Holá, You've Got Mail!

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When it comes to home electronics, most Hispanic Americans haven't exactly been early adopters. But a new study claims that this demographic group is finally ready to get wired. While 63 percent of the U.S. population already owns a desktop or laptop computer, just 39 percent of Hispanics do. But almost half (45 percent) of Hispanics who do not already own a computer say they are interested in buying one over the next two years, compared with 22 percent of all consumers in the U.S. In fact, one-third of Hispanic consumers who do not already own a computer plan to purchase one in the coming year.

These results were among the findings in a new study, the “Hispanic Consumer Electronic Market Overview,� conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit trade association. The telephone survey polled 921 adults of Hispanic origin in the New York City, Miami and Los Angeles areas during August 2001. The findings were released in September. While not a nationally representative sample, these three cities are home to 36 percent of the total U.S. Hispanic population.

Although an interest in purchasing a computer rates high among Hispanic consumers who do not already own one, the demand for other electronic devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mini satellite dish systems is far lower. Overall, 1 in 3 (32 percent) Hispanics say they're not very or not at all interested in electronic products, compared with 19 percent of the general population who say the same. For some Hispanics with lower household incomes, this lack of interest in electronics other than computers has financial roots, but for others, it has more to do with perceived value. Many Hispanics view a computer as a gateway to information and a way to fit into the American mainstream, while a PDA is just a fancy notebook, says Sean Wargo, senior industry analyst with the Consumer Electronics Association. Language may also be an issue, as many advertisements and packaging for these products are in English only.

In fact, the Hispanic digital divide mirrors a language divide. For instance, while only 7 percent of Hispanics whose primary language is Spanish bought a product online over the past six months, 17 percent of bilinguals and 34 percent of those who mainly speak English shopped on the Web. And while 1 in 4 Hispanics born in the U.S. bought online, just 1 in 10 of those born elsewhere did. Similarly, in the past six months, only 22 percent of Hispanics who primarily speak Spanish at home sent or received e-mail, compared with 49 percent of bilinguals and 64 percent of those who primarily speak English.

The findings point to the need for a more user-friendly multilingual selling process that starts with the manufacturer and ends on the selling room floor, Consumer Electonics' Wargo says. Even for English speakers, differentiating between often confusing electronics options and accessories can be daunting, and the problem is magnified for many Hispanic consumers. The vast majority of the Hispanic population considers Spanish-speaking salespeople (70 percent), Spanish owner's manuals (67 percent) and Spanish product packaging (64 percent) important. Not surprisingly, Spanish language usage is more important to consumers who predominantly speak Spanish at home, but it is also an important factor for the majority of bilingual consumers and a large segment of English-speaking Hispanics. Of those who are bilingual at home, 55 percent say it's important that their salesperson speak Spanish, and 34 percent of Hispanic consumers who mainly speak English at home agree.

For more information, contact Jeff Joseph of the Consumer Electronics Association at (703) 907-7664 or visit www.CE.org.

Salsa and Computer Chips

Among Hispanic non-computer owners, 58 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds plan to buy a computer in the next two years, compared with 46 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

PERCENT OF HISPANICS WHO CURRENTLY DO NOT OWN BUT ARE PLANNING TO BUY THE FOLLOWING PRODUCTS IN THE NEXT TWO YEARS:

HISPANIC* 18-24 25-34 30-49 50+
Camcorder 47% 59% 54% 58% 21%
Desktop/laptop computer 45% 46% 58% 60% 17%
Cellular or PCS phone 41% 56% 55% 43% 20%
Digital camera 36% 50% 41% 40% 15%
DVD player 36% 51% 38% 43% 16%
Car CD player 30% 46% 35% 30% 16%
Personal portable CD player 30% 43% 38% 35% 13%
Mini satellite dish system 27% 33% 35% 27% 14%
Videogame system 27% 43% 38% 30% 7%
Home security system 26% 27% 31% 28% 17%
Home theater system 24% 33% 30% 24% 13%
Personal digital assistant 18% 24% 23% 18% 8%
*Based on a survey of Hispanic consumers in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. Source: Consumer Electronics Association
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