When cultural factors guide customers buying behavior

A stereotype Finn is used to have own privacy when looking around different products. Salespersons says only “hello, may I help you?”, where he usually replies “I am just looking around, thanks”. Now he does shopping abroad where he found himself in the middle of really active and impatient, even pushy salespersons. How does he react? Does he buy more or does he become anguished and walks away?  His habits are on a collision course with the surrounding culture.

First of all, what are cultural factors? Robert Kennedy College (2013) subscribes cultural factors as a set of ideologies and values of some specific community or group of individual persons. Those values are learned from your parents, relatives or some other people who are strongly present in your childhood. Values are not demarcated by nations, since the values and behavior might change for example from Eastern to Western parts of one single nation. Each culture comprises of several subcultures such as religion, age, gender, status etc.  On the other words, all these affects to the colors, styles or brands of the cloths we wear, or if we celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah.

So when cultural factors guides the way people dress or what occasions they celebrate, it also guides customer buying behavior. But what I find even more interesting is that which one can have greater impact to each other, customer or the service provider?

I saw some time ago an interesting and inspiring documentary titled “Howard Schultz – The King of the Starbucks Coffee” . It tells the great success story of the man who basically created the worldwide known coffee chain Starbucks Coffee from out of nothing. in the documentary it is told that after Starbucks coffee had expanded their operations to several countries with great success, Schultz hired some consultants to tell the company how to open up a shop in Japan. All he ever got from these consultants was a big bill, thick folder of information and presentations to the bored saying that the company will not succeed in Japan. Based on the consultants, the main reasons were Starbucks Coffees no-smoking policy, high rental level for bigger stores in Japan and that they will never eat and drink on the streets, because Japanese person would lose his or hers face if they are caught eating food publicly. The documentary continues, that despite this Howard Schultz decided to follow his gut-feeling and trust into what he believed: what they had created in other parts of the world would also work in Japan. On the grand opening day, there were hundreds of people waiting and some of them had even slept there overnight to be the first customers to order “double tall latte”, as the Starbucks language is used. It turned out to be another success story for the company.

Of course the true story mentioned above is example of a powerful brand conquering new market area. But what I am chasing down here is that how well can we define, predict or measure the cultural impact to the customers buying behavior? What assumptions we can make and on the other hand what boundaries can be knocked down? Obviously the great consultants hired by Schultz were totally wrong and in this case the company, more likely to say the brand made people to remiss the reaction of their own culture. New habits were adapted and taken as given without any exceptions.

The Starbucks conquest could have ended differently. What if the culture value and habits would have ran over their expectations and it would have been a complete failure? Schultz did not know and neither did the consultants. So how much we have to learn from the culture and the customers inside of it, and how much we can teach the customers to adapt new values, habits and ideologies? If you know a bullet-proof answer to this, I suggest you start your own company and take as much advantage as you can from your knowledge!




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One Response to When cultural factors guide customers buying behavior

  1. timokahanpaa says:

    I liked your post and opinion. I agree totally with you. I*ve been travelling a lot around the world and got to know many different cultures and of course i*ve seen many different buying behaviors. Personally when i am buying something *bigger* i usually ask someones opinion before making the decision about buying. But i must admit that sometimes i buy things just because it feels good! I don*t mind if someone asks me * may i help you somehow? * , in my opinion it only show good customer service and behavior. In different cultures buying behaviors are different and sometimes it feels strange, but once you get use to it you*ll understand it too.

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