June 3, 2004, 12:00 AM

Spanish-language web sites become a movement

As more Hispanic consumers take to online shopping in a big way, more e-retailers and manufacturers are saying “habla espanol” to online shoppers.

As more Hispanic consumers take to online shopping in a big way, more e-retailers and manufacturers are saying “habla espanol” to online shoppers. Earlier this year, Baby Universe Inc.’s BabyUniverse.com and Advance Auto Parts Inc.’s Advanced- Auto.com announced Spanish-language versions of their web sites, joining the likes of Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s Sears.com, J. C. Penney Co. Inc.’s JCPenney.com and Office Depot Inc.’s OfficeDepot.com.

Joining their ranks recently is Perry Ellis International, a maker of designer apparel. Perrry Ellis has introduced Spanish-language versions of its Cubavera.com, a site for tropical style men’s apparel, and Havan- era.com, a site for men’s and women’s apparel. “It is essential to integrate language into the identity of these Hispanic brands,” says Lori Medici, vice president of marketing. The two informational sites offer store locators that provide two-click access to retail partners’ e-commerce sites.

Perry Ellis says Havanera and Cubavera combined recorded more than 250,000 image downloads in March. Cubavera’s rose to 215,000 in March from 150,000 in October, while Havanera’s rose to 50,000 from 20,000.

It’s no coincidence that several retailers are moving closer to Hispanic consumers, experts say. Although Hispanic consumers lagged others in adopting the Internet as a shopping tool, they’ve been catching up fast, says John Doscher, senior vice president of online marketing for Hispanic market consultants The Cartel Group. “Hispanics were behind the general U.S. population in using the Internet, but now their Internet usage is growing faster than the general population’s,” he says.

Doscher says that the growth in Internet usage among Hispanics is strongest under age 40, the targeted users of Ellis’s Cubavera and Havanera brands. Young Hispanic consumers appreciate it when retailers cater to their Spanish language and culture, and many like to share web site experiences with older relatives who do not speak English, Doscher adds. “It’s critical to have a Spanish-language retail site,” he says. “Even though many young Hispanics are bilingual, they still speak Spanish more than English, and they’re proud of it.”

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