Global Ecommerce: Automatic vs Machine vs People Translation for Localisation

Global Ecommerce: Localisation and Translation

Cross border ecommerce is booming. Even just 4 years ago, a Nielsen report suggested that 57% of shoppers had purchased from an overseas retailer in the previous 6 months. In recent months the global COVID-19 has had a huge impact on retail across the globe.

Brick and mortar shopping has dropped significantly in the US and UK, with the decline of the total retail market in the US this year is expected to be double that experienced in the financial crisis a decade ago. At the same time, we’ve seen a huge surge in cross-border e-commerce. RetailX estimates cross-border e-commerce in the EU grew by 30% this year. In the US, data from Global-e found that international commerce had grown 42% by May this year.

Localisation

Wherever your retail brand is based international sales could be a lifeline. It’s no surprise that marketers worldwide are looking to capture this ever-growing segment of new business. However, to effectively capture cross-border consumers marketers need to go beyond merely providing site translation once a visitor lands on their site.

Ecommerce providers must incorporate localisation into their growth strategies. This means taking into account elements like native language SEO, providing images that are appropriate for a local market – if you’re a European retailer trying to sell to the Asian market, exclusively using euro-centric images on your site is going to disengage your potential customer.

Localisation is making sure your site is taking into account all the cultural nuances of the regions you’re attempting to sell to.

This can seem like an impossible task. Many retail sites have hundreds of regularly updated pages and employing professional translators would be prohibitively expensive. At the same time, many might consider machine translation and localisation to be sketchy and too inaccurate to rely upon. But as anyone that uses machine translation software knows, technology is improving all the time. Technology can be an incredibly valuable tool for web localisation, and when partnered with real people, it can reach dizzying heights.

Automatic vs Machine Translation

A common misconception is that automatic translation is the same thing as machine translation. According to the Globalization and Localization Authority (GALA):

  • Machine Translation – fully automated software that can translate source content into target languages. Machine translation technologies include providers like Google Translate, Yandex Translate, Microsoft Translator, DeepL, etc. But these machine translation providers applied to a website will usually only overlay native languages once the visitor is on the site.
  • Automatic Translation – Automatic translation encompasses machine translation but goes beyond. Using a translation solution not only deals with the translation of your content but also the managing and editing of the content, the SEO of every translated page, and then handles the publishing of that content automatically, potentially live without you having to lift a finger. For retailers, the output from this application of technology can boost international sales and is incredibly cost-effective.

People vs Machine Translation

One of the main drawbacks of using machine translation in localisation is accuracy. Many marketers feel full human translation is the only reliable way forward. The cost of this, though, is huge and prohibitive for many retailers – not to mention it doesn’t take care of how that translated content will actually be displayed.

Machine translation can save you a lot of time and the accuracy is dependent on the language pair chosen and how developed and proficient the translation tools are for that specific pair. But say, as a ballpark estimate that the translation is good 80% of the time, all you need to do is get a professional translator to verify and edit the translations accordingly. By getting a first layer of machine translation you’re accelerating the process towards making your website multilingual. 

From a financial perspective, this choice is a huge consideration to make. If you’re hiring a professional translator to start from scratch and work on copious amounts of web pages, the bill you’ll rack up will likely be astronomical. But if you start with the first layer of machine translation and then bring in human translators to make adjustments where necessary (or maybe your team speaks multiple languages) both their workload and the overall cost will be significantly reduced. 

Website localisation can seem like a daunting project, but handled correctly with a combination of technology and people power it’s not as big a job as you think. Cross-border ecommerce needs to be a strategy for marketers moving forward. Nielsen reports that 70% of retailers that had forayed into cross-border e-commerce had been profitable with their efforts. Any foray into localisation should be profitable if done effectively with technology and the limits of technology in mind.

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