Crossing the Digital Divide

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Ask Felipe Korzenny, cofounder of Cheskin Research in Belmont, California, what the future holds for the Hispanic digital marketplace and he's got one word: alliances. The recently announced partnership between computer maker Gateway and Web portal Quepasa.com supports his theory, he says. Gateway bought a 7.6 percent stake in Quepasa, which entitles it to be the exclusive provider of computer products on the Latino portal. The two companies will also engage in joint marketing and promotional programs targeted to Hispanics. Marketing to Hispanics isn't completely new to Gateway. Last fall, the computer maker launched toll-free phone lines for Spanish-speaking clients, tech support in Spanish, and other customer-friendly services.

Gateway, Korzenny contends, is on to something - and Cheskin's new study, The Digital World of the U.S. Hispanic, proves it. While household computer penetration has increased 43 percent in the general U.S. population during the past two years, it's risen 68 percent among U.S. Hispanics. "In focus groups, Hispanic consumers tell us that they are adopting the technology because they don't want to be left behind, particularly for their kids' sake," says Korzenny. Roughly 58 percent of Hispanic households in the Cheskin study do not own computers, and of that group, 54 percent plan to buy one in the near future. What's holding back the rest? Price is cited most often - 46 percent of Latino households without computers say they are too expensive - but other factors run close behind. Roughly 40 percent believe they don't need computers, and 29 percent say they are not familiar with them. High-tech companies, Korzenny contends, are partly to blame since few have bothered to educate ! Hispanics about the convenience of computers.

In some ways, wired Hispanics today differ significantly from Hispanics who aren't online. They tend to be better educated (14.4 years of schooling versus 9.5 years among non-users), younger (34 versus 40), and much more likely to own a credit card (75 percent versus 39 percent). Latino Web users also consume fewer hours of Spanish-language media a week than non-users (13 versus 24). Overall, the study finds that Hispanic Web surfers lean more toward English than Spanish - and that preference carries over to the places they frequent online. Roughly 58 percent of Latinos online say they use Yahoo, while only 11 percent mention Quepasa. And Quepasa ranked the highest of any Hispanic-targeted site, including Star Media, Yupi, and El Sitio.

Despite the results, Korzenny still believes there's room for Latino sites online, as long as they understand the needs of their target audience. "Hispanic sites must address the information needs of those who are coming on to the Internet for the first time," he says. "These consumers need orientation on what they can do online."

The study also finds that online Hispanics carry out many of the same activities that the general population does. Three out of four use the Internet for information gathering; 31 percent for sending e-mail. Roughly 25 percent buy products online, with books, music, and airline tickets at the top of their shopping list.

For more information about The Digital World of the U.S. Hispanic, visit www.cheskin.com or call (650) 802-2100.

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