Jennifer Lopez is embarking on an ambitious new business venture. The entertainer, who has long reigned as one of the most popular Latinas in show business, has teamed up with Verizon Wireless to launch a new mobile brand aimed specifically at the country’s fast-growing Latino population. The venture, Viva Movil, has already begun to sell smartphones, tablets, and Verizon Wireless plans on its website.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lopez revealed that while the products have already been selling online, she plans to open more than a dozen Viva Movil stores in cities with large Latino populations, including Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. The first stores are set to open on June 15.
But what, exactly, does it mean for a store to "cater" to Latinos? According to Lopez, it boils down to accessibility. Employees will speak both English and Spanish and stores will be equipped with play areas for children since "Latinos often like to shop together as a family," she says.
"It was a no-brainer to finally cater to an overlooked segment of the population that has emerged, to actually do something that caters specifically to them," Lopez told the Times.
Lopez’s foray into the tech industry underscores the tremendous buying power of Latino smartphone users in the United States. It’s a consumer base that Verizon has long been in the business of courting; in 2010, the company launched an ambitious advertising campaign featuring a diverse group of young, savvy cell phone users who were determined to "Rule the Air." Advocates criticized the company for blatantly courting users of color while also fighting against regulatory efforts to protect Internet access for vulnerable, low-income users.
Nonetheless, the company is moving forward. And for good reason. From the Times:
Lopez cited "staggering" demographic statistics that showed the Latino population had grown 43% in the last five years, compared with 5% growth for non-Latinos. Latinos currently make up more than 16% of the U.S. population, and that figure is expected to grow to 30% by 2050.
The devices and plans sold by Viva Movil are the same as Verizon’s, although Verizon doesn’t own a stake in the new company. Customers can purchase smartphones including the iPhone 5, Galaxy S 3 and the BlackBerry Z10 and sign up for Verizon’s 4G LTE network service.
In announcing the partnership, Verizon noted that Latinos are an especially important customer base for the industry and represented $1.2 trillion in buying power last year. The country’s No. 1 wireless carrier cited a recent Nielsen report that showed that 75% of Latinos in the U.S. own smartphones, higher than the overall percentage of Americans who own smartphones, at 63%.
It’s a smart business move, but will have profound implications on the industry. Research has shown that while everyone is jumping on the smartphone bandwagon, black and Latino users are more likely to depend on their phones for basic access, and Verizon is among the country’s most expensive Internet service providers.