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Online Latinos say Adiós to Home Depot

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).
Home Depot
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!
Home Depot Mexico
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.

Comments

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I think it's more about level of education. The Spanish speaking population I work with have a very limited level of education which may have an effect how they access information or if they have access to that information. I worked as a bilingual teacher for about 6 years on Chicago's North Shore. Yes, I agree that to focus on the Spanish speaking group is very challenging because it is so diverse. However, I find it very interesting that Home Depot dropped the Spanish speaking online pages right after this "flu epidemic". At the same time, I understand that Home Depot may have not been getting the hits they needed because a lot of info this population is based on word of mouth.

Now that I work in Little Village for an independent study, I am gathering data and understanding them more and more. I believe the majority of this Spanish speaking group with this particular level of education in Chicago live, work, and play within a small neighborhood. I believe that is cultural, hence, Little Village. Yet I believe business and people are going toward that direction, working and playing within close proximity of where they live.

Thanks for blog!

I agree completely. There are so many other places along the localization spectrum that they could have parked this project.

Here's are two other aspects that don't get a lot of play and probably shouldn't be a pillar in the of the español website biz case, but would be fascinating to see some hard numbers for:

1. Snail Mail Mania - how many people in Latin America pay local postal services to maintain P.O. boxes for them in the US with the express purpose of being able to make online purchases from US retail? In Guatemala, they had to change the customs rules to accommodate these services. So, these are users with international IPs but are true consumers of US Spanish-language sites.
2. Traveling Traffickers - how many people in Latin America either ask their friends, family members, colleagues to bring back items? They go online and order items to be delivered to their friends who then take it all back to Latin America on their next trip. OR consumers in Latin America who plan vacations to the US to shop - they save time by ordering things online and having them delivered to a family member's house.
I know of entire weddings that have been planned and paid for this way. I once took a set of drawer pulls ordered from Home Depot as a gift to Central America.

It would be really fun to be able to link this type of consumer to real purchase $#s.

Juan:

It's probably true that the Spanish-language website is not yet being utilized by their Spanish-language customer base (at least those in the U.S.) at anywhere close to the same percentage as their traditional, English-speaking customers.

But..... it's already up and running; and to pull it back now sends a signal, intended or not, that the company de-values that Spanish-language customer. And you know better than I since you have studied this more, but loyalty is a strong marketing tool in the Spanish/Hispanic market. Considering the tough economic climate, now is NOT the time to disenfranchise, what for Home Depot is, clearly a large customer-base.

So, this appears to be a classic corporate situation where a decision is made in one area of the company that does not fully understand the impact it has on another area.

More importantly, it suggests that there was no one within the organization at a high-enough level to champion the needs of their Spanish-language customers.

I know the conversation that went down in that boardroom. I hear it almost every day. "Hispanics aren't using the Internet! It's too expensive. It's too complicated; or they prefer to talk to people face to face," whatever...

And there was no one else in that boardroom who could correct, much less ridicule, that point of view.

Bottomline: If you saw more Hispanics in the "C-Suite" at companies, you would see more Spanish-language e-commerce sites.

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