Mary Meeker’s yearly Internet Trends 2015 report is out, and its 196 pages carry a clear message. Smart businesses have access to potential customers around the world, and one of the gaps they must bridge is language difference.
It would naturally follow, then, that demand for professional translation services has ample room to grow.
TechCrunch says the report “is the ultimate compilation of essential tech statistics.” The report covers everything from mobile phone use and the global population of Internet users to the digitization of recordkeeping and office visitors’ logs to the effects of the Internet on the labor market.
“If your life depends on technology, you better read this cover to cover,” says TechCrunch. That group definitely includes language professionals. As more and more people connect, each one becomes a potential customer — if you can find them, then provide an experience they’ll respond to. A critical first step, of course, is speaking to them in their own language.
Report Highlights, Conclusions
Some highlights of the report:
- In 1995, less than 1% of the world’s population were Internet users. Nineteen years later, nearly four in ten people worldwide are online. These numbers are growing.
- In the USA, 9% of total retail sales were made online in 2014, totaling more than $300 billion. In 1998, that figure was less than 1%.
- Eleven of the world’s twenty largest public Internet companies are American. (The top three overall: Apple, Google and Alibaba.)
- The third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, eighteenth, and twentieth spots are now all held by Chinese companies. Japanese companies are Nos. 16 and 17, and a Korean firm holds the nineteenth spot. In 1998, none of the top 15 were Asian.
What does this tell us?
- More and more people, everywhere in the world, are going online and making transactions.
- Online commerce has grown, both in absolute terms and as a share of overall retail business. It is continuing to do so.
- The Internet is still dominated by the U.S., but other countries (particularly in Asia) are catching up.
- For enterprising retailers, international opportunities are closely intertwined with reaching users — and translation can help clear the most fundamental hurdle.
Alibaba — No. 3 on the list of public Internet companies, behind only Apple and Google — is a Chinese e-commerce company with a market cap of nearly $233 billion as of May 2015. It is one of the biggest examples of how businesses — in China and everywhere else — are looking beyond their national borders for business opportunities.
In fact, its most elite competitors are looking abroad as well. Alibaba is joined by Rakuten and JD.com — both Asian companies — among the top five global e-retailers. (The other two are eBay and Amazon.) All three of these firms have English-language sites.
As companies seek customers in other countries and other cultures, they will have to meet the expectations of those residents. Unsurprisingly, these expectations are shaped by cultural and linguistic factors that are different from those of people back home. Of course language matters — to sell something, you must make sure the buyer understands you.
In theory, this means that demand for translation should be limited only by the provider’s persuasive ability (and the client’s budget). According to another TechCrunch article, even though many of the biggest American privately owned tech companies operate in multiple languages, only 0.00000067% of all Web content is professionally localized. That’s less than one in a hundred million pieces of Internet content. (Of course, that includes content that doesn’t need to reach international consumers.)
For globally minded companies, this means a huge potential for competitive advantage. There is a giant opportunity open to those who can reach consumers abroad, in China and elsewhere — and companies in these nations have growth potential if they decide to reach out to foreign users.
Given the vastness of online commerce, the speed with which it’s expanding, and its potential for international growth, it’s only smart to prepare for the future. And that means reaching customers in other countries before your competitors do. To make sure they get the message, you have to deliver it in their language — making translation a true must for global business.