May 30, 2008, 12:00 AM

¿Se Habla Español?

(Page 2 of 3)

Best Buy hired Spanish-speaking call center agents and in stores added Spanish-language kiosks and gave associates badges that welcome customers in Spanish.

As for the web site, Best Buy had MotionPoint translate almost all the product pages, more than 12,000 SKUs, a 110-day project that was completed in late September, just before the holiday rush, Grace says. A four-person team manages the Spanish site, including one staffer who checks all new translations.

Among the categories not translated were movies and music that are not complex purchases. “When you’re buying a computer or a refrigerator, you want to fully understand the intricate details,” she says.

Next: Customer reviews

In fact, Best Buy research shows the preference for shopping in Spanish is stronger when customers shop for complex products like home theater systems or computers. Customers are printing out product detail pages from the Spanish site and bringing them into stores, and call center agents are using the Spanish web content to help Spanish speakers on the phone, Grace says.

Ratings and reviews have not been translated, although Grace says Best Buy hopes to do so in the future. That could be important, as JupiterResearch says Hispanic consumers are more than twice as likely as others-22% versus 10%-to say they were influenced to make unplanned purchases after reading a favorable online customer review.

Some customers-less than 20%, according to Best Buy surveys-toggle back and forth between the English and Spanish sites. Asked why, some say they want to compare the two translations, while others are confused by the wording in one language and go to the other site seeking clarification. Some customers say they want to be sure they are getting the same deal on the Spanish site as on the English site, “suggesting that the customer is still building confidence in online retailers, perhaps,” Grace says.

The Spanish site aims to encourage Hispanics to consider Best Buy, and the growing traffic suggests it’s working, Grace says.

Rosas for Mama

While Best Buy so far has displayed the same merchandise on its Spanish site as on the English site, 1-800-Flowers.com tweaks the product assortment to present items on 1-800-Flowers en Español that have particular appeal to Hispanic customers. That means more roses and brightly colored offerings.

“What bubbles up from our Mother’s Day report is roses, vibrant colors and very colorful arrangements,” says Tania Peralta, general manager of the Spanish-language site.

More than 80% of the products available on the English site are also available on the Spanish site, which went live in late January, Peralta says. A team of about a half-dozen oversees the Spanish site, and the retailer, which previously had a few Spanish-speaking agents, has beefed up its Spanish-language call center staff to about a half-dozen.

Visitors to a Spanish-language site will expect a retailer to provide help in Spanish and the difficulty of attracting bilingual personnel has kept automotive site StylinTrucks.com from adding Spanish content, says Roy Bielewicz, director of Internet marketing for the Cleveland-based company.

For PlumberSurplus.com, the hiring of a bilingual staffer a year ago enabled the web retailer to take a few steps toward better serving Spanish-speaking customers. Under the toll-free number on the Contact Us page is a note “Hablamos español” (we speak Spanish), and calls from Spanish speakers are routed to the Spanish-speaking employee, Arianna Sanchez, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Texas.

She also answers e-mail from Spanish speakers and handles live chats in Spanish when she’s in the office. During Sanchez’s working hours, the company places Spanish-language ads on search results pages, hoping to drive Spanish speakers to the plumbing supplies and housewares site.

The click-through rate on Spanish ads is 2.10%, versus 3.64% for English ads. But calculating the conversion rate is difficult, because many of the Spanish speakers ultimately call to place orders rather than completing them online, says Josh Mauldin, customer service manager.

“They do need a lot of handholding because they’re new to the Internet,” Sanchez says. She recalls helping one customer who called to place an order on the site, walking him through each step. “He has now placed three or four more orders on his own, but then he contacts me to tell me, because he wants to hear someone on the other side of the transaction,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez is now working on translating the Terms and Conditions page of the site into Spanish, which the retailer hopes will minimize customer concerns about ordering online. She expected that would take 10 to 12 hours to complete, but admits the process, which includes conferring with Spanish-speaking friends about the translation, is taking longer than she had anticipated.

Is there demand?

Some other major retailers, including Office Depot Inc. and electronics retailer Crutchfield Corp., have translated major portions of their web sites into Spanish. Others display only customer service information or a contact page in Spanish.

For instance, J.C. Penney Co. Inc., has since November 2004 had a “para ayuda” (help) link on the home page of JCP.com, and has Spanish-speaking agents available to help customers around the clock. The retailer has not had many requests for additional Spanish-language web content, a spokeswoman says.

Demand for Spanish could diminish over time as more of the Hispanic population growth is organic-births among U.S. Hispanics outpacing deaths. The latest Census Bureau data shows 59% of the increase in the U.S. Hispanic population from 2000 to 2007 was organic, and only 41% resulted from immigration. Immigrants account for 82% of Spanish-preferring online Hispanics, Forrester says, and each succeeding generation becomes more proficient in English.

Still, if Spanish dominance decreases from about 42% of U.S. Hispanics today to 35% in five years when the Hispanic population is 50 million, that’s still more than 17 million consumers who prefer to speak in Spanish, a big market to ignore, says Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University.

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