Brands struggle to maintain multicultural e-commerce portals

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Brands such as JetBlue and CVS pharmacy have had some success creating multichannel sites
Brands such as JetBlue and CVS pharmacy have had some success creating multichannel sites

Despite the increasing multicultural nature of the U.S. population, brands have difficulty maintaining websites specifically designed for multicultural e-commerce. Many retailers offer some aspect of their e-business, such as a social networking site or certain segments of the website, in languages other than English, but few field a full e-commerce website comparable to its English-language site.

When brands create a multicultural online presence, it's nearly always directed at the Hispanic community. However, a brand developing a Spanish-language site does not guarantee that the site will have longevity.

Home Depot, for example, rolled out a Spanish-language site in November of 2008.

The site was functionally similar to the brand's English-language e-commerce site, with roughly 40,000 products. However, in May 2009, Home Depot closed the site. According to The Wall Street Journal, the closing was due to disappointing sales and because half of the visitors were from foreign countries where Home Depot didn't ship.

Despite the closing of the full Spanish-language site, the brand continues to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community largely through its YouTube channel, which has a library of how-to videos in Spanish. “We have an aggressive online plan that reaches Hispanics across language proficiencies and preferences,” says Alejandra Barron, senior manager of multicultural marketing at Home Depot. For Barron, fully understanding the target demographic remains the top challenge in Hispanic outreach.

“The nuances based on country of origin, acculturation and other factors present both a challenge and an opportunity,” she says. “The Home Depot invests in constant research in this segment so that our programs and our communications remain relevant as the segment changes.

The problem with creating a full-language mirror is delegation of resources. Developing and maintaining a separate Spanish-language e-commerce presence requires a team to manage that presence, respond to customer queries and maintain the site's relevance among multicultural customers. For some brands, such as airline JetBlue, the decision to create a Spanish mirror in 2008 was a no-brainer.

“We have a strong presence in the Caribbean and Latin America,” says Mike Andujar, manager of Web production at JetBlue. “Twenty-seven percent of our capacity is in this region, and we feel it's important that we provide our Spanish-speaking customers with a site they feel most comfortable interacting with.”

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While JetBlue's Web analytics have not shown any significant difference in the way customers use English- versus Spanish-language sites, the content differs based on the customer's location, Andujar says. “With the recent launch of the redesigned jetblue.com, we've enhanced the site experience for some of our customers in the Caribbean, where we have a large presence, by offering more relevant marketing messages and fares on our homepage using geolocation,” he explains.

The biggest key for brands building a full Spanish-language site is consistency across all platforms. Ultimately, a mirror should be just as functional as its English-language counterpart. If it offers a subpar or stripped-down customer experience, it will be difficult to get the target demographic to adapt it.

Best Buy's Spanish-language site — a mirror of its flagship English site — is part of a full multichannel endeavor geared to Latino customers, says Lisa Hawks, director of PR at Best Buy. Besides a fully transactional and translated website, Hawks adds that

Best Buy also invests in bilingual call center agents and in-store employees.

The Spanish-language website developed based around the increased use of bilingual contact center agents and the fact that in-store employees, already engaged in local events geared to Latinos, needed support from the online channel. In building the Spanish-language e-commerce site, however, Best Buy felt it needed to replicate the experience shoppers had on the English-language site.

“In order to maintain and gain customer trust, we knew that consistency across the two experiences was critical,” Hawks says. Best Buy noticed differences in the way

Spanish-speaking customers used the e-commerce site. For example, Latino customers spent more time on the site than the average English site visitor and liked to toggle between the Spanish and English versions of the retailer's website.

“Because our sites are mirror versions with the ability to toggle between the two sites, we easily accommodate the customer's need to review the product, promotions and pricing,” Hawks says.

Similarly, CVS/pharmacy's Spanish site allows its Hispanic clientele to manage prescriptions, locate stores, sign up for a rewards program and search the online catalog.

“As digital becomes more fragmented, maintaining a high level of consistency across all our digital platforms is one of the biggest challenges we face,” says Dustin Humphreys, general manager of CVS.com. “For example, while we currently offer Spanish solutions on the Web and via SMS messaging, we do not have a mobile Spanish solution to date.”

Brands setting up a Spanish-language e-commerce site must be able to change tactics as customer desires change. “We have built our Spanish site with an eye towards flexibility that will allow us to adapt to any changes in behavior and provide an optimal experience for all our customers, no matter their preferred language,” Humphreys says.

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