Where the locals go…not Parizka Street

June 4, 2010

Over the past week in Prague I have noticed a lot about Czech culture and their views of fashion and shopping. After visiting the Palladium I began to realize that fashion is not a priority for Czechs and they do not see the value or necessity in the high priced brands and labels. For Czechs, shopping and fashion is not about individuality like we saw in London nor is it about status or trends. Czechs seem to feel that fashion is more or less just another item that is purchased as needed. Brands are not as important and a lot of this has to do with history and current economic situation the country has. Because the average Czech only makes around 15-20 thousand US dollars a year a brand like H&M would be considered extremely expensive for the average citizen. Therefore its surprising that there is a street like Parizka Street in the heart of Prague. The street is lined with couture and high fashion labels along with fine dining and salons. Louis Vuitton, Prada, Lacoste, Burbury, and Hemes were among the brands here. However walking down the street and walking through stores I came to realize that this street was not here for local Czechs, but more so for tourists. I heard and saw very few Czech people on the street and in the shops, even the employees of the shops were not all Czech. Many of them sounded like they were from France or the UK, or Germany. The shoppers in the stores were two types of people primarily. The first type were those who looked like they belonged in the shops and could afford to drop 13,000 Kc ($6,000 USD) on a handbag or mini dress. The other half were tourists and people that are simply passing through dreaming of buying something from one of the stores. The stores defiantly had a sophistication about them that other shops and streets lack. The landscaping down the street was well manicured, the shops looked modern and updated but still retained Prague’s old world charm. Even the cars lining the street matched the primary group of shoppers. Maserati’s and Mercedes were parks along the way or zoomed by quickly with roaring engines. The interiors of the stores played top 40 tunes or classy elevator music the employees wore tuxedos or chic black dresses. The furniture and lighting was all luxurious and plush with soft and rich fabrics. The stores were not packed with clothing either. The racks were sparsely distributed and held only a few garments. Clearly Parizka Street was not targeting the average Czech. While I’m sure Czechs would love to shop here, but the clothes are just not practical or functional for their lifestyles. The couture fashions are all about showing off and displaying one’s wealth. The Czechs are a humble culture and do not like to show off their wealth in obvious ways. For most Czechs life isn’t about the clothes they wear or the car they drive. The fact that the average Czech cannot afford couture is part of the reason why they don’t shop on Parizka but the fact that the products are not functional is another reason why you won’t find many locals on Parizka Street.



price price price

June 4, 2010

My week in Prague is almost over.  Hard to believe that three weeks has flown by and my summer class is almost over. I realized before coming that Prague was more “old school” if you will, than London, but I didn’t realize how different these city centre’s really are.

In earlier posts I talked about Londoners shopping habits.  Specifically many of them  have disposable income and having the ability to find something in a store and buy it without looking at the price tag.  For Czech’s this is unheard of…unless you’re on Parizsha Street which is the worst representation of an average Czech shopper.

The biggest distinction between these two cultures is the way they value price and the product they are purchasing.  I went to the Palladium the other day, which is a very large mall that I would call a mini Mall of America.  It had four floors and just about every store you could think of, but still smaller in size than MOA.  As I followed shoppers around in the most sneaky way i could I tried to understand their connection to the products as they browsed, who they were shopping with, and how they shopped.  I wanted to understand Czech shoppers.

From my observations I found that younger people did not like to shop alone, but women that look like they are of the age to have a family in kids loved shopping alone.  It was a social experience for younger people and for the moms it was a day out on the town by themselves.

Another thing I noticed was people took a longer amount of time than Londoners when looking at a piece.  Say for instance a woman was looking at a dress.  She would touch it, take it off the rack, hold it up, and look at the price.  Price was the biggest thing I noticed because everyone looked at it.  This was not the case in London at all.

The average Czech persons annual salary is $12-15,000 which makes sense as to why these shoppers take note in how much the product is that they are purchasing.   They make choices based on price, while still making sure it is a functional part of their existing wardrobe.

Some may say the Palladium is full of tourists and that they are not Czech people, but from our agency visits this week I gathered that coming to Prague is a big shopping trip for a lot of Czech people that live outside the city centre.  I’m sure I observed some tourists, but there were many differences in my findings from London.

Goodbye Prague 😦 you have been lovely.  Next blog will conclude our group’s culture code of Czech shoppers.


Five Senses in Tesco

June 4, 2010

Tesco, we meet again.

The whole group did an ethnography exercise in everybody’s favorite hypermarket. We had 30 minutes to walk around and record 30 things we observed – only 15 of which could be visual. It was tough but a good learning experience. I had to force myself to notice more details about the atmosphere and not just comment on things that I saw. Here’s some of what I came up with.

  • Sight – open fish tanks, lots of older people shopping in couples, pictures of food on the price signs, most younger adults shopping alone or with their children, shoppers slowly walking around, not a lot in the carts, 3 floors, digital signs, wide variety of clothing styles and brands
  • Hear – quiet music downstairs, people talking calmly (all in Czech), 2nd floor playing louder American music in the clothing aisle (Czech people LOVE Lady Gaga), nobody talking to anyone besides their shopping partner
  • Smell – bread smelled warm and fresh, meat smelled really salty and fresh, cleaning solution smelled really strong, laundry detergent smelled heavenly, and the old women were wearing a LOT of perfume
  • Touch – the temperature wasn’t too hot or cold, the frozen sections were very cold, the clothes felt like a medium quality, the escalator was at a comfortable speed and incline
  • Taste – cookie that someone bought

This Tesco was a lot different than the ones in London. First of all, the London ones were smaller. This Tesco had three stories and was packed with millions of items. A big difference was the clothing section. I felt like I was in a WalMart or any department store junior section. The clothes were pretty good quality and there were a ton of styles to choose from. Second, there were a lot more Tesco Express stores in London, which is mostly where we went when we needed food. Third, this Tesco seemed a lot busier than London’s. Maybe it was because it was bigger, but I felt like there were a lot more people in this one. Finally, it was harder to completely understand how the shoppers felt about their shopping experience because everyone in this Tesco was speaking Czech.


London’s ASDA v. Prague’s TESCO

June 4, 2010


Thinking back about ASDA, I didn’t really have a good grasp on what it means to be an ethnographer. Consequently, most of my observations were visual, but I still think there is some substance in that.

The shoppers and layout of the entire ASDA store were scarily parallel with that of Walmart. For the most part, ASDA’s customers seemed uninterested in fashion. I observed mostly women by themselves shopping for food and clothing. Many of the customers were overweight, and ranged in age to appear between 30-60 years old. There was a food section where people could stop and get lunch, and seperate sections outside of the groceries for men’s women’s, and children’s clothing along with shoes. With the clothing, I noticed that there weren’t any imitation brands. For example, at Walmart you’d find polo shirts with little logos that obviously resemble those of big name brands like Abercrombie and Fitch’s moose or the eagle from American Eagle Outfitters. This could be because English people will buy a lable if they can afford it, but if they can’t, they won’t make a big deal about it and try to pretend to be the kind of consumer that they’re not.

ASDA had three different kinds of carts: huge ones, mid-size, and baskets. In the US we basically just have big carts or tiny baskets. I have never thought about it this way, but maybe the reason why we don’t have the mid-size cart is because when people go shopping it is usually to grab one or two things or to do the shopping for the whole week or even longer. Put simply, we buy more. I know that my mom shops this way, especially at Costco.

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In Prague, we visited an enormous Tesco; it had two floors. Having improved my skills as an Ethnographer, I really made the effort to use all of my senses to experience Tesco. I left with no pictures, which was my main focus at ASDA.

What I heard: Clanging of shopping carts. A continuous, high pitched, incessant, annoying beep. I assumed I wasn’t the only one annoyed by this sound. It was a universally annoying beep. People dragging their feet to make a swoosh noise. I used to drag my feet a lot. Sean Paul, an American reggae/hip-hop artist, was playing on the radio throughout the store; I certainly did not expect that. Followed by that song, came a pop song in the Czech language, so I felt like I was back in Prague again. Another sound that reminded me of the supermarkets from the states was the unmistakeable sound of a noisy, clanky freezer when you open the door to grab your ice cream. Over the announcements I heard a girl speaking in czech, and though I couldn’t understand her, she was speaking very quickly in a low monotone voice, just like the typical supermarket announcement sounds in the US.

What I smelled: By the bread isle, there was an unmistakeable smell of sweet, freshly baked bread with poppy seeds. It makes you think of your grandma. As I walked by the stands of wrapped products and grocery bags, you could really smell the plastic. Personally, I love this smell. I can remember smelling it when I was five years old because I, to this day, always serve as my mom’s grocery helper and go shopping with her. The leafy basil leaves that hit me out of nowhere in the produce section reminded me of the garden in my back yard. The strong smell of cured meat by the deli section reminded me of the exact smell of my friend Marta’s house. Marta’s parents are polish immigrants, so they cook a lot of traditional dishes using the same type of meat.

What I tasted: There wasn’t a whole lot in Tesco for me in terms of taste. There was a bowl of salt on a table that I tried. I sat for a while to see what purpose a random bowl of salt would provide by watching other shoppers use it, but no one ever approached that lonely bowl of salt.

What I felt: The first ethnographic observation that I had was something I definitely would not have consciously noticed before, the cold air on my ankles as I walked down an empty frozen food isle. Once I had noticed it, I got goosebumps. The other major observation in terms of feeling I felt has to do with personal space. As I mention in my “what I saw” section, people are not very apologetic about bumping their baskets or carts into another person. The personal space bubble here is definitely a lot smaller than what I am used to, but I thought it was kind of fun. You know that you’re really being immersed into a different culture in those moments where you feel uncomfortable; those are usually the moments when you would learn the most.

What I saw: Everyone was digging through the produce, putting their hands on everything. There was a huge bread pile where I watched some people dig for the most perfect, largest rolls. I also noticed the look of approval or accomplishment on each shopper’s face as each winning bread roll was placed into their bags. People were walking pretty briskly through the store, not taking their time until it was time to choose their “winning” produce. The way a lot of the shoppers were holding their baskets was pretty loosely and carelessly, and the baskets often banged into the displays and other people, same goes for the carts. There was a woman who was holding three shopping bags, one basket full of groceries, and two frozen pizzas under her arm. This gave me the impression that she was using the hypermarket to kill three birds with one stone for her day or week’s shopping. She was too busy to even grab a cart. Maybe she thought that she was going to be in and out, and ended up buying more than what was expected. On the opposite trend, I noticed several women who were shopping with grocery lists written on paper. Perhaps they have already seen the prices and have coupons for certain brands. This all plays into the idea of how Czech people are price sensitive. Sitting outside of the Tesco, I noticed people would stop and go over all of the things they bought, and carefully go over their receipts to look at what they had spent for what they’d gotten.


”Only great minds can afford a simple style.”
-Stendhal (One of the most original and complex French writers of the 19th century)

Tesco and ASDA Across EU

June 4, 2010

The observation last time in London was more based on only one sensory– sight, which relatively put the limits on my effective observation through various angles. ASDA is the second largest retailer chain after Tesco in UK. The ASDA in London is quite price-oriented.

ASDA's Hallway - London

Walking down the main hallway in ASDA, the first thing I saw was the huge price signs along the two sides, rather than the category signs usually. The signs are in red and yellow, which are quite stand-out in the market. Also, in the clothes category, on each piece of cloth, it had a price-tag glued on the top. Most consumers shopping there are middle-aged and elder people, who are mostly price-sensitive. This is one of the most important reasons that ASDA target the audience with the slogan “Saving your money every day.”

Besides the point-of-sale displays in ASDA, which reflects its positioning as Britain’s most affordable supermarket, ASDA’s advertising campaigns also accord with its core value. For example, in the “ASDA price” campaign, customers tap their trouser pocket twice, producing a ‘chinking’ sound as the coins that ASDA’s low prices have supposedly left in their pockets knock together (http://www.tellyads.com/show_movie.php?filename=TA2532&advertiser=ASDA). Also in 2009, Asda TV commercials focused on price comparisons between Asda and its rivals through comparison advertising strategy.

Compared with the ethnography observation in ASDA and Tesco in London, the ethnography training in Tesco in Prague involved with the observation through five senses rather than just one.

Tesco in Prague is much bigger than the one we went to in London. It has two floors, one floor for grocery shopping and the second floor for other life necessities, like TV, clothes, cosmetics, bicycles, lawn mowers, etc.

There are two interesting points I want to talk about here. The most appealing thing in Tesco in Prague is the smell from the food, including bread, fish, bacon, which is rather different from Tesco in London. Here, consumers could see and smell the live fishes in the huge fishing jar. They can touch and smell the bread. From the perspective of Czech people, most of them shopping there are middle-class. They are concerned about the price and quality of the products. So the open displays of the food are able to provide them an opportunity to “measure” and feel the features of the products.

Also, grocery shopping is likely to be regarded as one part of family agendas. There is a number of mothers shopping with their kids. Occasionally, I can hear the screaming and crying of the kids. The emotions connected with family in hypermarket definitely plays a vital role in purchasing behaviors and decisions.  And the smell of food is able to intrigue consumers’ memory with family. For myself, when I was closer to the fishing jar, the smell of the stinky fish actually inspires my memory for the grocery shopping experience with my mom in Shanghai. I projected a picture of the market I used to go to with her in Shanghai.

On the other hand, when I was waiting for check out, I noticed that there is a large group of consumers using their own green bags or backpacks rather than the plastic bags from Tesco. I’m not sure how is the connection with Czech culture. But it’s quite different from consumers’ shopping habits in Tesco in London. I can guess that maybe the concern about environmental sustainability is also one component of Czech people’s daily lives.  As living in central Europe, they wish that they could make full use of the limited resources and make their lives better.


Tesco to Tesco

June 3, 2010

Usually when I go to a grocery store or target back in the States I’m there to buy food, cosmetics, sometimes clothes, or maybe a movie. Typically I go to the store find what I need and leave. I’m pretty oblivious to what other shoppers are doing and not really interested in why they are there or what they are shopping for. So when we went to Tesco in the UK and Prague to do ethnography I really had to stretch myself and do something I had never done before. While in the UK ethnography was still a new concept to me and I think I still looked at the people through a more American lens and focused too much on the visual aspects of what I saw. After a bit more experience however in London, Manchester, and Prague, I began to understand better how ethnography requires all the senses and requires you to look beyond what you would normally see to the things you may typically ignore.

In the UK’s Tesco I walked in and immediately felt like I was back in Milwaukee at a Pick n’ Save. My experience walking around and observing there was rather uneventful because I just brushed off the store as a normal grocery store and assumed that the shoppers were just like American shoppers. I took the time to walk down the aisles and look at the brands and the shoppers and what they were doing, but I think at this Tesco I was focusing too much on the bigger picture and not on the little details. Focusing and relying too much on visual really hindered my ability to see all the details that would have really made my experience there a lot richer.

In Prague however I had a bit more of an understanding of ethnography. Also, by having an activity that forced me to limit my visual observations allowed me to really tune into my other senses. In the Czech Tesco, our mission was to spend 30 minutes and record 30 things using our senses about the store, products, and people. Only half could be using sight. I began downstairs in the grocery area. I think smell and hearing were the two senses I utilized the most in this department because of all the smells from the food, but also the sounds coming from the customers and workers shopping, stocking, and checking out. I took the time to walk around and touch different produce, packages, and displays. Each aisle I walked down I breathed deeply to try and smell everything in the vicinity. I also stopped to listen to feet pattering across the floor, conversations in other languages, and cardboard ripping as stockers disassembled boxes and crates. Moving onto visual, I noticed that shoppers took their time in the Tesco to compare prices and inspect packaging and products and the majority of shoppers using carts or baskets had shopping lists. Also I feel like shoppers were not “perusing” but had a good idea of where they were going and what they needed. I spent the last half of my 30 minutes upstairs in the clothing, cosmetics, toys, sporting goods, and electronics. I thought the contrast between floors was insane. The lower level felt like a typical grocery store, while upstairs felt like a K-Mart or Wal-Mart. One of the first things I noticed about the consumer upstairs was that there were far more women upstairs than downstairs. The upper floor even smelled like a Wal-Mart with its mix of rubber scent from bike tires and sports equipment, the synthetic leathers and plastics from some of the apparel, and topped off with heavily scented cheap perfumes and lotions near cosmetics. I walked around the clothing department and noticed how the clothes not only looked like they could be in a discount retailer in the states but felt like clothes in a Wal-Mart too. The cottons were rougher and not soft like higher end garments and the jeans were stiffer and not a quality heavy denim. Everything about the products’ scent, feel and look fit in with the store’s concept.

My shopping experience as an ethnographer was so much better in Prague than in the UK. I had a better understanding of how to observe people and really see the whole picture.



ethnography training round 2

June 3, 2010

Parizsha Street is Prague’s Rodeo Drive.  Prada, Hermes, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Lacoste and an Aston Martin parked on the street should give you a mental picture.

Bridget and I took two walks down this street. Round 1 Bridget walked and closed her eyes and told me all the things she could smell.  With Bridget’s plugged nose from being sick it was a little tough.  Round 2 I walked with my eyes closed and said everything I could hear.

It was an interesting exercise to isolate our senses…especially the senses that we have been ignoring.  It is so easy to tell someone what you see, but really you are missing a lot of other details that could possibly be essential to the overall picture.

Walking down Parizsha Street in a normal fashion I may not have payed attention to the sound the silverware made when someone layed them back on their plate, or the strong perfume smell you instantly smell when you walk past a fashion boutique.  There was construction going on and each job created its own sound.

I wish we would have done this exercise at the beggining of the trip, but even so I realized that i was missing out on a lot of senses.  It was a good reminder of details I had been skipping over. The smells, sounds, and feelings that tap into the emotional connection with a location are key to understanding deep into a customers thought process.  I’m excited to apply this method when getting to know JC Penny and its customers for my senior capstone class next year.  I think this will help me get a feel for the customer and in turn create better advertisements.