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Strangers in strange lands: hypermarkets and Chinese consumer culture misalignment

Vol. 54 No. 6, 2012 p.799–820

Clyde A. Warden, James Stanworth, Judy F. Chen and Stephen Chi-Tsun Huang

Western retailers find alignment with consumers in Greater China challenging. Managers struggle to understand local retail values, especially where quantitative marketing research obfuscates meanings behind overly simplified constructs – lacking richness that is key to alignment. As researchers embedded in a distant indigenous culture, we use an interpretive research design, drawing on longitudinal data collected over a six-year period, to reveal multiple lenses of local realities, giving a perspective on international retailers’ misalignment. The multi- method approach integrates ethnography, interviews, participant observations, videography and extended data in podcasts. We show how everyday products can be purely functional (global) at one time but embedded with symbolic meaning (local) at another, thereby confounding international retailers and researchers. Managers and researchers tend to reduce the legitimacy of meanings that differ from the values and beliefs of their existing (home/local) paradigm. We present a conceptual model that clarifies the marketing metaphor of ‘alignment’ for retailers targeting Far East Asian markets.


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