We regularly hear about the digital disruption caused by online eCommerce to the retail industry, and there are many examples of the retail giants of yesteryear who have been all but obliterated by the power shift to online stores.
This is not just true for B2C markets but is now increasingly a factor in B2B markets as well.
The pandemic has accelerated this trend, requiring that more firms establish an agile and comprehensive digital presence, even though, there was already evidence that a substantial online presence was critical to delivering superior CX and building brand relevance.
As lockdowns became the new normal, businesses and consumers increasingly “went digital”, providing and purchasing more goods and services online, raising e-commerce’s share of global retail trade dramatically in a single year.
The preference for a customer-managed, online, self-service shopping experience has been a trend for over a decade. This is very clear to digitally-savvy executives who understand the building blocks to deliver superior CX and digital transformation strategies. Few customers are willing to trade a more time-consuming, less transparent, in-store-only experience for a less time-consuming, more transparent, online experience.
Digitally-savvy executives understand that providing content relevant to the buyer journey matters, and is a key element of enabling digital online success.
The Pandemic Impact and eCommerce Megatrends
The pandemic restrictions forced consumers and workers around the globe to stay at home and thus dramatically accelerated the shift to online for both B2C and B2B markets.
COVID-19 essentially forced the trial of new behaviors, and consumers had no choice in the early part of the pandemic but to trial e-commerce as a shopping channel. And surprisingly—or not—they liked it.
The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital, and many believe that the opportunities and paradigm shifts that have emerged will persevere postcrisis.
Companies will have to communicate, engage, and interact with customers in new ways because customer behavior has changed.
McKinsey described the pandemic impact as a “perfect storm for fashion marketplaces.” Fast-fashion brand Shein saw its valuation double to $30 billion and saw a revenue growth rate of over 170% during this period making it the world’s largest online-only fashion retailer. Twenty other online retailers (mostly fashion) saw revenue growth of over 150%.
At the same time, consumer behavior is changing. Because consumers are looking for purpose and sustainability from brands that they support, and are willing to switch brands quickly if they do not see this.
Research shows that peer purchasing insights (customer and user reviews) seem to have more influence on consumers than any marketing strategy. Estimates say that global reviews doubled in the year after COVID-19 began, on top of an already very steady long-term growth trend.
The pandemic also drove B2B customer behaviors to begin to shift dramatically, favoring video conference interactions with sales reps and eCommerce.
B2B sales are now resolutely omnichannel, with eCommerce, face-to-face, and remote videoconference sales all a necessary part of the buyers’ experience.
Omnichannel is a path to market share growth, analysts say. The more channels a sales organization deploys, the bigger the expected market share gains, and there is clear evidence that B2B customers also prefer online shopping, especially in the early phases of the buyer journey.
As Millennials rise in seniority in business settings, they’re questioning why the B2B buyer experience should be different, citing a disconnect between an archaic spreadsheet-driven B2B buying experience and the CX-friendly personal B2C experience they prefer. A recent study by Demand Gen found that 44 percent of Millennial respondents indicated they are primary decision-makers at their companies for purchases of $10,000 or more.
The B2B eCommerce Opportunity
While much of the focus is on the B2C progress, McKinsey states: “We now see a tipping point, with [B2B] eCommerce surpassing in-person selling as a sales channel, at 65 percent, versus 53 percent earlier this year (2021). Videoconferencing and online chat also rose during the year.”
In 2021, online sales on US B2B eCommerce sites, log-in portals, and marketplaces increased 17.8% to $1.63 trillion from $1.39 trillion in 2020. B2B eCommerce in 2021 grew 1.17 times faster than the growth of all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales.
B2B eCommerce sales accelerated in 2021 in large measure because more business buyers and sellers now see digital commerce as a more efficient and effective way to research and purchase corporate goods and services, according to analysts.
- B2B buyers are increasingly choosing to buy online rather than through phone and other offline channels. B2B buyers prefer digital, self-guided experiences because they can explore, research, and purchase on their own terms. According to TrustRadius, “87% of buyers want [the ability] to self-serve part or all of their buying journey.”
- Forrester data shows that nearly 75% of B2B buyers prefer to buy online when purchasing products for work, yet just 25% of B2B companies actively sell online. McKinsey research shows that only 20% of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales. This proves to be especially true in sectors where field sales have long dominated, including pharma and medical products.
- According to McKinsey, customers want an always-on, personalized, omnichannel experience, and, ALL B2B customers prefer omnichannel, no matter their industry, country, size, or customer relationship stage. Customers are more willing than ever to switch suppliers to gain exceptional omnichannel experiences.
- 51% of business buyers come to a B2B eCommerce site attracted by an excellent user experience.
- Buyers are more willing than ever before to spend substantial amounts through remote or online sales channels. Globally, 62 percent of B2B decision-makers are now willing to spend $50,000 or more in online purchases—and one in five would spend more than $500,000.
- Other benefits of B2B eCommerce according to Forrester include substantially (as much as 90%) lower selling and service costs. Additionally, they say that 52% of B2B executives say they have reduced their customer-support costs by migrating offline customers online.
- The new B2B buyer will only be loyal if customer needs are met: for example, eight in ten B2B decision-makers say they will actively look for a new supplier if performance guarantees (e.g., a full refund if a certain level of performance is not met) are not offered.
- The number of channels needed to service customers effectively has increased over the last five years.
The Global Opportunity Outlook
At the start of 2020, 1.35 billion people were in the global “middle class” with the majority of the middle-class growth happening in the Asia Pacific region.
While the middle-class growth in Asia has slowed with the arrival of COVID-19, eCommerce’s center of gravity has already moved East and will continue to do so as large population centers continue to generate more disposable income.
For the first time in history, the world is within reach.
For example, Patrick Coddou, founder and CEO of Supply said: “Early last year , we decided to duplicate our domestic ads, change the targeting from [the] US to worldwide, set language to English, and hit go,” Coddou says. “The end result was 30% of revenue coming from international markets.”
This kind of success justifies further investment and improvement in the global outreach process. However, there is much evidence that sustaining global success needs investment, which starts with providing growing volumes of content in the local languages of the target markets.
Early SEO-based success can quickly flounder if the larger buyer and customer journey information needs are not addressed, which means substantially more content translation is needed.
The success of early-mover eCommerce marketplaces has also bred increasing competition, and suppliers have to continue to improve their global digital footprint and DX to be noticed or even to maintain gains.
Providing local language content means more than quickly passing content through Google Translate. Raw MT without proper refinement and optimization can undermine global sales efforts and build a negative brand reputation that is difficult to remedy.
Research from CSA states that there is “a strong preference for local language and localization, even if it costs the buyer more. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of business users told us they’d pay up to 30% more for a localized product (2020 survey), and just a bit more than one-third (34%) of consumers said they would also be willing to dig deeper into their wallets for products adapted to their language and market.”
CSA also found that 65% of consumers prefer content in their native language, even if it’s poor quality in a previous survey. Moreover, 40% will not buy from websites in other languages.
In another survey by Flow.io, over 67% of global consumers surveyed said they’d made a cross-border purchase in their lives. Almost one in five respondents stated that lack of language translation was a big barrier to purchasing on a foreign site.
Shopify data shows a 13% relative increase in conversion when buyers were shown a store translated into their language compared to the same one in the default language. Best practice shows that “properly localized content” creates a good customer experience from first impression to checkout.
In fact, in terms of the website content, the majority of shoppers in the Flow.io’s survey agreed that the following pages which include both corporate and user-created content, needed to be in their local language:
- Product descriptions (67%)
- Product reviews (63%)
- Checkout process (63%)
Where do we buy from?
The USA, China, and the UK consistently ranked among the top 3 countries purchased from in most markets. Japan and Korea are markets where the translation is even more critical to success, as cultural reluctance to cross-border purchases is significantly higher.
There have never been as many opportunities in the eCommerce space, nor has there been as much competition. Plummeting return on ad spend is pushing brands to prioritize customer lifetime value and promote brand loyalty. High-quality multilingual content is essential to this effort.
Global customers care about the content that brands share with them, and brands committed to being international need ongoing translation strategies that go beyond “MT-once and forget” approaches. They need to be listening, sharing, and actively communicating multilingually on an ongoing basis to understand changing needs and concerns.
Sales through social media channels around the world are expected to nearly triple by 2025. Customer reviews in social media are recognized as key influencers of brand perception.
Bad CX will be shared vigorously, and can rapidly undermine business success and revenue. Customer reviews influence consumers to try competing products.
Being aware of these dynamic perceptions will be critical to long-term success and being able to listen, understand, and respond to problems with agility and speed is crucial.
As more of the world gets more accustomed to a digital-first buyer journey, companies must adapt to stay relevant. As brands face unmatched logistical and communication challenges in the new millennium, they have focused on more engagement with their customers via digital channels.
Success in eCommerce means building ongoing relationships with customers, which in turn requires increasing volumes of content sharing and more localized infrastructure.
“I believe we'll see more local brands branching out and offering customized shopping experiences for international customers to remain competitive. This will include things like geo-targeted domain names, pricing in local currency, and local product shipping, with the help of third-party distribution or company-owned warehouses.”
—Leanne Lee, Marketer at Blue Bungalow
The Content Focus
Success in online businesses is increasingly driven by careful and continued attention to providing a good overall customer experience throughout the buyer journey.
Customers want personalized, relevant information to guide their purchase decisions, and also want the self-service support content to be able to be as independent as possible after they buy a product. Thus sellers need to provide much more content, both in terms of volume and relevance, than they traditionally have provided.
Much of the customer journey today involves a buyer interacting independently with content related to the product of interest, and digital leaders now increasingly understand that on digital platforms, useful, and relevant content is how this journey is enhanced and improved.
Understanding and providing content that matters to the customer is a prerequisite for providing superior DX and CX and enabling customer success.
In a recent study, focused on B2B digital buying behavior presented at a recent Gartner conference, Brent Adamson pointed out some interesting research findings that clearly show the increasing value of content in the buyer journey. Some of the highlights:
“Customers spend much more time doing research online -- 27% of the overall purchase evaluation and research [time]. Independent online learning represents the single largest category of time-spend across the entire purchase journey.”
In surveying 750 customers making a large B2B purchase, it was found that the proportion of time they spent working directly with salespeople -- both in-person and online -- was just 17% of the total purchase research and evaluation process time spent.
This fractional time is further diluted when you spread this total salesperson contact time across 3 or more vendors that are typically involved in a B2B purchase evaluation. In a typical, large B2B transaction, it is clear that an individual seller sales representative gets a very small fraction of the total time that a buyer spends in the purchase and evaluation process.
This research also points out that a huge proportion of a sellers’ total access to a customer happens through digital content means, rather than in-person, channels. This means that any B2B supplier without a coherent digital marketing strategy specifically designed to help buyers through the buyer journey will fall rapidly behind those who do.
Digital leaders also understand that because in-person contact begins, it doesn’t mean that online exploration ends, and even long after engaging supplier sales reps in direct in-person conversations, customers simultaneously continue their digital buying journey, making use of both human and digital buying channels. This is why B2B eCommerce in particular, is so omnichannel-focused.
Forrester suggests that product information is more important to customer experience than any other source or type of information including all sales or marketing content.
A digital online platform enables an enterprise to quickly establish a global presence. However, the global customer requires all the same content that a US customer does in the buying journey. This requirement for voluminous multilingual content presents a significant translation challenge for any enterprise that seeks to build momentum in new international markets and thus the right translation technology is critical.
Thus, we see eCommerce giants like eBay, Amazon, and Alibaba are amongst the largest users of machine translation technology in the world today. There is simply too much content that is needed to be multilingual to do this any other way.
However, the translation challenge even with MT is significant and requires deep expertise and competence to do well. The skills needed to do this efficiently and cost-effectively are not easily developed and many B2B sellers are beginning to realize that they do not have the in-house competence to do this and could not effectively develop them in time. Working with language translation platforms, or translation engine experts is wise.
Providing local language content means more than quickly passing your content through Google Translate
To participate in new global opportunities, digital leaders should be preparing the following elements in their expanding online digital footprint:
- Making substantial amounts of relevant content available to support the buyer journey in both B2C, and especially in B2B markets.
- Make this content available in all the markets and languages that they wish to participate in to maximize their global presence.
Technology alone, or human translation alone, is not enough. Competitive advantage comes from working with experts who provide comprehensive man-machine-translation process collaboration at scale.
The MT Strategy Beyond GT
Given the increasing volumes of content required, suppliers must use machine translation (MT). And while MT does not replace humans, it enables suppliers to make 100X+ more content available to support international customers cost-effectively.
Today, there is a need for growing volumes of both corporate and customer-created content (UGC). The benefit of making more relevant content available outweighs the limitations of imperfect machine translation. This is especially true for suppliers with large catalogs, extensive customer support needs, and high-impact UGC that global customers find useful.
Fundamentally, eCommerce marketplaces must understand the importance of the content in enabling customers to achieve their goals (e.g., what content is critical in their path to purchase) considering the volume, necessary translation turnaround, and languages needed.
And then build translation production models directly related to the value, criticality, and longevity of the information. The emerging best practices model use human-machine collaboration mixes that can be adapted to content type and value. Also, rapidly improving MT technology like ModernMT assures successful outcomes.
This can sometimes mean that in the initial stages, MT output may be more imperfect, but, with the right technology and process, it is possible to quickly establish a beachhead that evolves continuously.
UGC is a dominant element of the eCommerce content landscape and presents special challenges for MT technology. UGC content is often written by non-native speakers and, most likely, by non-professional content writers. Marco Trombetti, CEO of Translated said: “there is a lot of flexibility that the AI [MT] needs to learn to translate UGC content well. It is not like training a custom model on a very narrow terminology.”
Tech-savvy localization managers who understand this “start now and improve gradually approach“ are now being seen as vital partners in global growth strategies. Best practices suggest that the most effective strategy is to have MT and Human translators working together to build a continuous improvement cycle. The strategy to translate a billion new words every month has to be different than a typical localization translate-edit-proof process.
Airbnb is an example where the localization team is seen as a vital partner in enabling global growth. The Airbnb localization team oversees both typical localization content and user-generated content (UGC), across the organization, which means they oversee billions of words a month being translated across 60+ languages using a combined human plus continuously improving MT translation model. The localization team enables Airbnb to translate customer-related content across the organization at scale. High-value external content is often accorded the same attention as internally produced marketing content.
Airbnb runs on ModernMT, the Translated-led, open-source project, co-founded by Fondazione Bruno Kessler, the University of Edinburgh, and the European Commission. ModernMT is an adaptive neural machine translation system with a degree of flexibility that allows it to be used for hundreds of different use-cases, including IP and life sciences translations.
Trombetti added, “The indirect challenge with UGC is scale. Often UGC scale can be a million times bigger in volume than content produced by localization teams, and the volume spikes are much more unpredictable.”
Continuously improving responsive MT is a critical foundation to building better global CX in eCommerce settings. With ModernMT, the use of optimized raw MT output can be delivered at scale to the customer without additional human intervention even though ongoing MT quality monitoring is recommended.
The linguistic human oversight process and approach will likely change over time.
Often, upfront human feedback investments are needed, in addition to selective pre-emptive translation, to make MT engines perform optimally on a range of unique and specialized enterprise content.
It is possible to post-edit 1M words a month with a team, but it is not easy to do this for a billion words a month.
Rebecca Ray of CSA eloquently describes the impact of producing relevant content for the modern eCommerce marketplaces.
“The [most] significant implications revolve around the recognition given to the business value of multilingual content by a high-tech company such as Airbnb through its financial investment in a cross-functional collaboration initiative to greatly expand language accessibility. They must recognize that, in many cases, their products and services do not function independently of information about them and that the most valuable content and code are often generated by third parties [UGC].
Both Airbnb and Expedia recognize that they are not lodging companies, but rather high-tech (multilingual) content companies. And Chesky [Airbnb CEO] certainly understands this very well as he touts Translation Engine [powered by ModernMT] availability, which will deliver five million listings in 62 languages and 500 million reviews without customers having to tap on a translate button.”
Any eCommerce marketplace with global ambitions will need to have a comprehensive language strategy that is flexible and sophisticated as digital leaders like Airbnb change and raise customer expectations.
As more senior executives in the global enterprise ask questions like:
- How do we integrate our international strategy with our overall corporate strategy?
- What will this take in terms of people, process, and technology?
We should expect a shift to language as a feature at the platform level wherein language is designed, delivered, and optimized as a feature of a product and/or service from the beginning.
Language accessibility is no longer relegated to a lowly translation task outside the bounds of product or service development and delivery. Rather, it is integrated into content and procedural workflows that affect almost everyone within the organization at some point. Something that analysts call a "language platform."
Perhaps some of the recent interest in language operations and translation operating systems are all steps in the same direction, pointing to a more globally embedded and pervasive translation-focused ecosystem.
The Airbnb deployment is a pioneering example that shows how extensive and deep-reaching translation workflows can be when the value is understood at executive levels.
ModernMT is uniquely positioned to be THE optimal platform-level MT element of such a comprehensive vision. It has flexibility, scalability, straightforward adaptability to scores of use-cases, and low overhead management and maintenance features that allow it to be a “translation engine” at scale.
This is in stark contrast to typical MT systems built by customizing generically focused public MT engines requiring specialized MT expertise, having costly, cumbersome management and maintenance requirements, yet not having the dynamic, real-time learning and adaptation capabilities that ModernMT has.
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ModernMT is a product by Translated.