The purchasing power of Hispanic consumers in the United States is significant – more than $700bn annually. Some

anticipate

that this number will grow to well over $1trn by 2012.

As would be expected given these numbers, reaching out to Hispanic consumers is fast becoming seen as a necessity for many offline businesses.

But Hispanics also represent the fastest growing group in the United States when it comes to internet usage, meaning that reaching out to them online may become increasingly important for online retailers.

As noted by an Internet Retailer article:

Most major online retailers neither provide web content in Spanish nor respond to customer inquiries in that language.

Consumer electronics retailer Best Buy is one of the retailers that does. It launched a Spanish version of its website in September 2007 using the services of a company called MotionPoint, which performed the translations and provides ongoing maintenance and hosting.

The results of Best Buy’s Spanish-language initiative are interesting:

  • According to site manager Ana Grace, “Customers are spending roughly double the amount of time on the Spanish site as English-language customers.” Best Buy has not yet established why that is.
  • Best Buy has observed that bilingual Hispanics prefer to peruse the Spanish website “when they’re considering complex products, such as computers and home theater systems.” I would point out that these are typically bigger ticket items so there is conceivably a noticeable impact on the bottom line if the availability of information in Spanish about such products boosts sales.
  • Some customers “toggle back and forth” between the Spanish website and the English website. Best Buy suspects that this may be occurring when a consumer needs clarification. Other customers have indicated that this is done to ensure that the pricing is the same on both websites.
  • Some customers are coming into Best Buy stores with print-outs from the Spanish website, showing that it does have the ability to drive foot traffic.

Best Buy has not released sales figures for its Spanish website. While some question whether the costs of translating and maintaining a Spanish website – which can run into the millions of dollars – make financial sense, I would argue that there is often significant long-term value in reaching out to customers in multiple languages.

Unlike social media proponents who claim that there’s significant value for brands in having “conversations” with consumers through Facebook pages and novelty widgets, there is a rationale for many businesses in the United States to provide their websites in Spanish. Numerous studies have shown that a statistically significant percentage of Spanish consumers prefer to interact with Spanish-language marketing messages.

Even Forrester Research, the research firm I have often criticized for its social media analysts’ excessive cheerleading of social media, is due credit for getting it right on this subject.

This all makes sense, of course. Language is one of the most powerful aspects of our lives and when a company is willing to deal with you using your native or preferred language, it, at the very least, isn’t likely going to go unnoticed – especially when not every business will.

Given that relatively few major online retailers in the United States are offering Spanish websites, offering one might have the ability to provide a shorter-term competitive advantage that makes the required investment more tolerable while at the same time putting an online retailer in good stead should Spanish websites become the rule and not the exception.

For online retailers outside of the United States, this subject is still worth giving thought to.

Many countries have minority groups with purchasing power of note and evaluating, where applicable, whether serving them in their native languages may be beneficial for business is certainly a worthwhile exercise.

Related posts:

E.ON UK’s Paul Squires on multi-lingual content