A new study has found that Spanish-speaking eBay sellers in Latin America have experienced an 11 per cent increase in sales to US buyers since eBay has improved its translation services. This is great news for anyone looking to sell through online marketplaces to international buyers and suggests that investing in superior language translation services could boost sales even further.
Online marketplaces are incredibly popular trade platforms these days. Selling online no longer requires businesses to build their own ecommerce sites. Many simply list their items on marketplaces and immediately have access to a global consumer base, provided they are open to the concept of selling and shipping overseas.
New figures by Marketpulse show that only 11 per cent of new sellers on Amazon.co.uk in 2018 were actually in the UK; the vast majority were based in China. In fact, some 40 per cent of the top sellers on Amazon are based in China, as the country is experiencing something of an ecommerce boom.
Online marketplaces are swiftly updating their translation services to try to boost their appeal to cross-border sellers. AI translation technology is improving at the same time, which means online sellers are now demanding better translation services to help them break down barriers when selling overseas.
AI translation changes the game for cross-border sellers
eBay started offering AI translation back in 2014. The service was called eBay Machine Translation (eMT) and helped sellers to translate their listing titles. Crucially, eMT also worked on search translations meaning that more buyers were successfully finding what they were looking for.
The research on the topic was carried out by teams at Washington University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The researchers involved were interested to test theories on the impact of machine learning on the economy and figured that looking in more depth at the way AI translations impacted cross-border eBay sales from Latin America to the US was a solid way of doing this.
The site automatically directs users in Latin America to a Spanish version of its site, so eBay was familiar with the need for localised and translated versions to ensure non-English speaking sellers felt as welcome and as able to sell online as English-speaking users. It made sense, then, that it should also improve their ability to actually sell their products internationally.
Prior to 2014, eBay used Bing Translator as its provider of translation services, but this changed with the launch of eMT. The study concluded that sales from Latin American and the US increased by 11 per cent following the introduction of eMT to listing titles and search queries in 2014.
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Were language translation services the only reason for the sales boost?
It’s clear that an improved ability for sellers to find what they wanted, due to AI translations of both listings titles and search terms, helped boost sales – but this is not the whole picture. The researchers highlighted the fact that other localisation services, such as prices in local currencies, as well as localised promotions and deals were introduced simultaneously.
We know from past research that 92 per cent of shoppers prefer to use sites that offer their local currency. This is fundamental to the ecommerce experience for many shoppers around the world as they simply aren’t sure of the cost of an item when displayed in another currency, due to exchange rate uncertainty, for example.
Could human language translation services boost sales even further?
The answer seems to be a resounding yes. The study pointed out that the quality improvement in the translations provided by the eMT, in comparison with the Bing Translator service, were actually quite slight.
Human acceptance of the translations from the Bing Translator service stood at 82.4 per cent, increasing to 90.2 per cent for the eMT translations. The researchers stated: “However, this moderate quality improvement generated an export increase of 10.9 per cent.”
Other research into barriers to international online marketplace sales have found that other obstacles, such as distance, may not have anywhere near as much impact on sales figures. For example, Lendl et al found that a 10 per cent reduction in distance between seller and buyer could increase sales by just 3 per cent.
Another study found that getting rid of all export administrative and logistics costs boosted sales figures by just 12 per cent. The lesson learned here for all eBay and Amazon sellers looking to do business across borders is that enhancing language translation should be a priority.
If a slight improvement in translation quality leads to an 11 per cent sales boost, just imagine what expert human language translation services can achieve!