How eBay’s machine translation strategy increased sales by 10% (and how other businesses stand to benefit from MT)

How eBay’s machine translation strategy increased sales by 10% (and how other businesses stand to benefit from MT)

Today, there’s little doubt about the power of machine translation when it comes to online commerce—many large businesses around the world are already adopting MT into their marketing strategies to great effect.

Take the case of eBay, which has been using machine translation to make their website accessible in multiple languages. They saw a 10% increase in sales from this change alone. According to the researchers who conducted the test, this difference is equivalent to reducing the distance between two countries in terms of its effect on trade.

But how was this made possible? Let’s examine the facts.

Superior machine translation quality through AI

While eBay had already been using machine translation for quite some time, they recently decided to upgrade their system to use vastly superior AI-based MT technology. This increased the quality of machine-translated text on their website.

Let’s go back to the state of machine translation as recent as ten years ago. Back then, machine translation systems were largely based on statistical algorithms. It was considered a step up compared to previous rules-based methods of machine translation, but the results were still far from satisfactory.

You can learn more about statistical machine translation in our article: The Impact of Statistical Machine Translation On Globalization

But by the mid-2010s, developments in AI and machine learning were beginning to show effects in the field of machine translation. Most people would be familiar with Google Translate, and how its quality improved by leaps and bounds after the introduction of neural machine learning technology into its system.

eBay had also begun implementing AI-based MT technology for select languages around that time as well. In 2014, eBay acquired the MT tech company AppTek, boosting their machine translation capabilities to a higher degree.

People prefer to buy in their own language

It’s a well-known fact in the language industry that consumers prefer to buy products that have information available in their own language. CSA’s oft-cited study Can’t Read, Won’t Buy reports that a full 40% of consumers won’t buy products that aren’t available in their own language. That’s a huge share of the market that remains untapped.

If your business’s website is only available in English, then you’re missing out. English is no longer the lingua franca of the internet—In 1996, 80% of the internet’s users spoke native English. But by 2010, that number had dropped to 27.3%. That number may be even less today.

This is because growth continues to accelerate in emerging markets around the world. China is now one of the biggest drivers of global economic growth. The Middle East has also seen a major upturn in the past few decades. Other countries are also getting a larger slice of the pie than before.

This means more people searching for things on the internet from different parts of the world. And often these searches aren’t made in English.

Machine translation helps businesses grow faster globally

Machine translation helps level the playing field for businesses looking to expand globally.

Before, human translation was the only option for increasing a business’s linguistic reach. But human translation is a costly endeavor. As such, it is an option that is open only to businesses that have the resources for it, which are usually large corporations.

At the end of it all, what machine translation does is boost a company’s bottom-line. MT does this by allowing businesses to have access to translation in a cost-effective manner, and at the same time helping them reach and communicate with a multilingual consumer base.

In the case of eBay, which was already a large multinational before it implemented its machine translation capabilities, the gains were already significant. Smaller businesses have a lot more to gain potentially from the use of machine translation, and there are many solutions out there already that can help them implement MT tech into their customer-facing workflows.

There’s a lot to be said about how going global can lead to exponential growth, or no growth at all—scale or fail, so to speak. The language barrier is one of the first major obstacles, so machine translation definitely moves the needle toward accelerating growth.

Parting thoughts

The advent of globalization has made it easier for any kind of commercial business to source and/or deliver goods from around the world. But these developments are useless when the language barrier continues to frustrate their efforts.

Machine translation is a gamechanger in that it gives small businesses a chance to be on the same global playing field as large multinationals like eBay. It’s a cost-efficient option, but the returns that it provides can be great.