By Jose Villa
resident, Sensis Agency

Hispanics and e-commerce is a fascinating topic and one that has been covered in almost every major research report on Hispanic Internet use since 2000. Yet, it is rarely given more attention than a small section of a larger white paper or a one-off report from some research firm tangentially involved in the retail space. Why is that?It’s not because it doesn’t represent a viable market opportunity: U.S. Hispanics (according to the limited research on the topic) spend quite a bit online – $12.8 billion in 2008 with projections to reach $21.6 billion next year (JupiterResearch, 2007). That’s 11% of all e-commerce purchases (not too far below Hispanics’ percentage of the U.S. population).

I think that Hispanic e-commerce doesn’t get the attention it deserves not because it isn’t a large, growing market, but because it is a complex subject, where the opportunity for retailers is amorphous and not very clearly understood. Furthermore, I would posit that there are not a lot of experts with actual experience in the arena of Hispanic online shopping (at least at the large retailer level). That theory is validated when you scour the Internet for case studies on the subject and find only the well-publicized Best Buy and Home Depot cases.

Whenever I start looking at Hispanic e-commerce, four big questions continually come up. We can answer the first three fairly quickly:

1. Do Hispanics buy online?

Yes. The JupiterResearch data I reference above shows that Hispanics represent a vibrant component of the growing e-commerce market. While a significant percentage of Hispanics do not shop online due to various obstacles, it’s clear that English-, Spanish-speaking and bilingual Hispanics shop online.

2. Are Hispanics relevant to most Internet retailers?

Yes, particularly the larger Internet retailers offering broad product mixes. While there are thousands of niche Internet retailers that are completely irrelevant to Hispanics, a quick glance at the Internet Retailer 500 list would show that most of these sites have broad appeal that crosses over to the 50 million+ Hispanic market. ComScore data on Hispanic traffic to retail websites validates this — they reach 74% of online Hispanics (16 million).

3. Are Internet retailers already effectively reaching / selling to Hispanics online?

The answers to questions 1 and 2 show that a segment of Hispanics are already being reached by Internet retailers. However, a closer look at the ComScore data reveals that there are potentially 36 million Hispanics that are not being reached by the top Internet retail Web sites. That’s a big chunk.

4. Are there differences between Hispanic online shoppers and their general market counterparts?

This is the million-dollar question. This last question is actually at the core of how retailers should approach the Hispanic e-commerce opportunity.

Most of the focus of the Hispanic e-commerce debate has revolved around the language of the shopping platform and experience. I would posit that the fundamental question and opportunity regarding Hispanic e-commerce lies in understanding Hispanic online behavior.

There is some data out there that supports my theory:

  • Hispanics that are comfortable buying online but will typically go to English versions of e-commerce sites (Internet Retailer/Omni Direct, 2010)
  • Online Hispanics generally perceive English language Web sites as more comprehensive, detailed and useful than Spanish-language versions (AOL Cheskin Hispanic Cyberstudy, 2010)
  • Concerns about providing personal information online (32%) and the desire to touch and feel products before making a purchase (30%) were the two leading reasons why Hispanic Internet users refrained from buying online (Forrester, 2008)
  • Less than 20% of visitors to Best Buy’s Spanish Web site toggle back and forth between the English and Spanish sites (Best Buy Survey, 2008)

Maybe translating an online store and offering a mirrored English-Spanish e-commerce environment isn’t the answer? As someone who has been helping clients large and small build Spanish Web sites for 12+ years, I can tell you I’ve never been a big fan of wholesale Spanish translations of Web sites.

Not only are Spanish Web site translations expensive and difficult to maintain, they are usually a strategic “cop-out.” Instead of spending the time and effort to understand exactly what online Hispanic consumers are demanding and focus on addressing those needs, you take a “shotgun” approach to just translate everything to Spanish. I’ve rarely seen this approach work.

Let me suggest that the real Hispanic e-commerce opportunity lies in understanding and addressing other aspects of e-commerce:

• Personalization
• Product offering / Product mix
• User experience / Visual design
• Emphasizing product research over product sales

Furthermore, as technology advances, and Hispanics continue to show a propensity towards early adoption of digital technology and devices, mobile commerce and kiosks might represent interesting new “channels” to sell to Hispanics electronically.

Story courtesy: MediaPost Engage:Hispanics

8 thoughts on “Hispanics And E-commerce”
  1. Great post Jose, I agree that you can’t just throw up a translated version of your website and expect to successfully reach the Hispanic market. Like any other demographic thorough understanding and research is what it takes.

  2. Great post, very accurate. Online business need to define if they’re targeting Hispanics within the US or international customers from Latin America. These are 2 completely different segments and should be treated as such. A well-translated, spanish version of your ecommerce site will take your business to new markets outside the US, but hispanic visitors within the US do prefer english based websites.

    As an ecommerce provider based in South Florida, I have the opportunity to work with many online merchants. A good example of an successful online business directed to hispanic users and not having a translated version

  3. Personalization and a completely separated approach rather than a shotgun translation sounds great. How can a big brand retailer do this without jeopardizing their current branding when the goal is to reach a new market rather than change their identity?

  4. Good question James… the answer is unique to each brand and based on good behavioral data (Web analytics, usability testing, etc.) combined with solid consumer insights…

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