Want to build a Shopify store in Chinese? We explore the various options for setting up a Shopify store in Traditional or Simplified Chinese and evaluate the tradeoffs between creating multiple stores or using a translation app.
Although Shopify is a North American company, there are many examples of stores built using Shopify that cater to shoppers who prefer to shop in a language besides English. As of May 2019, Shopify has begun offering Simplified Chinese language support.
Prior to this, Wave Commerce has helped clients to localize a Shopify storefront to display either Traditional or Simplified Chinese to shoppers. Taikonaut is a client we worked with to create a fully localized Shopify store in Traditional Chinese, which still requires customized translation.
The good news is that Shopify has a user-friendly language editor feature that requires no coding. Merchants can manually translate preset terms in the Shopify store, such as changing “Add to Cart” to “加到購物籃”.
However, merchants should note customization limitations as well. Coding will be required for modifying Shopify store themes and additional customizations, such as error messages.
Note that while the storefront can be customized to present Chinese to a customer, the admin console for Shopify cannot be localized to Chinese yet. This means your staff will need to familiarize themselves with the English terms in the admin console.
How Do I Build a Shopify Chinese Language Store?
Before diving in to localize your Shopify store language, first ask yourself if you want your Shopify store to be in Chinese only or to be multi-language (e.g., allow the user to toggle between English and Chinese). This is important to think about because adding a second language introduces additional technical and content complexity to your store that may impact your store architecture and design.
Building a Chinese Language Only Shopify Store
If the majority of your customers are Chinese-speaking, then a Chinese language-only store may serve your online retail purposes.
For Simplified Chinese
If you only required a Simplified Chinese version of your store, then you can now select the Chinese language and region option in your Shopify admin.
For Traditional Chinese
Shopify does not have a ready-made Traditional Chinese option yet, but you can customize the store language under Shopify’s theming options in the admin console. To change your storefront terms to Traditional Chinese, go to your Shopify admin, Online Store > Themes, find the theme to edit, and click Actions > Edit language. Merchants can click “Other Languages” and create their own language and associated region. The terms for various parts of the website such as the Collections, Customer, or Homepage can have terms manually inputted without any coding knowledge.
Stores with themes will have additional files that need to be modified to display Chinese text in appropriate locations, particularly if you are using a customized theme. To do a full Traditional Chinese translation you will need to code and create a new locale file. Some themes only allow you to translate certain parts of the theme, so we encourage merchants to do a quick test for each theme’s localization when weighing between options.
Building a Multi-Language Shopify Store
Multi-language sites on Shopify require more considerations and planning. There are different approaches to tackling multi-language on Shopify. The two more common approaches that we’ve seen are:
creating multiple Shopify stores for each language, or
using a third-party app that translates content within a single Shopify store.
Below, we discuss the advantages and tradeoffs of each approach.
Option 1: Create a Different Store For Each Language
Simplicity and clear division between different languages
Maximum design flexibility for customizing the layout for each language
Different currencies for each store if needed
Time-consuming content updates for each store
Inventory management across each store is separate and requires other integration solutions
Potential user experience compromises when switching from store to store
Since each store is independent, merchants have maximum flexibility in customizing each language. Shopify only allows checkout on one currency per store, so having multiple stores provides the added benefit of checking out in a local currency, such as NTD for Taiwan and HKD for Hong Kong.
The tradeoff of the multi-store method is meeting integration requirements for managing inventory or customer information across the online stores as if they were one store. For example, item information updates for stores with hundreds of products can become time consuming and items that are out of stock may show up as available in another language store that is not yet updated. Multiple stores requires separately managed content, Shopify app integrations, loyalty programs. The final consideration is the quality of user experience especially as it pertains to user information after account login, loyalty program memberships, and shopping cart items disappearing when a customer changes languages.
The multi-store approach may be more straightforward to set up. However, it also has the tradeoffs as listed above.
Option 2: Using Third-Party apps To Support Multi-Language
Create one single Shopify store with integrated apps, loyalty programs, customer information, etc
Inventory information all in one Shopify store if using Shopify to manage inventory
Coherent user experience when they switch languages on the website
Additional third-party fees depending on apps used
May be more challenging to set up (e.g. code customizations)
Some themes or third-party apps may not accommodate customizations
An alternative is to consider using third-party apps or custom development to manage multiple languages within a single Shopify store. Keeping a single Shopify store for language localization provides the advantage of a single backend for tracking inventory and customer data management. The result is a more cohesive shopping experience for users who may switch between languages.
Shopify has a number of different language or translation apps that help merchants translate their website content into a target language. Test these third-party integrations to suit your needs, as some will have automatic translations while others allow you to make customized translations. In addition, translation apps will likely have additional fees and may not be able to translate other third-party apps (such as a referral program).
We’ve seen merchants use Langify, one of Shopify’s translation apps that can help build a Chinese multi-language store. Langify has translate functions that can help replace terms throughout your website, but note that we recommend reading through all of your translations to check for proper contextual usage of translated terms.
Additional Multi-language Store Considerations
While a multi-language website is convenient for customers, shoppers’ experiences are not limited to the storefront. Merchants also need to consider whether they would like to manage customer support in multiple languages. By offering a multi-language online storefront, customers may also expect to receive notifications, support, and marketing emails to match their preferred language.
Having a Chinese language online store is undoubtedly a great advantage in Hong Kong and the greater Asia-Pacific region. However, we encourage merchants to consider the entire customer shopping experience that includes factors such as smooth transitions between languages in the store through to localized emails that match their browsing languages. Merchants in Hong Kong and Chinese-speaking markets should consider how to strategically invest in their online storefront that serves customers now and accommodates scalable growth in the future.
Wave Commerce is a Shopify and BigCommerce partner and may receive affiliate revenue from merchant subscriptions to these platforms.