June 8, 2006, 12:00 AM

How Puma learned to speak Spanish

In its pursuit of Spanish speakers in the Americas, Puma North America wrestled with how to break the language barrier while preserving profits.

When German-based athletic shoe manufacturer Puma relaunched online in the Americas a few years ago, it faced a potential problem in Latin America that it does not in the U.S. and Canada: English would not be the primary language of the customer. And the difference was not just one language, but several.

“Some countries in Latin America are multi-lingual,” Craig Davidson, director of business intelligence and e-commerce for Puma North American, told attendees at “Tapping America’s Second Market,” a breakout session at the IR 2006 Conference & Exhibition in Chicago this week.

In looking to continue its expansion through the Americas, “The killer was language,” Davidson said. “There were huge issues we had to solve. We couldn’t start a huge bureaucracy around language if it would erode our profits.” For it wasn’t simply a matter of translating a static site. Davidson noted that Puma’s collections turn over every 30-45 days, which left the company struggling with the questions of how often it would need to translate a Spanish-speaking site and how it could avoid frequent translation, without offering a limited selection so as to reduce the translation workload.

And there were other issues. While Puma’s advertising campaigns were based on graphic images that were universally understandable, the needs of navigation on the country sites were language-dependent. Furthermore, it had to support multi-lingual sites with multi-lingual customer service.

Ultimately, Puma chose to address Spanish speakers in U.S. for now, but its solution could provide a blueprint for eventual expansion into countries in Latin America. In choosing the TransMotion content management and translation system from MotionPoint Corp., it resolved for its U.S. Spanish-speaking market many of the same challenges it would face in launching country-specific sites in Latin America–or in fact, any other country where English isn’t the mother tongue. MotionPoint’s system combines human translation services with software to render and keep updated a Spanish language version of Puma`s site, without requiring Puma to go to the expense of building and maintaining a Spanish language site from the ground up.

Sales expectations for the Spanish language site were conservative, Davidson said, with the company regarding the project as a cost of doing business. That said, results exceeded expectations, with Puma garnering about the same revenue from that site as from its longer-established Canadian site. Language issues–for instance, how to translate slang and idioms–continue, but consumer complaints about it are minimal, he said. In fact, Puma has used the same vendor to add a French-speaking site in Canada, may continue an expansion into Latin America and may also expand into more languages in its U.S. e-commerce program, Davidson added.


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