Alibaba Group

Lost in Translation?

Rebecca Sturgess Blog, Business News 0 Comments

I was quite surprised to see that Chinese company Alibaba is gearing up to hit the US markets this week; whilst the main site, is a website I’ve seen on my travels around the web, it’s never struck me as a website to actually use – it certainly is the biggest business I’ve never heard of! Considering many are saying the company is set to take on the likes of eBay, Amazon and Facebook as one of the biggest brands online, how can we have missed the growth of such a giant? A whopping $296 billion reported worth of transactions went through the company y/e June 2014 in China through its three retail ecommerce websites, Taobao, Tmall and Juhausuan, but transactions outside of China are minimal – so where has this gap come from?

Jack Ma

Alibaba founder Jack Ma

The answer’s simple – Alibaba is a Chinese company founded by a young Chinese entrepreneur, Jack Ma. The main website does appear in global search results, but (currently) only deals with Chinese suppliers, with long delivery estimates of between 2-4 weeks and is a B2B website only allowing for bulk orders, usually a minimum of 10 pieces or more. In addition, a lot of the text on individual product pages has been poorly translated, so it doesn’t exactly give across the most professional feel and with marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay being global for both B2B and B2C markets, it’s easy to see why, until now, they have been more prominent.


The Taobao logo

To make matters more complex, whilst is available in several different languages, the three B2C ecommerce websites as referenced above, Taobao, Tmall and Juhausuan, are all written completely in Chinese with no multi-language platform support available at this current time, so unless you can read and write Chinese fluently, it’s a bit(!) of a problem.

On a wider scale, this is a good time to make the point that websites or companies expecting to trade on a global scale need to ensure the robustness and professionalism of their website(s) and offerings from the word go. It’s taken the Alibaba Group 15 years of trading to get to where they are today, something eBay and Amazon both did in less time by making sure their websites were secure, slick and, most importantly, user friendly and handled multi language support.

Moving forward, traders advertising on will need to ensure that their product listings and images etc are professional, slick and they get the “Verified Supplier” status as offered by Alibaba (in the same way you can become an eBay Power Seller) to increase trust status for buyers. Text for listings ideally needs to be in what we call “proper English” and gives across that extra element of trust to buyers, as poorly translated product copy could be the difference between a sale and a bounce.

Only time will tell whether Alibaba is a success in the US and indeed, around the world. Whilst things look set to see the company grow over the coming 12-18 months, a lot will depend on how the website is set up to deal with increased volumes of traffic and sales as awareness grows for global buyers. Alibaba has also been known in the past for its bad reputation in the US, even going as low as an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, so they have a fair way to go right now before trust in the company improves. Jack Ma has already indicated that plans are in place to expand into Europe which would be dependent on the success in the US, so let’s hope they get it right as they move forward!

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