November 17th, 2008

Home Depot's New Web Site Opens Door To Hispanics

By Ann Zimmerman and Miguel Bustillo
The Wall Street Journal

Home Depot Inc. is aiming to tap into the nation’s burgeoning Hispanic population with a new Spanish-language version of its Web site, joining only a handful of other large U.S. retailers offering the online option.

The home-improvement retailer’s Spanish site, which launches Monday, replicates its English language e-commerce site, with 40,000 products available to online shoppers.

Home Depot, like many other national retailers, views Hispanics as a lucrative growth opportunity. A study of English and Spanish-language consumers conducted last year by Forrester Research Inc. found that one-fourth of Hispanics must be served in Spanish if retailers want their business. More than half of Hispanics who shop online—7.1 million people, by Forrester’s count—prefer Spanish.

Hispanics accounted for one-half of the U.S. population growth between 2004 and 2005 and are expected to reach 102.6 million people by 2050. Forrester expects Hispanic shoppers online to exceed 17 million by 2011.

Few major retailers have developed Spanish-language web-sites comparable to their English versions. Most have limited sites with only a few Spanish-language features, where Spanish-speakers still must use English to buy online.

Neither Wal-Mart Stores Inc. nor Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Sears and Kmart stores, offer Spanish-language online shopping. Home Depot rival, Lowe’s Cos., has a small Spanish-language site devoted to home improvement and decorating trends, but doesn’t offer the ability to shop online in Spanish.

“We are looking at a Spanish language e-commerce site, but have no timeline for implementing one,” a Lowe’s spokeswoman said.

With such limited competition, Home Depot viewed a Spanish-language site as a chance to grab a bigger market share of a fast-growing customer base. Hispanic consumers surveyed by Home Depot said they prefer shopping in Spanish even if they’re bilingual. Researching home-improvement projects in English is more difficult, Hispanics reported, and buying products in their native tongue made them more comfortable, said Lyne Castonguay, vice president of merchandising at Home Depot.

Best Buy Co., another retailer offering Spanish-language online shopping, said its site offers bilingual descriptions of more than 12,000 products, including service plans and gift cards. It also allows customers to click a button and talk to a Spanish-speaker customer-service representative.

Employees also use the site for in-store customer service, printing product specifications in Spanish for Hispanic customers, said Lisa Hawks, spokeswoman for the consumer electronics chain.

“We sell a lot of products that are fairly complex, and what we found is that Spanish-speaking customers really appreciated having detailed descriptions of those products in Spanish,” said Ms. Hawks.

Best Buy has learned through surveys that customer-satisfaction rates on the Spanish site are higher than on the English site. And the site is “stickier,” meaning that customers spend more time on the Spanish site than on English site, said Ms. Hawks.

Home Depot’s new Spanish-language Web site is part of a larger initiative by the retailer to cater to Hispanics. Several years ago, Home Depot set up a partnership with Telemundo to create the first Spanish home improvement show and instituted bilingual signage and packaging in its stores. It also conducts bilingual how-to clinics and kids’ workshops in stores located in top Hispanic markets.

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