Minority Rules

Ethnic minority groups are stepping up their online activity. Do you have what it takes to meet their needs?
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Your website already reaches the general public. But have you considered targeting specific ethnic groups to ring in additional sales?

Roughly 13.8 million Hispanics in the United States accessed the internet from home, work or college in December 2004, according to research from ComScore Media Metrix, a division of ComScore Networks Inc. In addition, 9.9 million African Americans and 4.2 million Asian Americans accessed the internet that month.

Many e-tailers and netpreneurs are taking notice and reaching out to these markets more aggressively. While doing so can potentially pay off for almost any kind of business, experts point to health and beauty, food, home, and wedding-related products as categories best suited for the strategy.

Before targeting ethnic groups on the internet, though, it's important to understand that such an undertaking requires time, effort and money. "While the trend among retailers continues to be launching language-specific websites, such as Spanish- or Chinese-language sites, setting one up can be a challenging task for smaller e-tailers," says Heather Dougherty, a senior retail analyst at Nielsen//NetRatings in New York City. "Smaller e-tailers usually have a very small and specific marketing budget, and parsing it out among specific ethnic groups can be difficult."

Answering the Call

Sometimes, however, targeting a specific ethnic group is important enough to make it a key part of an e-business plan. Consider Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game Inc., a Santa Clarita, California-based website that analyzes and shares information with members about coupons that appear in the Sunday newspapers. When Gault started the company in 2000, she made its list available mainly to members in Southern California. However, in 2003, the company began offering franchises to people throughout the United States and now offers the list in 37 states.

Almost since the company started, "we had people contacting us who wanted to see the list in Spanish," says Gault, 45, who expects sales to hit $5 million this year. Currently, Spanish is the first language for 3 percent of The Grocery Game's members. As a result, Gault plans to launch a Spanish-language version of her website by this fall that will mirror the English-language site. To reach the site, Spanish-speaking consumers will click on a link that will send them to the Spanish-language site.

To accomplish the task, the company had to build a new website that integrates with its current site and its automatic billing, password access, ordering and transaction processing. It then had to hire a translator to translate the site's text. The total cost of creating the new site was about $100,000, and Gault expects it to increase 2006 sales 5 to 10 percent. The company also hired some Spanish-speaking personnel to answer customer-service e-mail messages.

A lower-cost alternative to hiring a multilingual employee is to use translation software. There are a variety of companies that offer this type of software.

On Target

Another e-tailer targeting ethnic groups is The Rosemary Company, a Tecumseh, Michigan, business offering gifts and favors for weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, anniversaries, parties and memorials. "[People started] asking if we had any products targeted to African Americans, so we added some to see how it would go over," says Judith Cheney, 58-year-old president and founder of the $1 million business. "It went over well, so we started adding more products. It's been a tremendous market for us."

Later this year, the company plans to add more products for blacks and will also launch web pages devoted specifically to those products. Cheney estimates these pages will cost about $500 each to build. She is also planning to launch pages targeting Hispanics, and estimates this addition will cost about $5,000 to build because she would like to write them in Spanish.

One clear benefit of this strategy is that separate pages targeting ethnic groups will most likely be found higher up in search engines. "Customers who are searching for African-American merchandise are likely to use the terms African American, black and Afrocentric in their searches," says Jamila White, an internet strategist in Bowie, Maryland, who consults on online marketing. "By including terms that are relevant to their niche markets, businesses increase the likelihood of connecting with those customers." White provides more details in Attracting Black Customers Online, a 90-minute audio course available at www.ecommercediva.com.

Will targeting ethnic groups be a part of your plan? Before making that decision, remember that any marketing initiative needs focus, attention to detail and follow-through.

Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.

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