Using gender-neutral language in e-commerce

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Inclusive language Using gender-neutral language in e-commerce

Published on 21.02.2023 by Kaspar Küng, Digital Commerce Consultant, Swiss Post

Using inclusive language in communication has been the subject of much debate over recent years. What’s the situation when it comes to product texts, GTCs and blogs? Which points are important in e-commerce? We asked Angela Lanza-Mariani, Head of Content at Supertext in Zurich, how retailers should deal with gender-related issues and what tips the language service provider has for them.

How do you advise online shops in terms of inclusive language?

There’s no single solution for all – each brand needs to decide for itself. We advise companies to start with themselves by answering a few questions about their identity and target group, i.e who are we? Which values are important to us? How are we positioning ourselves? Who do we target with our products? What drives our target audience and what do they expect from us?

A young, urban public has different expectations of a company than an older, more traditionally-minded one. Accordingly, gender-neutral language can be either more or less important, depending on the target group.

And which trend are you currently seeing? Are new standards emerging in the e-commerce sector? Or is it more the case that many people have given up on using inclusive language?

Gender-neutral language has been an issue in every major project over the past few years. Different strategies are being tried out and tested at the moment. It’s certainly not the case that people are tired of using inclusive language.

What’s important when using gender-neutral language in online shop texts?

Using inclusive language in e-commerce texts is not always straightforward.

There are certain strategies in English that are now used to promote more gender-neutral language. These include avoiding traditionally gendered job titles. For example, favouring more modern terms such as “police officer” and “flight attendant” over traditional titles such as “policeman” and “stewardess”.

Another common practice is to use the plural “they” rather than the traditional “he” as the default pronoun when a person’s gender is unknown. This convention is now well established in everyday communication. Likewise “their” has now become commonplace, replacing “his” or “her”, and offers a way of communicating that will appeal to all potential customers.

The concrete measures relating to gender-neutral language ultimately affect many areas of an online shop. This starts with product texts that address all readers, and continues right through to inclusive GTCs.

So is it difficult to implement gender-neutral language consistently from A to Z?

Yes, absolutely. But that shouldn’t be the aim either. Precisely because of Google, it’s better to define your strategy by channel and text format anyway. It’s important to define the areas that really matter. And these are usually the texts that should reach – and win over – the widest possible audience: high-quality product descriptions, landing pages, marketing e-mails and all other aspects of direct customer communication.

Let’s assume you decide in favour of using gender-neutral language. How do you support brands with this approach? Is there a checklist?

The process isn’t quite the same for all companies. They can consult our gender whitepaper for help here. We’ll also be happy to provide individual support in the form of workshops, guidelines and revising the communication if there are any issues.

Kaspar Küng

Kaspar Küng is a Digital Commerce Consultant at Swiss Post who advises retailer customers on strategy and concepts in digital commerce.

Angela Lanza-Mariani

Angela is responsible for finding the right words for all Supertext channels and for the content strategy from A to Z.

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