Posts Tagged ‘Czech Republic’

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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.

~Lauren

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Czech’n out fashion in Prague

June 1, 2010

Prague is a beautifully, historic, city unlike any other city I have ever traveled. I love the architecture, the castles and the cobblestones that give Prague its old world charm. While the town has remained rooted in tradition and Czech heritage, the fashions and retail stores in Prague have progressed with the centuries to bring Prague’s shopping scene to the 21st century. However while Prague may offer all the modern stores and big name brands the people of Prague and the Czech Republic are not as focused on fashion as a priority when it comes to spending their money. Walking the streets in Prague and looking at shop owners in Old Town and some of the streets away from the city center, I got the impression that fashion and clothing was more of a necessity that was purchased on a need basis versus an item that was something to splurge on. Most of the Czech people are dressed in a very basic way that doesn’t look high end or branded. The clothing that the typical Prague person wears looks like its comes from an independent store that is owned by local families. I think this could potentially be because some Czech may still not be use to the idea of the new variety in choices of brands and stores since gaining their independence in 1989. Not only that, but in one of our presentations we found out that the average Prague citizen does not make a lot of money, or at least in comparison to the average American. Therefore Czechs are much more price conscious than people from other European countries, specifically people in London come to mind. These thoughts were confirmed after shopping around several popular retail locations around the city.

Palladium (Old Town)

The Palladium is a 200+ store shopping mall located on the outskirts of Old Town. I have to say that visually when I walked into the mall I felt visually both the interior and shoppers in the mall did not reflect the majority of the people walking the streets outside. The Palladium is an extremely modern 4 floor megamall that offers international brands such as H&M, Levis, and Puma as well as other popular names like TopShop, Diesel, and ESpirit. I felt as though I had been transported back to the States and in a semi-upscale mall in Chicago. The shopping experience was very American with loud popular American music pulsating from the entrances. I also noticed that some of the stores that sold fragrances that the stores smelled like their fragrance just like an Abercrombie or other other high end retailer does in the States. One observation I made instantly however in regards to the actual consumers in the Palladium was that they were mostly tourists in H&M alone I heard Chinese, French, Indian, Spanish, English ( including British, Australian, and American accents) as well as Czech. Most of the Czech people I noticed were younger but were very selective in their purchases and even items to try on. Most customers would only try on one or two things and then perhaps buy one of the items. Looking at the checkout line was fascinating. I noticed the majority of people were buying one item either a  single article of clothing or small accessory. I also noticed that consumers under the age of 25 always paid in cash and if they were over 25 more the 30-50 category they always used a credit card. Perhaps this could be because younger Czech students and teens don’t work and maybe help out with a family business while the older consumers have an income and therefore have the means to have a credit card. Otherwise they may be parents or tourists who find credit cards more convenient while traveling. H&M was not nearly as busy as the ones back home or in London either and I think a large part of this has to do with the income level of most Czechs, while H&M is pretty inexpensive, it is still more expensive than other smallers shops because it is located in a touristy area and carriers a big name.

I also visited TopShop at the Palladium which was a completely different experience from the one I had in London. The first difference I noticed is that the store was completely empty except for myself and maybe 4 others. In London every TopShop I entered regardless of the time of day was packed with locals and tourists shopping and trying on stacks of clothing. TopShop in Prague reflects the cultural norm that not only are name brands not necessary, but fashion is also not a high priority for local citizens. The prices in TopShop are too high for the average person in Prague and therefore it is not going to be as packed as the stores in London where people can afford and value cutting edge fashion.

I think the Palladium may be intimidating to locals of the older generation who grew up without these choices available to them with fashion. Going from 1 brand, style, and store to 200+ brands and stores in 1 building in just 20 years is a huge change for this developing country. While the younger generation appears to be adapting well and working to incorporate modern brands and stores into their lifestyles I think my first impression upon Czech culture when it comes to fashion and shopping is that they value good prices that are affordable and follow tradition over the modern, high fashions and major labels that are popular in London and the US. I felt almost as though I time traveled back 10 to 15 years to the early 1990’s when I walk around most of the streets in Prague because a lot of their trends and choices in products would have been popular in the states back then and I see older styles still available in smaller shops in Prague as well. Up next I’ll describe my experiences and observations shopping at both Parizka Street and Tesco located in Prague, but until then “Czech out” this photo of Prague’s Palladium.

~Lauren