$40 Billion In Cross-Border Latino Retail Sales

This article originally appeared on MediaPost and is an early preview of Latino Link: Building brands online with Hispanic communities and content from Paramount Books.

How much do Mexicans spend annually on trips into the U.S.? Forty billion dollars annually, according to Jennifer Stefano, CEO of Border Billboard, who spoke at the Hispanic Retail 360 conference recently, citing a number of Scarborough and chamber of commerce studies.Do retailers credit this revenue toward a U.S. Hispanic audience or a foreign, Latino (Spanish-speaking) consumer? Either way, the 206 million people (Bureau of Transportation, 2008) that cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. every year increasingly represent a critical piece of revenue for retailers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Meeting the Needs of Latino Consumers

During a store tour for the Hispanic Retail 360 conference, John Battistoni, Las Vegas District Manager for Best Buy, said that 30% of its Las Vegas store’s sales come from Mexicans and Brazilians who visit the U.S. and shop for laptops, digital cameras and GPS systems. How does Best Buy meet the needs of these foreign shoppers? It offers laptops pre-configured in Spanish or Portuguese and GPS systems pre-loaded with maps of foreign cities like Mexico City and Sao Paolo.

Why do Mexicans visit and shop in the U.S.?

Jennifer says Mexicans cross the border for a variety of reasons, usually accomplishing a couple of goals during each visit, including seeing family, shopping, going to work, getting medical attention, and even driving children to U.S. schools.

Kenn Morris, CEO of Crossborder Business Associates, says, “Fifty to seventy percent of cross-border visitors from Mexico do so to shop, spending $110 to $160 per trip. In San Diego County, we found that cross-border shoppers from Tijuana spend $500-$600 per household during the Christmas season.” Kenn estimates that 18-20 million Mexicans cross the border into the U.S. every month, representing $25-30 million in daily retail sales along the border region during normal times of the year. This equates to about $10 billion dollars annually, but he cautions that it does not include capital expenditures like cars, houses or even computers nor does it include Mexicans’ spending on flights into the U.S. or holiday spending.

Twenty-six official border crossings line the U.S.- Mexico border, each with 20-plus lanes of traffic in each direction. With an average wait time of 45 minutes, it surpasses the average commute time of both California and New York City. Because of this high demand, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency offers a kind of “EZ Pass” for frequent, pre-approved border-crossing travelers called SENTRI or, Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection.

Measuring Success

Toni Banuelos, Hispanic marketing manager for Ikea, says, “The Tijuana consumer is important to our San Diego store, and having the opportunity to influence their purchasing decision as they sit idle at the border is a key factor to driving our business from Tijuana.”

Toni says that Ikea asks consumers at point-of-sale for their zip codes. For foreign consumers, it enters a special code for non-U.S. residents. “We know from that data that 7% of our consumers in our San Diego store come from Mexico although we conservatively account for an extra 3% because of additional sales at the self-serve kiosks plus some Mexicans use a U.S. post office box or a zip code from their American relatives.”

How will this international Latino retail revenue grow in the future? As the penetration rates of digital media increase, Mexican consumers will have more tools at their fingertips to compare prices online, enabling them to plan and rationalize trips to the U.S. based upon price or tax savings.

Still, with Internet penetration at 35% and mobile penetration at 80% today in Mexico, retailers can develop IP-targeted media campaigns in Mexico or CRM programs for Mexican consumers who shop in the U.S. via email newsletters and text messaging coupons.

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