Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 7:00 AM ET
Europe benefits from a single currency and a single market, yet few Europeans use the Internet to shop for deals outside of their home countries. The problem isn't an aversion to e-commerce. More and more Europeans are buying online; 33% of Europeans shopped online last year, up from 27% in the previous year. Meanwhile, the figure for purchases abroad remained almost stable at a mere 7%, according to a report released today by the European Commission.
The Commission's Directorate General for "Health and Consumer's" provocative study dissects the barriers to cross-border e-commerce. The Commission found that only about a third of European consumers said they were willing to purchase goods and services in another language -- and only about two-thirds of European online merchants are prepared to sell in more than one language.
Google is working hard to help consumers and merchants overcome these language barriers. Free tools like Google Translate and Google Dictionary allow shoppers to navigate the continent's fragmented, multilingual retail universe. Google Toolbar also contains a translation feature. With a single click, these tools make foreign language websites understandable.
Merchants can use these free tools to add machine translation to their websites. This are particularly useful for small businesses, which often lack the resources to build multilingual sites and which the Commission says "appear to have been particularly reluctant to embrace the opportunities of e-commerce to sell cross-border."
Technology, of course, cannot by itself create a seamless single European online market, and language isn't the only barrier to cross-border e-commerce. As the Commission rightly notes, regulators themselves must work to end the continent's differences in consumer, copyright, and tax systems. But better information can provide a big boost. At Google, we'll continue to advance tools that connect consumers and businesses across the European Union's many languages.