Hispanics: An Untapped E-Commerce Opportunity

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While marketers and retailers increasingly focus on the $690 billion Hispanic market, little attention has been given to this ethnic group's presence on the Web. Whereas more marketers are diverting general market ad dollars to point-of-purchase destinations online, similar overtures have not been made in minority communities. This is especially the case with the Hispanic marketplace.


For example, last year more than $3 billion was spent in targeted niche advertising toward the Hispanic population in America. However, only a small fraction of this was spent on online advertising, with the bulk going toward print, television and radio campaigns.


Why Now


The key obstacles that traditionally exclude minorities in non-cash and carry fiduciary exchanges are breaking down. While Hispanics still hold bank accounts and credit card accounts at a much lower rate than the mainstream U.S. population, that paradigm is shifting. The reasons for this change are twofold, one economic and one institutional.


Economically, with annual incomes exceeding $100,000, Hispanics are among the fastest-growing upwardly mobile segments of American society.


With increased income comes greater involvement in traditional American commercial indulgences such as home and car ownership, family vacations and personal electronics like home computers.


So, now you have a population with more means and the broadband technology to make e-commerce part of their buying habits. The tendencies of the upscale Hispanic community are no different from that of the rest of the population.


As Hispanics become more acculturated into American society, and second and third generations are born, their tastes begin to resemble more of the mainstream, and this carries into their commercial habits as well.


Fifteen years ago much of the Hispanic shopping dollars went to small neighborhood stores. Today much of that money is spent at mainstream chain stores like Wal-Mart and Target. It is only logical that the online realm is the next step for Hispanic consumers with increased earnings.


Besides increased wealth, the evolution of alternative means of credit has also opened the door to Hispanics using the Internet as a point of purchase. Prepaid cellular carriers are an excellent example of reaching a market that is wary of credit cards or has poor credit. The success of Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile proves that minority consumers are eager to take advantage of services when credit is not a concern.


Now companies have taken the same no-credit friendly approach to banking. Visa, MasterCard and Discover are all active in marketing their prepaid credit cards. Besides appealing to parents and giving their children banking lessons, prepaid credit cards have become popular among minorities who are credit-wary. Having a form of plastic purchasing power opens up the Web as a commerce destination to many Hispanic Americans.


Who's Getting It and Why


Like mainstream Americans, Hispanics go online to seek information. And they want it in an easy-to-understand form. From younger-generation Hispanics who visit general-market sites looking to book a spring break vacation with their first credit card to families shopping for the best deal on a new car, the opportunities are endless.


Web sites like Yahoo en Espanol, ESPN Deportes and Southwest Airlines' site make it easy to access bilingual information without feeling as if you are accessing services inferior to the English version.The bilingual factor is essential in e-commerce outreach to the Hispanic community. While much of the U.S. Hispanic population is fluent in English, for many the comfort level is with the Spanish language. By offering bilingual sites, companies give the Hispanic community a choice and show that they are important consumers.


Acquiring Customers


Acquiring Hispanic customers is done on two fronts. First is the integration of the Web site into other ad streams geared toward Hispanics, like print, television or radio. ESPN does a great job of this with its Deportes TV network and site. The second is advertising in key Spanish print publications like Hoy, La Opinion, and El Diario, as well as in locations where Hispanics already are frequenting. This includes the popular online Spanish magazine Lavox.com, which is a very celebrity news-driven, Spanish-language site.


Difficulties


In terms of obstacles, the Web is no different from other media streams designed to target Hispanics. While Mexicans make up more than two-thirds of the Hispanic population in this country, companies viewing Hispanics as a singular block run the risk of alienating the demographic.


Providing an array of options and activities that would be appealing to natives from Latin America as well as Puerto Rico is essential in long-term loyalty online.


While there are going to be some growing pains in marketing to Hispanics online, its long-term economic possibilities will be increasingly important to a company's bottom line in the coming years.


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