Retail in the Age of Globalization

At Ready to Launch Research we travel. A lot. Fieldwork, conferences, client meetings, they keep us on the road. This week, our team is in Germany for the Research and Results conference in Munich. The local landscape in Germany has us thinking about the value of market research in an increasingly globalized world.

Scholarly discussions about globalization assert that global cities are more like each other than like their host countries. Put simply, Manhattan has more in common with Paris than it does with Pensacola. Los Angelenos likely feel more at home in London than they do in Louisville.

The movement of people, ideas, goods and technology is typically considered to be the core of globalization. In many ways, globalization is thought to be the erasure of uniqueness in favor of a homogeneity. However, most of these discussions do not delve further into what makes homogeneity appealing to so many cultures around the world. This raises a number of questions for us as market researchers because global brands are thriving while domestic retailers are falling victim to the takeover of Amazon and other online retail giants.

  1. What constitutes global consumerism? With tastes, styles, values and varying across cultures, how do global brands achieve an appeal that is so widely accepted?

  2. How can market researchers provide insights that speak to both global appeal and local tastes?

  3. What element of universality do brands such as Zara, H&M, Guess, and Starbucks have that is missing from Macy’s, Best Buy, and New York & Company?

  4. With the death of retail on the rise, how are some brands (RIP Sears and Toys r' Us) falling out of favor with US shoppers while others are becoming more global and prevalent in foreign cities (need a mascara? Clinique counters are available in airports worldwide).

The simple answer for retailers seems to be “Go Global or Die.” But for us as market researchers, our job is to isolate the principles of universal appeal, design, and product quality that allow brands to elevate to a more global reach. Keeping a finger on the pulse of US consumerism requires a more global lens to understand how retail can survive. Because our major U.S cities offer so much cultural diversity, we can test the appeal of global brands domestically. We recommend using methodologies such as shop-alongs and in-homes, but recruiting participants who are representative of global markets such as international travelers, affluent professionals, and skilled labor visa holders.

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