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eBay Acquires Technology to Translate Seller Listings Globally

eBay announced plans to acquire AppTek to help it translate its 650 million individual listings into multiple languages as pursues its cross-border strategy. Global expansion is a key priority for eBay, which said 20% of its transactions occur across borders, and one of every three new users to eBay comes through a cross-border transaction – a disproportionate share of those new users coming from BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and emerging markets.

Russia is a prime example of eBay’s initiative to bring listings from eBay.com and other sites to the Russian consumer. Last year, eBay launched a site in which it pooled listings from sellers around the world that were available for shipping to Russia, and invited Russian shoppers to search the site either in English or Cyrillic, with payments processed through PayPal.

eBay said shoppers prefer to transact in their native language – “for brands and merchants looking to expand their businesses, being able to communicate with customers around the world is one of the most important capabilities. To deliver the best international experiences for shoppers and merchants alike, eBay is working to bridge the language gap – online and on mobile.”

With 145 million active buyers globally, eBay is also working to push sellers into offering their products internationally. While many sellers embrace international markets, many others dislike the increased risk that global trading entails, including the very real challenges of package-tracking and delivery. As eBay CEO John Donahoe told Wall Street analysts earlier this year, “A lot of the eBay sellers in the U.S. don’t want to deal with the hassle of shipping to international markets, and particularly international markets that may have customs clearance, or duties or complicated returns issues.”

One way eBay encourages sellers is through its Global Shipping Program (GSP). Items in the GSP program are available on eBay sites all over the world, and when an item sells, the seller sends the item to a warehouse of a third-party partner – Pitney Bowes in the case of the U.S. – which then handles all the international shipping, customer support and returns. Donahoe also told analysts in February that eBay would expand the GSP program to sellers in other countries.

For sellers, it’s imperative that eBay get the translation of their listings right. An unhappy buyer in Moscow who says the item is not as described is a bigger problem for U.S. sellers than an unhappy buyer in Boston.

While eBay has already developed its own translation technology, it said AppTek’s machine translation talent and technology would “springboard” its efforts in this space.

Virginia-based AppTek is a machine translation and speech recognition company with an office in Germany. One of its products is Omnifluent Translate, “a comprehensive multilingual translation platform that automatically translates multiple formats of both text and audio content. The solution provides content localization, globalization and is integrated for foreign media translation.” Among its clients are Coach and Google.

eBay explained, “While traditional machine translation approaches solve for fluency (or readability), eBay’s customers expect translations that understand the context of shopping. Over the past two years, eBay has rapidly built an internal team and in-house technologies that solve for fidelity (the nuances of item titles and descriptions) specific to commerce.”

And, it said, “Integrating AppTek’s machine translation technology with the eBay platform will scale global language translation efforts and provide eBay shoppers and merchants with increasingly better native language experiences.”

eBay will maintain AppTek’s German office, which focuses on European cross-border trade, “an important area of growth for eBay.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.