Cultural specialists, such as myself, often will tell you that Mexicans (and Latinos in general) do not respond well to impersonal technologically-oriented means of communication or of selling. Latinos prefer to speak to a human being. It is a culture that is defined by almost everyone as strongly interpersonally oriented. Thus e-commerce in general has not done as well in Mexico as it has done in other countries. And the reasons are not just based on how many people have access to the technology, but also to cultural preferences. So, for example, voice-mail systems in which talking to a human is often labeled Latino-unfriendly. Therefore, Internet often fails because a human contact appears to be difficult (or impossible) . It is a great technology, but it will not work well in Mexico. And indeed, many Mexican firms see little business coming from this technology, and issues such as trust, impersonal treatment, and so on, are often cited as the failure of this technology.
But do not be misguided, even by people like me. Technologies may have a better “fit” with some cultures, but all technologies can be adapted to be a better fit to the culture. This includes, of course, the Internet, an invention that without a doubt has (will) changed the way we do many things, certainly business. It does not matter what the business is: Airline reservations, hotels, restaurants, books, or what have you, increasingly will be traded through this technology.
So what if you want to sell in Mexico, whether you are in the United States, Canada, Europe, or even Mexico? To simply ignore the technology because it seems to have failed is not a stupid reason, but it is a wrong reason. It has failed, because the technology has not been culturally adapted to the Mexican mentality.
I recently had the pleasure of talking to one of the most important and successful firms dealing with E-commerce and Hispanics (in the U.S. ) and Latin Americans in the regions. The firm is called ihispanic. It specializes in helping businesses create sites that are Latino-friendly. In addition, it advises a firm on how to get Latinos to use and buy products and services that a firm may be interested in offering their Latino customers through e-commerce.
According to the President of ihispanic, Eduardo Valadés, what e-commerce needs to do with respect to U.S. Hispanics and Latinos south of the border is to “acculturate” their site, which includes many variables, and which the firm he presents offers to their clients. In terms of unique visits, his firm often perform incredible results, often reaching a ten-fold increase in visits (and thus sales) within months. If you want to have an internet-based business operating wither in Mexico or oriented to Mexicans, you would do well to hire a firm such as ihispanic.
The principle is very simple: Internet is a technology that can be used to fit different cultures. If intrinsically it is “people unfriendly” then you put elements in it that create the possibility of having a human touch. Do not force what is business-sense (i.e., have no humans that you have to pay wages to), but what makes customer-based business sense (have features that human people can easily access).
It is really no different than any other technology or “system” that is in vogue. Those who manage to acculturate it (often referred to as tropicalizing it) do rather well. If technologies appear culturally biased, it is because they are applied in the same way everywhere, but not because in and by itself technology has to be culturally biased. If that were the case, the telephone would have never been a part of the Latino business culture, among many other possible examples. In the end, the process of acculturation is as true for technological processes as it is for humans.