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Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Transcultural Perspective On The Retail Experience

I'm very pleased to share with you a post by Katia Adams from ¡Hola! Oi! Hi! - Transcultural Comments and Marketing - about the retail experience.

Katia and I connected via the Z-list [see Extending bZZZ] and a mis-statement I made in a comment to her in Spanish. Talk about a transcultural moment! Nonetheless, I have never been so thrilled to embarrass myself: it has led to fascinating exchanges and the following post.

Katia is from Brazil. She came to the U.S. in 2000, became fluent in English and Spanish, acquired a BS in Marketing, and soon an MBA! Not bad! Imagine combining a firsthand experience in culture shock with a love of marketing and using that as the basis not only for a fascinating blog, but also for a unique perspective on the marketplace called transcultural marketing. You can learn more about that in
Lost In Translation Makes for Better Adaptation.

I had visited the US a couple of times before I came to live here, and one of the things that struck me most was the enormous variety of products available on store shelves compared to Latin America. The impact of “wide variety” alone has its effects on building size, and so one sees enormous super markets and drug stores in the US compared to relatively small to moderate sized stores in Latin America.

In Brazil, product selection – in total number of brands and varieties – is far more limited than in the US; at best 3-5 brands and varieties per product. And, even though Wal-Mart and other global chains that have opened up operations in Latin America have changed the landscape in the direction of “hyper-markets,” the “local branded” supermarkets or drugstores are still appreciably smaller. The “local” stores, of course, have wisely positioned themselves as offering “more personalized” service and selections compared to their competitive (foreign) cousins.

The reason for these differences is associated with the underlying socioeconomics of the respective markets. The US has the socioeconomic means and associated mindset to develop and support a vast mass market economy with a finely honed consumptive mindset and habits. Developing markets – lacking similar socioeconomics, mindset and the habits with which to implement it – have a hard time keeping pace. Significant marketing, positioning and communications implications arise from that, and are reflected in the retail environment -something fascinating to be exposed to.

An interesting misconception about consumers exposed to a limited range of products is to say that those consumers are brand loyal. Yet, when all you have are 2 or 3 brands to choose from, the fact is that you are only “brand restricted,” because once (a) globally marketed brands enter the market, or (b) these consumer migrate to mass markets, brand switch becomes a predictable event. And, it is a legitimate “brand switch” rather than just “trial.”

That’s exactly what happened to me. In Brazil, Colgate is the dominant toothpaste brand and, being a good conservatively minded consumer, I was a regular user of the “original” white Colgate. When I migrated to the US, I still used Colgate, but I “migrated” to some of the other varieties of my regular brand, like Colgate with fluoride or the whitening agent, the pump or some other attribute. Then, I began to engage in brand trial with one of the other competitive premium brands. What happened then is that I experienced “choice pressure” – perceiving that I “had to” choose from a wide variety of options rather than sticking conservatively to one brand. At that point, I would say, marketing had molded in me the mindset of a classic mass market consumer.

The way I functioned in Brazil was to choose either the one I needed or the one I could afford; the one I wanted was never a consideration. Product choice is much simpler that way.

Since I’ve been living in the US, I’ve gotten used to and enjoy the many choices the market offers, but I still shop pretty much the way I did back home: I uncomplicate my life by opting not to choose and just pick what I really need or can afford.

Until I thought through Katia's experience, I hadn't really internalized the cultural implications surrounding how we make choices. Yet, it's a critical point particularly in retail. Consider The United States in 2005, and notice how significantly our demographic patterns have changed: we've become a much more diverse society. Our consumers have more varied international backgrounds than ever before and -inevitably- bring culture with them into retail stores to help them make sense of the choices available.

Now - more than ever - we must consider everything from our customers' perspectives! What will it take to delight them? To showcase products in the most effective way possible? To demonstrate the value of one brand over another? To help them navigate product selections in case it's a matter of Are There Too Many Choices? What a marvelous opportunity, but one that requires looking at our retail experience from a transcultural perspective!

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