Spanish Language Portals: The E-Ticket

E-businesses, Internet Service Providers and technology firms are increasingly setting their collective sights on the fastest-growing minority population in the United States: Hispanics.

Naturally, Spanish-speaking populations are already the target of forward-moving Internet organizations in Latin America. However, many of these same companies have not yet reached out to the abundant population of Spanish-speaking citizens who reside in the U.S.

However, change is in the air.

Sending A Message With Dollars

Last year, according to Hispanic Business Magazine, U.S. companies spent $1.7 billion (US$) to advertise to the U.S. Hispanic community. Most of this money was spent on television advertising, but with the rapid shift to Internet commerce, upcoming dollars from those same companies will likely be spread among Internet sites as well.

Advertisers are finally beginning to recognize the size of the Hispanic community and are eyeing it with a keen interest. After all, approximately 13 million U.S. Spanish-speaking households are already online, and 2.3 million Hispanic small businesses are using the Internet.

Spanish language Web sites and portals are thriving, not only in the U.S., but also internationally. Evidently, these online ventures are a step ahead of U.S. government agency statistics. For example, the U.S. Commerce Department says that Latino households are still roughly half as likely to own a computer as Caucasian households, and nearly 2.5 times less likely to use the Internet.

U.S. Companies Aware

Confident that these numbers will grow, a number of U.S. companies are not only aggressively attempting to appeal to the Hispanic market, but are taking visible steps to cater their e-commerce operations to Latino Internet users. Sears, Roebuck & Co., for one, plans to offer Internet sales on its Spanish-language Web site starting early next year. Sears estimates that of its 850 full-line stores, 160 have a significant Hispanic customer base.

The company plans to market directly to its existing Hispanic customer base, as well as to Latin Americans who travel to the U.S. to shop.

Gateway, Inc. is also on board. Last fall, the company announced a marketing blitz aimed at the Spanish language market, beginning with 10 American cities with large Hispanic populations.

Although Gateway is only spending a cautious $2.5 million for advertising aimed at Hispanics in 1999, that figure may rise as high as $25 million next year if it achieves its goal of becoming the PC sales leader to the Hispanic population.

Empowered By Portals

The various Spanish-language portals have differing goals, but empowering the Hispanic community seems important to them all. When financial news portal Bloomberg launched a site for Spanish speaking Internet users last spring, it cited its target audience’s particular needs, including the ability to track foreign financial markets, convert currencies, and follow Latin-American stocks.

It is only logical that Spanish-language portals will be critical to success in reaching the Hispanic e-commerce market, because Spanish-speaking Internet users are still faced with a majority of sites presented only in English.

The emerging leader seems to be StarMedia Network, a portal originally directed to Latin America’s population, but one that is now frequented by U.S. Hispanics as well. However, other portals are right on its heels, including Quepasa.com, Yupi.com, eHola and Latinolink.

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