Despite—And Actually Because Of—The Numbers, Hispanic Retail Sites Are A Bad Idea

Written by Evan Schuman
July 27th, 2011

With more than 30 million Hispanic consumers in the U.S. spending tens of billions of dollars a year, it would seem to be a no-brainer that major retail chains should have Spanish-language versions of their sites. In reality, not only is it not a no-brainer to create such a site, it turns out to be an impressively bad idea to try.

It’s not that the Hispanic segment is not a critically important one for retail. It absolutely is. But the reality is that there are far better ways to reach that audience than a Spanish Web site—and that such site creations come with massive downsides.

At the top of the list of reasons to not create such a site is simple economics. It’s not a trivial investment to create a full version of a chain’s site in another language—more on some of the huge non-monetary expenses shortly—which means that the benefits have to overcome that. And that’s where the math comes in.

Lee Vann is the CEO of Captiva, a digital marketing agency specializing in Hispanic sites. Vann makes his argument for why retailers should not launch Hispanic sites by breaking down Hispanic figures, starting with the roughly 30 million Hispanic consumers in the U.S. who are regularly shopping online.

“More than half of those 30 million actually prefer English. That takes the market from 30 million to 15 million,” Vann said. When he then removes bilingual consumers who are equally comfortable with both English and Spanish—a group that clearly neither needs nor particularly craves a Spanish version of a retailer’s site—that brings the Spanish-preferring number closer to six million. “And many of them are still comfortable with English,” even though it’s not their preference, Vann said.

“Compare that to the U.S. online market of about 280 million people,” he said, and the cost-benefit ratio of reaching that audience “would be astronomical.”

But the numbers get worse yet. For retailers selling certain types of products that the customer already knows well, Spanish descriptions may not even be necessary. “For many E-Commerce sites, a product is a product. When it comes to SKUs, product images and descriptions, most people can figure that out,” Vann said.

Indeed, when it comes to specs, pricing and measurement, the numbers and the universal terms, much of the “just the facts, ma’am” has always been fairly language neutral. It’s when the text moves into marketing promotional phrasing that language nuances kick in.

And therein lies another huge language problem.


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