Business needs to focus on capturing hearts and minds of immigrants, just as with any consumers

Immigrants and their children make up nearly a quarter of the American population. Immigrants are fast becoming a coveted voting bloc and valuable consumers. Businesses are trying to figure out what they buy, who they are and what they want.

Just like Americans who are born and bred in this country, immigrants buy phones and cars, take out mortgages for homes, watch TV and Netflix, order products from QVC, go to the mall and file tax returns. Immigrants work hard and put earnings back into the local and national economy. Immigrants revitalize downtrodden neighborhoods and build lasting communities. They are a vital and integral part of the schools they attend, the offices they work in, and the towns and cities they call home.

Welcome and acceptance

Immigrants want to feel welcome. If businesses want immigrant loyalty and money, they will need to focus on getting to know them and making them feel welcome.

It’s important to remember this. In debates over immigration policy, it can sometimes seem like Americans want foreign-borns to leave. But would that really be good for U.S. citizens and the businesses and communities that rely on immigrant support and tax dollars? This question is especially relevant in Cleveland, a city where the foreign-born population is dwindling in comparison to many similarly-positioned cities in the U.S.

Some of habits and customs may be different or seem weird at first. For instance, I save all of my Christmas wrapping paper and gift bags and plastic grocery bags. I love to re-gift old presents.

Culture and tradition

In Western culture, giving someone a new gift conveys friendship and warmth. But for me, when I receive a gift I love so much, I want to share it with others and pass it on. I still remember the beautiful yellow scarf my mother gave me when I received a scholarship to go to school in the U.S. I adored it. I kept it for a little bit, and then my mother gave it to her friend’s daughter.

Decades later, after having achieved so much, I still recall my mother’s generosity when I see a yellow scarf in a department store.

Immigrants are smart shoppers and consumers, too. I remember before there was a Costco or BJ’s Wholesale Club that there was Sam’s Club. Every Saturday, you would go to Sam’s Club and you would see the leaders of the Middle Eastern, Russian and Chinese communities doing their shopping there. They were loyal. Now Costco has my heart. I even buy my makeup there. I could go to Sephora or Saks, but I trust Costco, and I’m loyal.

All in all, if companies want to win our loyalty and business, they need to capture foreign-borns’ hearts and minds. Companies need to find out what immigrants want and give it to them. They need to welcome us and build our trust.

Margaret Wong is the founder of  W. Wong & Associates Co. LPA. She has been practicing immigration law for more than 38 years and is internationally renowned as an expert in the field. 

Consumers lift spending to pay for pricier gasoline

WASHINGTON, Fri Sep 28, 2012 – Consumer spending rose in August by the most in six months as households stretched to pay for higher gasoline prices, according to a government report on Friday that pointed to lackluster economic growth in the third quarter.

The Commerce Department said consumer spending increased 0.5 percent after an unrevised 0.4 percent gain in July. When adjusted for inflation, spending edged up 0.1 percent after increasing 0.4 percent in July.

Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity and the second straight monthly increase mostly reflected higher gasoline prices, which rose 28.2 cents per gallon last month, though automobile purchases also helped.

“With other sectors of the economy slowing down, relying on consumers is not the exact position we want to be in right now when incomes are slowing sharply,” said Jacob Oubina, senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

The U.S. dollar fell slightly against the euro and the yen after the data. Major U.S. stock index futures edged lower in early trading, while the 30-year Treasury bond price rose.

Spending on nondurable goods jumped 1.7 percent in August after increasing 0.8 percent the previous month. Household spending on services rose a modest 0.2 percent compared to 0.3 percent in July.

With the inflation adjusted spending barely rising last month, growth in real consumer spending is unlikely to improve much this quarter from the tepid 1.5 percent annual pace recorded in the April-June period.

Slower consumer spending and a drop in farm inventories due to a severe drought in the Midwest held gross domestic product growth to a 1.3 percent pace in the second quarter, a step down from 2 percent in the first three months of the year.

More U.S. customers changed banks last year: survey

NEW YORK – Nearly 10 percent of customers of U.S. banks moved their accounts last year, often after they became frustrated with fees and the quality of service, market research firm J.D. Power and Associates said on Monday.

The rate of customer defection from a primary bank to another institution was 9.6 percent, up from 8.7 percent the previous year and 7.7 percent two years before, the firm said, citing data gathered in November and December.

One-third of customers of the biggest banks and large regional institutions who switched said fees were the main reason they looked for a new bank. More than half of customers who cited fees as the reason to defect said their bank had provided poor service.

“New or increased fees are the proverbial straws that break the camel’s back,” said Michael Beird, director of the banking services practice at J.D. Power, a unit of the McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

Chain store sales seen up again in October as consumers spend

NEW YORK ― October sales reports this week will show steady spending by U.S. consumers, as improving finances for many shoppers helped overcome a barrage of scary headlines about the economy.

October can be a slow month, falling in the lull between the back to school season and the start to year-end holiday shopping. But it does give retailers a read into shoppers’ mindset and intentions ahead of the Christmas blitz.

A tally issued by Thomson Reuters on Monday found that Wall Street analysts expect the 23 retailers in its index — including Costco Wholesale Corp and Macy’s Inc — to report a 4.7 percent increase in October sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, well above the 1.6 percent increase in October 2010.

Most of the chains will report monthly sales on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

“The consumer is out there spending,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners. “Consumers are financially healthier now than they’ve been in years.”

Shoppers have paid down enough personal debt since the recession ended that those with jobs feel comfortable spending more and are doing just that, said Johnson, who last week forecast the best holiday season since 2004.

But they are not spending with the reckless abandon of a few years ago and insist on deals if they are to spend.

“As has been the case for the past year, there will be a focus on value. Shoppers will be lured to specific promotions, especially for mid-tier retailers,” said Paul Lejuez, a Nomura analyst.

Department stores should continue to show solid gains, particularly Macy’s Inc and Kohl’s Corp, which got boosts last month from their exclusive Karl Lagerfeld and J.Lo clothing lines, respectively.

At the high end, Nordstrom Inc. and Saks Inc. are also expected to report strong October sales, helped by luxury’s continued recovery.

Costco is expected to log the biggest gain in the survey, with higher gas prices contributing to a 8.7 percent jump. The last in class is expected to be Gap Inc., hurt by a 6.3 percent drop at its struggling North American flagship chain and an even steeper overall drop abroad.