential ROI should underpin any decision to go multilingual on your packaging.

2) Before commissioning retail translations do your research!

Ok, I’m being deliberately provocative by using the same title twice. There are however, other areas of research as important as selecting markets and languages. A major issue with retail packaging is ensuring that you meet any legal requirements. We work with several highly regulated areas of retail packaging, including food label translation, and drug label translation. Major retailers often have in-house compliance expertise. If not, it is worth investing in external compliance advice for your chosen target markets, before thinking about translation. We work with several major compliance companies, and can help with this if needed.

3) before commissioning retail translation services, consider your budget, and get some costings

Essentially when commissioning retail translations, you are buying time for money. Most translators, proofreaders and project managers are post graduate level qualified. Most translation companies charge per source word, with minimum charges for small orders. If you need us to translate small amounts of pack copy try to aggregate products and order several translations together. It is disproportionately expensive ordering one product at a time. So if you can, plan to order in batches. We can give basic costings based on number of SKUs x number of words per SKU x required languages.

4) Select you chosen supplier

If you have a regular translation supplier, this may be quite simple. If preparing a tender document, or looking for quotes, you should ask some fundamental questions of potential suppliers. Who are their retail customers? Is all translation human authored? Are they retail specialists? Are they ISO: 9001 certified? Price alone is not a good guide to translation quality. Translation can be too cheap, in which case it may be machine translation.

5) Prepare your copy for translation

If your source wording is badly laid out, full of typos, and unclear, it will be harder to translate. It is worth investing time and effort in your source text. Ensure you are entirely happy with it before you think about translation. Generally shorter sentences work better.

If possible, describe how the text will be used, as translation is always contextual. For example if it accompanies a diagram, give us a copy. It is really helpful for the translation team to be able to see the diagram when working.

6) Think carefully about text layout and required format

We supply most packaging translations in a Word format, but also work in Excel or XML. Clear presentation of the source and target texts next to each other, will help an artwork team avoid costly mistakes.

7) Check out any legal considerations

Before commissioning retail translation services, you should do your legal due diligence. Translation can get you into hot water. For example some retailers differentiate between trademarked and none trademarked fabrics by the use of capital or lower case letters. This may work in English, but what would you do in German? Here, most common nouns are capitalised, so there isn’t a difference. You also need to be sure that you have the right to use any trademarks. You will almost certainly have to indemnify the translation company against any misuse.

8) Carefully consider any marketing implications

Marketing translators have to be very free in expressing concepts and ideas, rather than literal and word by word. This type of translation is often referred to as “transcreation”. This is because the translator is effectively creating new copy in the target language.

Plays on words will rarely if ever translate. Waterly Bottom Ltd. are one of my favourite customers. You may be surprised to know that they manufacture potties. Not just any potty, its called Pourty, the potty that pours.

Both the company name, and the product name will sadly get lost in translation. This is because the same play on words rarely exists in the target language. For a play on words to work in a second language, you need very specific factors. Both languages need to have the same double meaning of a word or idiom, with the same idiomatic meanings.

Product names often get left in English within a translation. However, this doesn’t universally work. For example, a Chinese native who doesn’t speak English won’t have a clue how to pronounce the name.

9) When commissioning retail translations set realistic deadlines and SLAs

A single translator will typically translate around 2500 words per day, this may vary depending on the text. Complex translations such as ingredients lists, where individual terms need checking against official approved wording, may take longer. If you need 100,000 words into a single language for tomorrow morning, it clearly won’t work. Translation is often late in the supply chain, especially on complex projects. It is easy to squash lead times due to delays elsewhere in the supply chain. Early planning ensures realistic delivery scheduling. There is a world of difference between challenging but achievable SLAs, rather than the impossible. In the latter case, your supplier may just say “no’.

10) Allow time and budget for proofing and QA

Ever looked at a piece of artwork 7 or 8 times and still not spotted the obvious typo? Many artworkers will tell you that they have. A key skill for a translator is attention to detail, but it is always possible to miss an obvious error. It is therefore vital to allow time and budget for detailed translation and artwork checks. Any time you manipulate text, you risk error. For example, right to left languages corrupt in standard design programs like Illustrator and InDesign. You need to specially typeset them.

11) Use the same supplier

Many retailers have problems with translation suppliers because they change suppliers very regularly. The issue here is that it takes translators a while to understand your chosen style and tone. They also need to grasp any company specific terminology. We all work best in a long term relationship. Be suspicious of any potential supplier who says otherwise.

The only exception to this, is if you have serious quality issues. For example a supplier who uses machine translation with post editing. Human authors create the best translation. They use translation memory and terminology management to ensure consistency and accuracy.

12) After sales support

As with any area of your supply chain, you need translation suppliers who will answer queries. They need to correct things if something does go wrong, and to update old work.

It is important to update old translations. You can easily overlook this important task. Language is constantly changing. Our 10 years old translation for your fashion cut jeans, may have been sharp and on message back then. Today the same translation could be stale and untrendy.

You are likely to review and update English texts over time. This includes your product manuals, specifications, technical data sheets, as well as marketing collateral. You also need to do the same with the translations.

In summary

Commissioning retail translations is a complex subject, and this article is a short introduction to some of the issues. I’m very happy to talk to retailers who have any questions arising from this article. Read more about our retail translation services.