Academic journal article Indian Journal of Economics and Business

High-Versus Low-Context National Cultures: Preferences for Type of Retailer and for Human Interaction

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Economics and Business

High-Versus Low-Context National Cultures: Preferences for Type of Retailer and for Human Interaction

Article excerpt


A purpose of this research is to investigate differences between low- and high-context national cultures in retail settings. In particular, we examined cultural differences in preference for human interaction while shopping, "emotional warmth" characteristics, perception of quality service, and retail channel preferences. As businesses more frequently employ multi-channel strategies in global settings, this topic of national culture gains importance and can shed light on key factors that shape consumers' retail preferences. Our findings indicate that national cultures differ in terms of retail channel preferences, preference for human interaction, and relationships between the two. Managerial implications and future research are addressed, as well as our study's limitations.

Keywords: high- and low-context, national cultures, retailing, channels, service quality, human interaction, emotions


National cultures have been categorized by a conceptualization of high and low context (Hall 1976), especially in relation to interpersonal communication (Chua and Gudykunst 1987; Donghoon et al. 1998). In high-context cultures communication is often not explicit and relies on situational cues, non-verbal behavior, and trust. In low-context cultures the interpretation of people, behavior, and products more often depends upon what is actually said or written (Hall 1976). High-context national cultures are considered more collectivist in nature. The people develop more intimate relationships with each other and engage in more personal communication. Low-context national cultures are more individualistic in nature. The people are more alienated from each other and practice more impersonal communication (Donghoon et al. 1998). As channels differ in terms of opportunities for human interaction and physical touch, we argue that national cultures will differ in terms of channel preferences based on being categorized either as high or low-context. In examining two retail channels, physical stores and web stores, we therefore hypothesize:

[H.sub.1]: High-and low-context national cultures differ in terms of channel preferences:

(a) High-context national cultures prefer to shop more in physical stores than low-context national cultures.

(b) High-context national cultures prefer to shop less in web stores than low-context national cultures.

Marketing researchers have frequently analyzed effects of emotions on purchase decisions (Bagozzi et al. 1999). Few have investigated cross-cultural differences of emotional dispositions in social settings (Aune and Aune 1995; Consedine et al. 2003; Frymier et al. 1990). Frymier et al. (1990) suggest that there are emotionally-warm and emotionally-cold cultures. Using a personality-centered inductive approach to delineate warm/cold national cultures (Clark 1990), we propose that national cultures range from emotionally-warm to emotionally-cold in terms of two aspects of emotional disposition:

(a) the need for emotional expressiveness, and (b) the need to use emotions to make decisions. As high-context cultures are involved in more intimate relationships and practice more personal communication than low-context cultures, we hypothesize that:

[H.sub.2]: High-context cultures express more emotions and use more emotions to make decisions than low-context cultures.

In addition, we argue that high-context national cultures should prefer shopping environments that allow more interaction with people, as personal communication and intimate relationship are more important to them than to low-context national cultures. Also, as "emotional warmth" can be considered a personality trait, we argue that consumers within national cultures who are more "emotionally warm" will prefer more human interaction while shopping. Therefore, we developed the following hypotheses:

[H.sub.2] (a): High-context national cultures prefer higher human interaction while shopping than low-context national cultures. …

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