Michael Hissam: Border shoppers are from near, far

By Michael Hissam / Special to the Times
Posted: 04/07/2013 12:00:00 AM MDThat nearly $100 billion-a-year economy of the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez metroplex has a few surprises. Just take a closer look at the parts adding toward the big sum.

Many northbound cars from Mexico convey people who want to spend mucho dinero. One would be surprised as to the distance some travel to spend money and have a good time. Starting points for these spenders often start well south of Ciudad Juárez, Samalayuca or Villa Ahumada.
Norma A. Mendoza, Ph.D., president and CEO of MerKadoTeknia Research and Consulting, led a team to study the planned spending patterns of cross-border shoppers.
In this case, Mendoza and company did not have to travel far and wide to get the research sample. Her team simply stationed themselves strategically along the ubiquitous line at the Bridge of the Americas. Plenty of drivers and passengers agreed to take her survey as they waited to clear customs and head to the malls or stores of El Paso.
However, with any study come the sample and the methodology.
Q Your organization partnered with one from Mexico to take an unusual survey about spending patterns. How did you select the sample?
A We sampled people crossing the bridge from Juárez to El Paso on the International Bridge of the Americas. On their way to get on the bridge, we handed them a survey about a mile back and were able to collect 662 responses. We would ask them to raise the questionnaire out of their car
window when they were done for us to pick up further along the bridge line wait.

Q This took place when?
A This took place in November and December of 2012, during the Christmas season rush.
Q Statisticians might say the survey you took was not “perfectly” random. However, due to special considerations at the border, you felt it was the right sample. Please explain.
A We went ahead and consciously selected cars that had license plates called fronterizas, or border license plates, or nacionales, which are license plates that can travel all around Mexico. Every so many cars, maybe every five cars, we would pick a Texas license plate because we know that there are those who live in Juárez who are able and allowed to drive with Texas license plates legally.
We would go ahead and ask them politely if they would participate. Those who said “yes” gave us their information on a totally anonymous basis.
Q Let’s jump ahead to the outcomes, the spending patterns from this group. What can you tell us?
A The No. 1 thing that stood out for us was the fact that they come and spend two days or more — at least 9.5 percent spend two days or more — when they come shopping, even though 80 percent come and return on the same day. When we asked them what they are spending on, the majority said they come to shop. They shop for apparel, they shop for groceries, they come and buy electronics and home appliances. Those are the top categories for shopping.
Q One thing that you pointed to is the frequency of crossing per auto. Let’s go a little further into that.
A One of the questions we asked them was, “How often do you come and visit El Paso?” We had that the largest percentage — 28.4 — crossing once a month; 21 percent come once a week. We have people in visiting patterns that range from every day to once a year, and we saw it all. But the majority is in the combined classifications of once a week or once a month.
Q As you took a look at the license plates, there was a surprise that people come a longer-than-expected distance to spend in El Paso. Take the story from there.
A We asked them, “How far have you traveled to come to El Paso,” and we were shocked to see some people came all the way from Guadalajara, Jalisco, a southern state in Mexico which is 954 miles away. About 74 percent come from Juárez; 14 percent come from Chihuahua, the capital city. We had a representation from states surrounding Chihuahua, all the way to the south of Mexico: Durango, Zacatecas and Jalisco. This was shocking to us because they could very easily travel to other border towns.
Michael Hissam is president of Trans-National Executive Communications. He may be reached at michael.tnec@ymail.com

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