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How AI translations are breaking down language barriers, opening up e-commerce

How AI translations are breaking down language barriers, opening up e-commerce

Author: Fang Cheng 

Source: Retail Customer Experience 

Language is one of the last true barriers to global trade. The combination of the internet and international trade agreements have made cross-border commerce incredibly easy. When the buyer and seller can’t understand each other, however, neither feels confident about closing a deal.

Among the many ways that technology has transformed the world, it now looks poised to eliminate language barriers once and for all. EBay introduced an artificial intelligence-powered translation tool in 2014 to help accommodate global sales. Economists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington University studied a slice of sales data from before and after the new technology and discovered that sales improved by almost 11% when translations improved as well.

Admittedly, translation tools are nothing new. Tourists have been carrying digital translators since at least the 1980s. What has changed is the integration of artificial intelligence. Smart technology can distinguish between different accents, dialects, and semantics, bringing nuance to the translation. The end result reads naturally, making the copy more engaging, descriptive, and trustworthy in the process. Best of all, AI integrated with machine learning gets better at translating over time — just like a human.

The internet is a worldwide entity, yet it’s largely segregated by the language of users, creating obstacles to global e-commerce. Now that AI translation capabilities have matured, those obstacles are gone.

Translation as a key to success

AI translation capabilities are applicable to resale sites like eBay that provide a platform for independent merchants. Another way to look at this is a democratization of e-commerce. Now that one of the last barriers to entry has been removed, even the smallest sellers can reach buyers across the globe.

By offering AI-powered translation tools, eBay provides equal footing for sellers who would otherwise not be able to compete on the global market. A survey by Common Sense Advisory claimed that companies that could communicate with international consumers were 2.67 times more likely to increase revenue. Another Common Sense Advisory survey showed that 56.2% of web consumers claimed the ability to see information in their native language was more important than price.

By using AI translation in personalization, insights, and recommendations, eBay’s time to process orders has been greatly reduced.

Speaking a universal language with AI

The average translator will take six to eight hours to translate 2,000 words. Considering how much text is on the average e-commerce website, a full translation can take days, and that’s just for one language.

AI translation works by using hundreds of bilingual dictionaries to translate one language into another. Then, the technology links the sentence structure between the languages. If there are discrepancies, AI makes choices based on the statistical probability of accuracy. In practice, automated translation takes less time despite being more accurate than some linguists.

High-quality translations facilitate a lot of sales that would have been impossible previously. Just as importantly, they contribute to a user experience that encourages buying, recommending, and returning.

For example, most people would rather type than talk with a customer service representative. This trend is why the chatbot market is projected to grow by more than $6 billion by 2024. Accommodating different languages is a huge hurdle when dealing with speakers, but it’s irrelevant when AI translates the text. Therefore, e-commerce sites can deliver the kind of service consumers want regardless of their native tongue.

Delivering a stellar experience (rather than just legible product descriptions) will become increasingly important as e-commerce competition heats up. Once language barriers are removed, more merchants will begin pursuing the same customers, and their loyalties are fickle already. A recent survey found that 70% of respondents are unsatisfied when the website experience isn’t seamless, and 76% are willing to abandon one company for a competitor. Great translations contribute to a seamless experience while distinguishing websites from competitors with crude copy.

In the broadest way possible, AI helps merchants deepen relationships with customers by translating their wants and needs. Collecting, storing, analyzing, and leveraging data is essential for long-term customer engagement. Millennials are even willing to supply more personal data if it leads to more convenient or customized experiences. Being able to communicate clearly allows merchants to request data organically and make sense of the responses.

It won’t be long before language differences are irrelevant online. As those barriers break down, it will create exciting opportunities for e-commerce, but it will change consumer expectations as well. It’s not hard to conclude that early adopters of AI translation capabilities will be at a distinct advantage.


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