By Juan Tornoe
A good friend sent me a quite disturbing message late last week: “Home Depot is shutting down their Spanish language website”.
I was quite perplexed given that just a couple months ago Home Depot was announcing with much fanfare the site’s launch, “a replicate of the English language e-commerce site, with 40,000 products available to online shoppers”.
I agree that maintaining 40K plus pages up to date can be a Goliath-sized feat, especially in the midst of this economic crisis, but completely eliminating all Spanish language online presence is quite a radical shift. Wasn’t there a middle of the road compromise? At the very least they could have kept (as they had before) a basic Spanish language online presence, sharing, in their own words, “know-how information for home improvement projects”. From there they could have clearly redirected people to buying online IN ENGLISH or to visit any of their convenient locations where bilingual personnel would be willing and ready to serve them in their own language (ad jargon intended).
It has been reported that the main reason of shutting the site down was “that half of the visitors to the site were from other countries”, which is not the same information that Spanish speaking do-it-yourselfers now encounter when visiting espanol.homedepot.com: “Hemos escuchado a nuestros clientes hispanos y lo han dicho claramente: el lugar más importante para centrar nuestros esfuerzos son nuestras tiendas”. Paraphrasing in English: We have listened to our Hispanic clients’ voices loud and clear: Our stores are the most important place where we should center all our efforts. Hmm. Can someone please tell me how these two statements relate? It is a well known fact that many U.S. Spanish language sites get a fair amount of traffic – to say the least – from Latin America. Given the lack of quality information currently available from South of the Border websites, Latin American web surfers are attracted, like flies to honey, to U.S. based sites, especially if they are in Spanish. Just check Univision.com in Alexa and you’ll see that only 33.1% of their traffic comes from the United States… Wow! They are even in a worst position than what Home Depot en Español claimed!
To say the least it is quite disappointing to see one of the largest retail companies in the U.S. take a step back on this arena. I've always said that giving Latinos access to INFORMATION in their language of choice is of primordial importance to any company in America. Also I have said that companies should not expect to get the same results they are getting from their English site on its Spanish counterpart. Traffic will most likely be lower; visitors will be mostly looking for information, rather than to buy online, but those who do end up buying will be delighted (if the experience is a good one) to be able to purchase right there and then in their own language, from a brand they’ve come to know and trust. Thankfully, there are other major retailers, like Best Buy, who are still committed to maintaining a Spanish online presence.
Having a Spanish language section of their website is now part, from where I stand from, of a company’s cost of doing business. If the largest minority in the States were from Denmark, I’d say they’d have to also have their sites in Danish! Bottom line, it is all about dollars and cents. If early on you manage to turn some of those visitors into paying customers that would be some very sweet icing on the cake. At this point in time you are mostly establishing a relationship with, and gaining the trust and goodwill of, the small but growing number of online Spanish dominant Latinos, knowing that they will become more sophisticated online consumers as time passes and they will have your company’s name right there at “Número Uno” when they are ready to purchase online whatever product or service you are offering.
Then there’s the emotional aspects involved with establishing deeper, more emotional and profitable relationships with English-dominant Latinos who will see your company as one they want to do more business with, given that it openly recognizes, through – among other things – the investment in the Spanish language site, that the entire Latino market is important to you.
As far as getting traffic from outside the U.S., it is actually an opportunity. Through geo-targeting you could sell advertising on your information pages while at the same time develop partnerships with similar companies in Latin America, with whom you could service clients in the region. Doesn’t Home Depot own stores in Mexico? They do! And even have a website for it: http://homedepot.com.mx BTW, it is (drum roll please) En Español!
Giving credit to part of Home Depot’s strategy, indeed it is important to cater face to face to Spanish dominant Latinos at your place for business, and it is good business practice doing it through the use of signage and the hiring of bilingual staff. That said, not all Latinos are Spanish dominant and you must never mistake Spanish outreach with Hispanic outreach. The Latino community is way too diverse to try simplifying it that way.
I truly hope that Home Depot reconsiders its decision.