The U.S. has just 311 million people. The rest of the world holds around 6.9 billion potential consumers -- a clear case for corporate global expansion. But even if they never sell a single item outside U.S. borders, companies can still reap significant rewards by adopting a more international mind-set.

With about 450 million Spanish speakers in the world, it makes sense for companies to target Mexico's 110 million, Colombia's 45 million, or El Salvador's 7 million. But there are also close to 50 million Hispanics in America today. As these stats from Forrester Research suggest, companies ignore this market at their profits' peril:

  • One-fourth of Hispanics [in America] must be served in Spanish if retailers want their business.
  • More than half who shop online prefer Spanish.
  • Hispanics have accounted for half of U.S. population growth in recent years.

The total purchasing power of Hispanics in the U.S. is now estimated at $1 trillion, rising quickly to $1.5 trillion in just a few years. It makes up nearly one-tenth of all U.S. spending. Obviously, the global purchasing power of Hispanics is far greater.

Opening operations in new countries can be a costly endeavor, but Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) and other companies have adopted a more cost-effective approach: offering Spanish-language versions of their websites. Considering that there are more than 125 million Spanish-speaking Internet users, this seems like a smart move.

Real results
Best Buy not only got new customers with its Spanish digital storefront, but also more valuable ones. Customers on the new site spend roughly twice as much per order as those on the original, English-language site. That benefit's likely to shrink as more retailers adopt this strategy, though, since these customers will then have more options.

Another benefit for Best Buy is that its website can serve not only Spanish-speaking Americans, but Spanish-speakers around the world. Thus, the retailer's increasing its global presence and business with relatively little trouble or expense.

Other companies, such as NutriSystem (Nasdaq: NTRI) and AFLAC (NYSE: AFL), have also opened Spanish-language websites. Telecommunications giant Vonage (NYSE: VG) recently launched one; with its service's unlimited calling to 60 nations, including many Spanish-speaking countries, that move alone will likely strengthen the business it has already built.

More than online
A dedicated website isn't always enough, though, as Home Depot (NYSE: HD) found out. The company shut down its underperforming Spanish-language website after only four months. Too many customers were coming from Mexico and elsewhere around the world, where the company is not yet able to deliver products. So Home Depot decided instead to focus on better serving customers in its actual stores via Spanish-speaking employees. When Home Depot works out its logistical issues to more easily its wares deliver to consumers abroad, embracing both English and Spanish in its stores could help the company realize big profits. (Its Spanish-language website also launched during the recession, giving it a considerable headwind.)

If you're shopping for strong new investments, look for companies that cater to major segments of society others often overlook. Sometimes, simply adding a new language to a company's customer interface can make a world of d ifference.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Intuitive Surgical. Best Buy and Home Depot are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Intuitive Surgical is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. The Fool owns shares of AFLAC and Best Buy, which are both Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.