June 3, 2008, 12:00 AM

What Best Buy has learned from its Spanish-language e-commerce site

Visitors spend about twice as much time on the Spanish-language version of Best Buy’s site than on the English version, which could indicate they’re hungry for information not previously available in their native tongue.

Best Buy Co. launched a Spanish-language version of its web site in September. While emphasizing its too early to draw firm conclusions, the consumer electronics retailer has noted some differences in how consumers use the Spanish site compared with the primary English-language site.

“Customers are spending roughly double the amount of time on the Spanish site as English-language customers,” says Ana Grace, the retailer’s Spanish site manager. “We’re wondering, is that because they haven’t had this level of detail before and are really digging in? We’re not sure.” Spanish speakers could well be hungry for online product information, as only 18 of the 102 largest online retail sites had any Spanish content in late 2006, according to research firm Common Sense Advisory Inc.

While many U.S. Hispanics are bilingual, Best Buy says its research shows their preference for Spanish increases when they’re considering complex products, such as computers and home theater systems. With that in mind, Best Buy translated most of its site into Spanish, 12,000 SKUs, but not more easily understood products such as movies and music. One anecdotal indication of how Spanish speakers use the new site is that Best Buy employees are reporting customers coming into stores with printouts of product information from the Spanish-language site, Grace says.

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 this customer is still building confidence in online retailers, perhaps,” Grace says.

Best Buy, No. 12 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, is not reporting sales figures for its Spanish-language site, but Grace says traffic is growing and many Spanish-speaking customers have commented favorably on the Spanish content. In addition, she says, the Spanish site gets higher marks on such survey questions as “would you refer to a friend?” and “would you return?” than the English site.

MotionPoint Corp. did the translation for Best Buy and hosts the Spanish-language site. When Best Buy adds new content to its English site MotionPoint translates it into Spanish within 12 hours, and can do it in four hours for a higher fee, Grace says.

Best Buy would not say how much the translation project has cost. Chuck Whiteman, senior vice president of client services at MotionPoint, says a major web site translation project can cost “a couple of million dollars” plus another 30% of the start-up cost each year to maintain the site.

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