Fingerhut Mails Spanish Books in Chicago

Hispanic catalog buyers may like to order products in Spanish, but they prefer to read product descriptions in English, according to Fingerhut, which has been actively mailing to Hispanics for nine years.

More than 15 percent, or almost $300 million worth, of Fingerhut's sales come from the Hispanic community.

The company mails English-language catalogs with covers, ordering information and instructions in Spanish.

“A lot of our Hispanic customers prefer to read the guts of the catalog in English because descriptions are shorter. Most [Hispanics] reading the description of a Sony stereo or something like that would rather read it in English; however, 70 percent of all of those customers when they place the order, they will [speak] Spanish,” said Raphael Saldana, vice president and general manager of Hispanic business at Fingerhut Companies Inc., Minnetonka, MN, a division of Federated Department Stores Inc., Cincinnati.

Last year, Fingerhut mailed nearly 9 million Spanish catalogs nationwide, and the company plans to produce more than 18 different full-Spanish catalogs this year.

Fingerhut's customer file contains 75 million households in the United States and Puerto Rico, including 31 million active customers. Its database houses information on 1.4 million Spanish-speaking households.

Fingerhut's objective is to convert more Hispanics into mail-order buyers. “[In] most countries in Latin America, the postal service doesn't work, so you don't buy things through the mail because the mail doesn't deliver,” Saldana said. He said that's beginning to change, partly because of the privatization of Latin American postal systems.

The company's most recent effort in converting Hispanics into catalog buyers is a drop of 300,000 books in Chicago this week. The cover of the 56-page catalog, which was designed inhouse, features Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa.

Fingerhut is supporting its Chicago drop with an advertising campaign, including ads in Spanish-language newspapers and on Spanish-language television and radio, as well as outdoor and transit ads. “Our gross pull — how many people react to our offer by placing an order — more than doubles when we support it with a multimedia campaign,” said Saldana.

Last fall, the company tested a major drop in Puerto Rico and discovered that response rates rose above 4 percent when the drop was coupled with an ad campaign, compared with 2 percent when the drop went without ads. “It more than pays for a multimedia effort,” said Saldana.

Fingerhut is testing Hispanic mailings in Chicago for three reasons:

First, unlike Hispanic communities in the southern United States, which may be growing slightly more rapidly than those in Chicago, the city already has a significant Hispanic population, said Saldana. He added that its Hispanic population is growing faster than those in Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

Second, Chicago is a microcosm of the United States in terms of Hispanic demographics, said Saldana. Hispanics comprise approximately 14 percent to 15 percent of Chicago's population and make up about 12 percent to 13 percent of the total U.S. population.

Third, the distribution of Chicago's Hispanic subgroups is similar to that of the United States. Seventy percent of Chicago's Hispanics are Mexican; 17 percent are Puerto Rican, and 4 percent are Cuban, according to Saldana. “At a national level, Puerto Ricans are a little bit over-represented in Chicago, [but] it's the closest [city],” said Saldana.

Within the different Spanish-speaking groups, there are no significant differences in the translation of products offered by the cataloger and Fingerhut uses a universal, formal dialect of Spanish, said Saldana.

The direct marketer uses several list brokers, but Saldana declined to name any firms. The company focuses its efforts on obtaining lists from sources that are not nationally brokered. For example, one source in Puerto Rico provided Fingerhut with 900,000 households that are not available through a broker. “[Catalogers must] have kind of a grassroots effort to find those lists, or you're just going to be mailing [to whomever] everybody else is mailing,” Saldana said. He would not share the sources but said that listeners of Hispanic radio stations who have responded to sweepstakes offers could be good prospects.

The company plans to mail to its Chicago prospects every four to six weeks for three months and then less frequently if they don't respond. “We hit [prospects] several times. Hispanics we tend to promote more heavily and deeper than the Anglo market because the response is there and the pay out is there,” said Saldana.

Saldana refused to share the company's sales figures but said that before the company was bought by Federated last March, total sales approached $2 billion.

Fingerhut has added a new call center in Tucson, AZ, with bilingual customer service representatives. The company plans to launch a Spanish Web site this summer.

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