Office Depot Inc. and Sharper Image are among the handful of retailers that have launched sites entirely in Spanish. This past week, America Online launched its first comprehensive Spanish language national advertising campaign for TV, radio and print.
"(Hispanics) are approaching critical mass, and it is only a matter of time before companies begin to take care of this group," said Lisa Strand, an analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, an Internet research company, which earlier this year formed a partnership with Univision, the Spanish language media company, to more accurately track this population online.
But she said, for now, "it's still a B-list priority for many marketers."
According to comScore Networks, Inc., an Internet research company, only about 3 percent of all content on the Web is in Spanish.
The problem is that although Hispanics have been the fastest-growing segment online since last June, the percentage among Hispanic households that have Internet access - about 40 percent - still lags far behind that of non-Hispanic households, which is estimated at 70 percent, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
According to the most recent Nielsen/NetRatings data, 12.5 million Hispanics were on the Web in March, up 17 percent from the year-ago period.
Strand noted that retailers face such challenges as costs of setting up a site as well as translating content into Spanish.
Target.com is set to come out with merchandising initiatives online in both Spanish and English later this year, and company spokesman Doug Kline said that developing an entire site in Spanish is "on the radar screen."
Meanwhile, Sears, Roebuck and Co. has a link to its Web site that allows consumers to read brochures on appliances and consumer electronics in Spanish. Bill Masterson, a company spokesman, said allowing consumers to make a sales transaction in Spanish is something "we are working toward."
On the other hand, jcpenney.com does not have any of its content in Spanish. "Customers prefer English," said Christi Byrd Smith, a company spokeswoman, although Penny is constantly evaluating the situation. She added that right now the company's telemarketing service in Spanish is sufficient.
Cynthia Lin, spokeswoman at Walmart.com, said that developing a site in Spanish is "not imminent." And Kmart Holding Corp said it has no plans at this time to develop a site in Spanish, Abigail Jacobs, a company spokeswoman, said.
Richard Israel, vice president of Hispanic marketing solutions at comScore, believes that if he were a marketer, he "would be burning the midnight oil" to market Hispanics online. He noted that research shows Hispanics spend more on pet supplies, automotive parts, baby supplies and consumer electronics than non-Hispanics online.
Office Depot, which launched its all Spanish Web site in January, is focusing on Hispanics both off- and online, as they form the fastest-growing segment in the small business sector. There are signs in the stores, for example, that direct consumers to the Web site: www.espanol.officedepot.com.
The site was developed after their own studies found that even those who are fluent in English wanted to do their research on large purchases in Spanish, said Monica Luechtefeld, executive vice president of global e-commerce.
By Anne D'Innocenzio