Lowering the Language Barrier: From eBay to Dekadu

I just came across a press release from an eBay drop-off chain called QuikDrop. The release says that it will be providing translations services for sellers from English into eight languages, beginning with Spanish and French (I’m trying to learn more about pricing and what vendors they will be using).

Last year, I published a global profile of eBay and emphasized the need for translation services. At the time I thought that this might be a business eBay would want to get into — not as a provider but as a facilitator of the service. Right now, there are quite a few Web portals that match freelance translators with buyers of translation. This is a service that eBay could get into and use to provide its merchants with translation, and make a few additional dollars along the way.

Laurel Delaney has some thoughts on the globalization of eBay and a link to an article on the challenges of selling your products internationally.

And it is a challenge. QuikDrop promises a partial solution to the language barrier — translating content so an English speaker can sells products to speakers of eight other languages. But that’s just eight languages. What if, for example, a Polish speaker wanted to sell to a German speaker? Is QuikDrop going to provide Polish German translation anytime soon?

I doubt it.

Enter Dekadu


Dekadu bills itself as “the only worldwide, cross-border C2C platform operating in multiple languages and multiple currencies, and allowing for seamless cross-border trading.”

The company went live last month. It’s not an auction site. Prices are fixed. Dekadu acts as an intermediary managing payments, to mitigate fraud and manage currency conversion. But what makes the site unique is that it supports language pairs like Polish Czech and German French. American companies tend to focus only on language pairs that involve English. And while that’s fine and good, there are many more language pairs out there that don’t involve English. Which is why Dekadu sees a nice business opportunity.

The company’s founder, Jack DeNeut, tells me that Dekadu allows you to “buy from, and sell to, users all over the world, and not just in one’s home country. Items listed for sale in Germany, for example, are visible to buyers on all Dekadu platforms worldwide, and buyers in Germany can buy from sellers in other parts of the world, while still enjoying the convenience of using the site in German and paying in Euro. Other sites (e.g. eBay.com) do allow for some cross-border trade, but they require at least one side of the trade to use a foreign language or a currency other than their native currency. That requirement shuts a large portion of the world’s internet users out of the market for cross-border C2C.”

Now, I can imagine the costs involved in supporting translations among all these language pairs. But this is where things get interesting. If you figure that most content on eBay, for example, are fairly predictable text strings, like “high quality” and “never been used,” all you really need to do is translate most of these boilerplate strings and you’ll have strings that can be re-used again and again. Which is what this site does.

Here is an excerpt from my interview with Jack:

What products do you see succeeding particularly well on this type of business model? For instance, DVDs have issues with standards across certain borders.
DVDs definitely have issues with region codes, although we find they are doing well so far (we have only one month of data, so take with a grain of salt). The supply of DVDs in Region Two (Europe) is much smaller than Region One (US and Canada), and so even Czechs are ordering things like TV shows on DVD that they could never get in Europe. Region-free DVD players are fairly common in Eastern Europe.

The real positive with DVDs is that in Europe, to save manufacturing costs, many studios (especially Warner) just make a single disc for the whole of Europe that has more than a dozen languages on it (e.g. http://www.dekadu.com/product/1008028). The only thing that has stopped the cheap Polish DVDs from getting to, say, the U.K. (both Region Two countries) has been currency and language issues. Well, Dekadu solves that, so we see a lot of East-to-West trade in these kinds of items (CDs are also much cheaper wholesale in Poland than in the U.K.).

What’s been selling best so far are cosmetics (http://www.dekadu.com/cat/53130000), especially high-end brands like Chanel and Lancome. This is exactly the kind of product I had in mind while building the system – small (easy to ship), high-value, and grossly overpriced in a lot of countries. We also see items like memory cards for digital cameras selling well (for some reason, they cost twice as much in Prague as in NYC, and they weigh less than an ounce).

What future markets are in the works?
Definitely Scandinavia. They have everything — disposable income, broadband, and credit cards. Mentioning Scandinavia was where most meetings ended when I talked to investors in the U.S.: “They don’t need you. Everyone up there already speaks English”. It’s true that many people in Scandinavia do speak English, but the research I’ve seen (especially a recent paper from the EU) shows that overwhelmingly people in that region prefer to use a site in their own language if possible.

I also like some of the Asian markets like Japan and Korea, where the language barriers to buying from Europe are very high, and where we can provide a lot of value to the consumer by getting rid of that friction.

And what’s involved in adding a market/language?
I think this may be one of the strongest parts of our technology, and something I worked very hard to make easy to do. Given a translator, and postal rates for the new market (which we can get from the web), we can launch a new market, fully-localized, in less than a week. Not many multinationals can do that.

So is Dekadu going to pose a threat to eBay? Who knows. What I do know is that eBay could be expanding into new markets more quickly. My concern is that it’s spending so much time and money on China that it’s overlooking smaller markets that, collectively, could add up to significant revenues five years from now.

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