Activity 9: Go shopping with Geert Hofstede
Allow 60 minutes for this activity.
In the last few activities you have been exploring Hofstede's ideas. I now want to focus specifically on an issue which has already cropped up a couple of times. This is the impact that national culture has on organisations. One of Hofstede's main arguments is that it is important for business organisations to adapt their approaches to different national contexts.
Take the example of shopping. Income is an important influence on the things that people buy. However, even in countries where national income per head is very similar people buy different goods and services. If you have ever shopped in more than one country, you may have noticed that there are some differences between what shops sell – even if national income per head is similar to your own country.
I will explain some research on consumer purchasing patterns and then ask you to try to apply it to your own experience and your own national culture.
Hofstede (Pugh, 2007, pp. 225–230) refers to the research he undertook with de Mooij, who related Hofstede's dimensions to national differences in the motives for purchasing products and services. Consumption differences were explained by analysing the relationships with Hofstede's dimensions.
For example, in a country that scores high on masculinity, more ‘status’ items such as expensive watches and jewellery are sold. However, in a high ‘uncertainty avoidance’ culture which, according to Hofstede (Pugh, 2007, pp. 228–9), values purity and basic products, there will be more sales of mineral water, fresh fruit and pure sugar.
De Mooij (2003) shows that the percentage of food expenditure is negatively correlated with individualism (i.e. individualist cultures spend less on food, while collectivist cultures spend more on food). She argues that European collectivist cultures spend more on food than individualist cultures do because, in the former, food plays a key social function. Similarly, she has found that collectivist cultures tend to have one radio per family, while individualist cultures want a personal radio for each individual.
Task: Applying de Mooij's work
I would like you to relate Hofstede's dimensions of culture to a retail business within your own national culture.
Think of a large retail outlet, such as a supermarket, that you know well. You can do this from memory, by looking at the outlet's site online or, if you visit the outlet regularly, you can carry out this task the next time you visit it.
Another way to approach this task is to consider the products purchased in your household over the last month. It does not matter which approach you choose, as the task will end up much the same.
First, identify the national culture within which the retail outlet operates. Second, go back to your notes on Hofstede (or to one of his articles or to his website) and jot down where the national culture stands on each of his cultural dimensions. (You can use either four or five dimensions – whichever you prefer.) Take each dimension in turn and try to think of how it might be illustrated by the products and services available for sale (or which you have bought).
You can download and print the table linked below to note down your thoughts.
Click 'View document' below for the table.
Note: you could use bullets in the right-hand column to separate different products and services, and different reasons. I have suggested this because using a tabular format can be a useful way of making notes in situations like this. You may, however, prefer to make your notes in another way and, if so, feel free to do so. Making notes is very much a personal thing.
You may not be able to find examples of all of Hofstede's cultural dimensions, so do not worry if you only get examples for some of them.
I chose the UK as my national culture. I thought about a large supermarket run by a UK-based company which has stores throughout the UK and a large share of the market – maybe you shop there as well!
One thing I noticed was that in the UK there is a significant emphasis on gardens and gardening products, which reflects the high individualism and emphasis on privacy in the UK. Another thought I had is that people in the UK are willing to buy new things – perhaps because their long-term orientation is very low, which makes them ready to accept change.
Your thoughts may well have been different from mine. The most important thing is to give a reason based on Hofstede for the points you make.
Before you move on, think for a minute about the task you have just done. You have illustrated that national culture may affect the products and services which are bought in a country. But do not forget that there are many other factors which could influence what people buy. These include the price of the products and services actually bought, as well as the prices of other products and services. It may not always be easy to tell exactly how important national culture is in comparison to these other factors.