eBay: Improved Translation equals Improved Commerce

eBay: Improved Translation equals Improved Commerce

eBay decided to improve its translation software. It caused sharp international commerce to increase.

Improved translation software can significantly boost international trade online, shown by the new study co-authored by an MIT economist. A clear impact on economic activity had a notable case for machine learning.

In 2014, the firm improved its automatic translation program after its commerce shot up by 10.9 percent among pairs of countries where people could use the new system.

The MIT economist and co-author of a new paper detailing the results are Erik Brynjolfsson. He says that it is an impressive number. To have such an effect in such a short period means a lot about the technology power.


He adds that to put the results in perspective, consider that physical distance is also a significant barrier to global commerce. Ebay’s new translation software generated a 10.9 percent change. It increased trade by the same amount as making the world 26 percent smaller, in terms of its impact on the studied goods.

Thus, Papers are researching technological translation and global trade. It takes evidence from a big digital platform. It appears in the December issue of Management Science. One author of the paper is Schussel Family Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Brynjolfsson. Other authors are Meng Liu and Xiang Hui, assistant professors in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

eBay introduced its new eMT (eBay Machine Translation) system in 2014. The scholars examined what happened after the system introduction to conduct the study. EMT system is a proprietary machine-learning program that significantly improved translation quality on eBay’s site by several objective measures. Initially, the new system focused on English-Spanish translations. The firm wanted to facilitate trade between Latin America and the United States.

Research on eBay

Before, to render the titles of objects for sale, eBay was using Bing Translator. There is an evaluation called HAR (Human Acceptance Rate). Three experts reject or accept the translations. The system measured the eMT system and said that there is an increased number of acceptable Spanish-language items titles on eBay from 82 percent to 90 percent.

Within countries, researchers then examined the volume of trade on the platform, using administrative data from eBay, after the eMT system went into use. The study showed that the new translation system not only had an effect on sales, but the trade increased by 1.06 percent for each additional word in the titles of items on eBay.

As the paper notes, that figure is a substantial change for a commerce platform. Items for sale often have long and descriptive titles. For example, titles are: “Alpine Swiss Keira Women’s Trench Coast Double Breasted Wool Jacket Belted” or “Diamond-Cut Stackable Thin Wedding Ring News .925 Sterling Silver Band Sizes 4-12.” When you make translation clear, it helps potential buyers understand precisely what they might be purchasing.

Besides, Brynjolfsson says about the study that it is a successful experiment. Because of before-and-after sharply distinguished what happened when you didn’t have machine translation and when you had.

All in all, it is an example of how good translation can affect commerce.