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Online Sellers Woo Spanish Speakers

Office Depot and Sharper Image have launched Web sites. Other merchants are going in that direction.

May 19, 2003|Anne D'Innocenzio | Associated Press

NEW YORK — While bricks-and-mortar retailers have been actively wooing Latino customers, online merchants are just starting to wake up to the opportunities presented by the fast-growing segment of the U.S. population.

Office Depot Inc. and Sharper Image are among several retailers that have launched sites entirely in Spanish. Last week, America Online launched its first comprehensive Spanish-language national advertising campaign for TV, radio and print.

"[Latinos] are approaching critical mass, and it is only a matter of time before companies begin to take care of this group," said Lisa Strand, an analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, an Internet research company, which earlier this year formed a partnership with Univision, the Spanish-language media company, to more accurately track this population online.

But she said, for now, "it's still a B-list priority for many marketers."

According to ComScore Networks Inc., an Internet research company, only about 3% of all content on the Web is in Spanish.

The problem is that although Latinos have been the fastest-growing segment online since last June, the percentage of Latino households that have Internet access -- about 40% -- still lags far behind that of non-Latino households, which is estimated at 70%, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

According to the most recent Nielsen/NetRatings data, 12.5 million Latinos were on the Web in March, up 17% from a year earlier.

Strand noted that retailers face challenges such as the cost of setting up a site and translating content into Spanish.

Target Corp.'s Target.com is set to come out with merchandising initiatives online in both Spanish and English later this year, and company spokesman Doug Kline said developing an entire site in Spanish is "on the radar screen."

Meanwhile, Sears, Roebuck & Co. has a link on its Web site that allows consumers to read brochures on appliances and consumer electronics in Spanish.

Bill Masterson, a company spokesman, said allowing consumers to make a sales transaction in Spanish is something "we are working toward."

On the other hand, J.C. Penney Co.'s jcpenney.com does not have any of its content in Spanish. "Customers prefer English," said spokeswoman Christi Byrd Smith, although Penny is constantly evaluating the situation. She added that right now the company's telemarketing service in Spanish is sufficient.

Cynthia Lin, spokeswoman at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Walmart.com, said developing a site in Spanish is "not imminent."

And Kmart Holding Corp. said it has no plans at this time to develop a site in Spanish.

Richard Israel, vice president of Latino marketing solutions at ComScore, said that if he were a marketer, he "would be burning the midnight oil" to market to Latinos online. He noted that research shows Latinos spend more on pet supplies, automotive parts, baby supplies and consumer electronics than non-Latinos online.

Office Depot, which launched its all-Spanish Web site in January, is focusing on Latinos both offline and online. There are signs in its stores, for example, that direct consumers to www.espanol.officedepot.com.

The site was developed after the company's studies found that many Latinos who are fluent in English wanted to do their research on large purchases in Spanish, said Monica Luechtefeld, executive vice president of global e-commerce.

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