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Not Always #1

It seems that some cultural differences still exist, even in this ever more shrinking, homogenizing, global market, and they are ignored at your own peril. Hi Wal-Mart, I’m looking at you. In Germany. Where you failed rather miserably to install yourself as the number 1 discount retailer.

Or as Der Spiegel has it: Germany drives U.S. titan to despair.

Apparently, Wal-Mart came into Germany set to completely ignore those little quirks of Germany culture that make shopping such a joy there. And found out that no, Germans do not like other people to handle and bag their groceries, thank you very much. Also, the response of the (male) German shoppers to those U.S.-style smiling greeters? Not what Wal-Mart intended. To quote a Business Week article on Wal-Mart’s struggles in Germany:

Wal-Mart is still prone to do things the Wal-Mart way without enough consideration to local customs. Rivals continue to chuckle about the customer reaction when, initially, Wal-Mart offered services such as grocery bagging. It turned out that Germans didn’t want strangers handling their groceries. And when clerks followed orders to smile at shoppers, male customers took it as a come-on.

Let’s not even mention the problems caused by Wal-Mart’s anti-union stance in a country that has workers’ councils “ which give employees a say in corporate decisions that affect working conditions” built right into the employment system. Or the little brouhaha over the ethics guide in the Wal-Mart employee handbook.

All of which just goes to show that when you do business in another country you might do well to look into its customs and culture and think about moderating your approach accordingly, at least to some extent. At the very least you may gain a new perspective on your own way of doing things.

Although then reading business news would be a lot less entertaining.


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