by Terry Soto/strategy consultant and author of “Marketing to Hispanics: A Strategic Approach to Assessing and Planning Your Initiative”
When thinking about the topic for this article, I couldn’t help thinking about what is most salient in the Hispanic community right now. I would have to say without a doubt that it’s the current negative social and political stance against Hispanic immigrants, and the impact on American retail businesses. Current immigration policy has many Hispanics in American neighborhoods running scared and in hiding. The impact is that undocumented Hispanics are no longer filling supermarket parking lots with carloads of family members and walking out with a cartful of groceries as we’re accustomed to seeing them do.
This has been an unexpected shock to retailers. Stores in high Hispanic density neighborhoods where retailers have grown to depend on Hispanic sales for the last two decades (except for the Great Recession), are seeing traffic and sales decline.
Retailers are seeing virtually empty shopping centers, parking lots and streets because Hispanics are afraid to expose themselves to the threat or reality of deportation.
Retailers are concerned and want to know what they can do to bring Hispanic business back to their stores. The Multicultural Retail 360 Retailer Council has asked me to speak on this very topic at this year’s September conference in Chicago. I’ll share with you some of the ideas I plan to share with them.
- Stop taking Hispanic business for granted: It’s quite possible that retailers have taken Hispanics’ spending for granted for many years. Many retailers do little to engage Hispanic customers, expecting them to shop their stores as they are. Do you know how Hispanics shop and the staples that are important to them? Hispanics need to see evidence in your stores that you understand their shopping needs and requirements. When you do, they will see you as a valuable resource.
- Make them feel welcomed: Hispanics feel unwelcomed in America today. They feel uneasy and weary everywhere they go. Is it possible they feel equally unwelcomed in your stores? What can you do to welcome Hispanics into your stores today? What can you do to be more hospitable? Do your employees, bilingual or not, welcome them when they walk into your stores and thank them as they leave? Can Hispanics read your signs or understand your PA system announcements? Hispanics would feel welcomed in your stores if they knew they were appreciated as customers.
- Instill trust: With so much uncertainty in Hispanics’ lives today, it’s important for Hispanics to walk into a store where they know they can trust the management and the employees. They need to feel part of the “family.” Hispanics need to know they can trust you with their patronage. What can you do to make Hispanics trust your store enough to feel safe when they are shopping there?
- Engage with their community: Hispanics have never needed to come together as a community more than now. They will value their relationship with you if they see you engaging with the community. Hispanics will want to engage with you in your stores if they see you are interested in their issues, concerns and needs. How are you willing to demonstrate that you are willing to back them—even if only in spirit?
- Help them: Just as many retailers created ancillary businesses to offer money transfers, check cashing and bill payment services to Hispanics who are unbanked or underbanked, it is now time to set up immigration advisory services in your stores. These could be subsidized at least in part by you, the retailer. What about hosting immigration clinics in your lunchroom or the local community center? How about sponsoring an employee’s family member’s immigration path? It may sound farfetched, but if you value Hispanics’ patronage, it makes good business sense to help them remain your customers and employees. And what better way to instill trust and loyalty?
I’m known for being a very direct consultant. Whether I’m speaking to 10 or hundreds of executives, I’ll always call out the elephant in the room and voice the fact that many of them may not like the demographic and cultural changes in our country. I tell them I know many may not agree with or believe in what I propose because of personal and political ideologies, and that’s okay—at home. At work, I remind them, they’re being paid to overcome challenges and do what makes business sense to grow sales, profits, market share and shareholder value.
Terry Soto is CEO of About Marketing Solutions Inc., a Burbank, California-based strategy consulting firm specializing in helping clients accelerate sales by optimizing their operations to successfully engage Hispanic customers. Contact her at 818-842-9688 or [email protected]
Editor’s note: This guest column appeared in the September issues of The Shelby Report as part of our Multicultural Marketplace feature.