Posts Tagged ‘Shopping’

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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

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The Classic Battle of North vs. South

May 27, 2010

Call it hometown pride if you like, but I was surprised to find out that there is a battle of the North and South brewing in the UK. In London, we heard about how the Scots and English were feuding, but apparently the English have a bit of a battle going on within their own country. In northern England and Manchester the locals had an openly harsh opinion of their southern neighbors in London. People of Manchester referred to themselves as the “real British people” and the backbone of the country. The feuding of the two regions reminded me not only of the North vs. South in the States as a whole, but also of the rivalry in the city of Chicago and the state of Wisconsin when it comes to sports. For example, Northern Chicago residents are typically Cubs fans, and Southern residents are very passionate about the White Sox. The fans have a long history of bitter rivalry, however at the end of the day, both the North and the South can agree that the Milwaukee Brewers are their ultimate enemy. And in this case, the Milwaukee Brewers and Wisconsin are the Scottish. What does the rivalry between London and Manchester (North and South) have to do with fashion?  After spending about two days in Manchester, I was able to draw some similarities as well as vast differences between the two cities when it comes to their cultural understanding and view of fashion.

As stated in an earlier post, in London, everyone is always well put together. Londoners are confident in who they are and value individualism. They enjoy mixing vintage, timeless fashion with cutting edge trends and styles of the modern day. For Londoners fashion is a form of self expression that allows them to be who they want to be and tell others who they are. Londoners like to follow trends but like to let people know that they still have their own point of view and don’t need to look like everyone else to be accepted in the city. London is culturally diverse, pack with residents and tourist of all different ethnicity’s which perhaps also contribute to the variety in style. Think about it, with so many cultures packed into the city, it’s only natural for Londoners to pick up on styles and tastes of other countries and blend them into their lives to make a style that is so culturally blended it becomes a cornucopia of trends that are undefinable by any one culture. Londoners in the South liked to be unique and trendsetters in their own way. Londoner’s want to look like they are ready to go out on the town with a sophisticated, put together look. However, they stay true to who they are and don’t try to emulate who they wish they were.

I had never been to Manchester before, and I had expected it to be basically London only farther North. Upon our arrival however I couldn’t help but notice how much more industrial the city was. Manchester was smaller, less modern, and dirtier. My first impression of fashion however was at the train station where I saw a massive woman body builder looking woman who was built like a linebacker. She was wearing leather leggings, a spandex black t-shirt with army boots and had a scarlet red mohawk and looked about 45 years old. What kind of city was this?! Luckily I quickly realized there are exceptions in every city for the norm of fashion. We went on a walking tour of Manchester early Wednesday morning with our tour guide who while put together, was much more traditionally dressed than some of the men seen in London. While our guide was put together and dressed sharply, there were no surprises. Classic suit with button up shirt and matching tie, and a pair of classic wingtip shoes to finish the look. In London, he would have maybe had a bit more of a modern flair with some funky shoes, vintage shirt, or crazy hat or watch. However while his outfit may be lacking spunk, his attitude was not. Our tour guide was sassy, with witty jokes and comments.  On the tour we had a chance to explore the different corners of Manchester, while also observing the local residents. One of the first things I noticed was that the guide was not alone in his more traditional, laid back attire. Mancunians were much more subdued, wearing jeans, t-shirts, even sweatpants out and about day or night. Our guide informed us on the background of Manchester being the more industrial, working class society in comparison to London. This explains why perhaps most of the residents did not seem to be dressed up as much as Londoners. In order to compensate for not having as much disposable income to spend on expensive clothes, Mancunians wear vintage clothes which are less expensive yet still make a statement. On the tour we visited several different areas that meet the needs of different consumers.

Affleck’s Palace

Affleck’s is located near China Town in Manchester and is actually the name of a building that houses several smaller independent designers and stores such as No Angel and Space Hop which have a vintage and gothic style. Affleck’s was not overly packed with shoppers and when I spoke with one of the shop workers they said they have a rather loyal consumer base that comes in. Affleck’s did a great job of building making the store fit the consumer. The shoppers that were in there (apart from some tourists) all dressed very uniquely in a hodgepodge way that was very eclectic. The store was set up uniquely as well with multi-colored walls and really no clear cut organization of where one shop ends, and another begins. The smell of the building was also very vintage it smelled musty like my grandmother’s basement mixed with potpourri. The shoppers of the store seemed at home and comfortable in the store where they knew everyone. Affleck’s wasn’t just a place to shop for vintage looks, it was a place to meet up with friends and talk.

Primarx

I had no idea what a Primarx was before Manchester. I had seen a few Primarx bags around London, but didn’t actually go in one until Manchester. All I have to say is SEARS. Primarx screams SEARS from the white floors and walls, to simple to the point signs in bold fonts giving the price and basic item description. The bright sterile fluorescent lighting and scent of synthetic fabrics and leathers wafted throughout the store. Also the store was packed with shoppers like back in the states on Black Friday. At first I thought they were all tourists buying the 1 pound sunglasses and 5 pound dresses but as I walked around and listened nearly every shopper sounded like they were from Britain. Once again this low budget shop was packed with locals who needed to shop on a budget. On huge difference I noticed in Primarx was that it had a lot of young teen shoppers in it and for the first time, in groups larger than 2 or 3. Primarx is an ideal shopping spot for teens to go to after school with their babysitting money or allowance to pick up a new top at a low price. However, like London, there was a large amount of young women shopping with their mothers and talking about clothes and seeking the other’s opinion. Primarx was one of the first places I saw more people shopping together than alone. I think this may have something to do with the affordability and universal appeal it has. Primarx offers consumers a little bit of everything and in a generic way where shoppers of all ages can find something they may like or need. Primarx was a popular place for families as well because of the cheap clothing and large selection. Just like SEARS, people in Manchester know that Primarx will offer them the selection they want for their wardrobe at the low cost they need.

New Cathedral Street

New Cathedral Street is located in the newer up-and-coming area of Manchester than was completely rebuilt after the IRA bombing. Along this street are all the high end and big name brands such as Louis Vuitton, Ugg, Lactose, and Harvey Nichols. This is not only the most modern part of Manchester, but the most expensive. Even though Manchester is a more of a working class city, there are still residents who can either a) actually can afford to buy more expensive brands or b) save up to splurge on high end brands once in a while to complement a look from a cheaper store. However When I walked around this area, I saw more tourists here than in any other part of the city. Much of the older parts of the city were much quieter with a few locals here and there but Cathedral seemed like the hub for tourists.

Manchester and London shared some similarities such as the quest for individuality and a sense of confidence in staying true to who you are. Where they differed was that Londoners tended to be able to splurge a bit more on clothes and looks with a bit more cutting edge flair while mixing in vintage looks. Manchester on the other hand, had to be more creative in being unique. Mancunians buy a lot of vintage, with more traditional basics that are of a lower cost. While high end retailers and brands are present in Manchester, they are not the first choice in shopping among locals. Mancunians don’t want to be like those “southern city-slicker Londoners,” they want to retain the identity of Manchester and still think of themselves as “the real British.”

~Lauren

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The Culture Code of London…

May 25, 2010

After spending over a week in London I have been able to gain a real sense of what fashion and shopping means to Londoners. I have been to all different parts of the city in high end and low end shopping areas. I think overall though the most consistent theme with fashion in London is that it is all about INDIVIDUALITY. While leggings, gladiator sandals, skinny jeans, tunics, funky prints, and vintage looks are all very popular in London, locals seem to all take these popular trends and mix them with alternative, unique pieces that makes their own unique look. Mixing old with new is a common approach to fashion. While stores like Harrods, Top Shop, H&M, and other major brands are popular stops in London for shoppers of all ages, each person also ventures out to other nearby boutiques to find that one statement piece to add a little extra something to a dress, or shirt that hundreds of other people may own.

What I found very interesting to further explain how INDIVIDUALITY is highly valued in London is comparing the high and lower end stores in the city. Today I had the chance to visit ASDA (the UK’s Wal-Mart), which was completely different from anything I had seen so far in London. At ASDA prices were displayed in large bold print, and shoppers very very price conscious. I noticed in particular in one of the aisles that had several different solid colored tank tops and tees that shoppers looked at everything from a distance and then narrowed into the items of the lowest cost. This price analysis from consumers was different from anything that I had seen so far. However once the consumer had picked out the top, I noticed that several of the women went over to the accessory aisle soon after to look at a belt of necklace that would complement the look. Here customers seemed to go towards what stood out, or what appealed to them most rather than looking at the price first. The shoppers at ASDA seemed to know that since their options in clothes may be limited at this price point, they can still take it from generic to unique by adding a quirky accessory.

One other major point I want to make about ASDA is that in comparison to American discount stores, I was surprised that there were no designer “knock-offs”. Back in the states Wal-Mart, Forever 21, Target, and Kohls all try to mimic the styles and trends in the upscale stores and brands. Back in the states stores will through on a little moose or seagull logo slightly different from ones at Hollister or Abercrombie so people that may not be able to afford the real thing can feel like they are following the trend and fit in with everyone else. Even designer handbags are copied and sold as knock-offs at low prices and fabrics and designs are copied. Back home fashion is about fitting in, and following trends so discount stores sell products that mimic those that are more expensive. In London, ASDA and other discount stores do their own thing, so that people at that price point can still make their own look. Londoners don’t want to lo0ok like everyone else, they all seem to have a real sense of self, and are true to who they are. They live having their own INDIVIDUAL style that reflect who they are.

This idea of INDIVIDUALITY in London can be seen again at the higher end stores as well. Today I also had the chance to visit Carnaby Street which is a small block located off of Oxford and Regent Streets in one of the most popular shopping areas in London. The street is lined with some store unique to Europe and the UK but I was surprised to see some popular brands on this block as well such as Levi’s, Puma, American Apparel and Diesel. However also located on Carnaby is a store called Liberty, which is one of the oldest fashion stores in London. From the outside the store looks like a German mansion, or medieval lodge. On the inside the theme continue with a five story center foyer and dark wood pillars and banisters. I was surprised to see that Liberty is actually a very very very upscale store. Stella McCartney, Fendi, Chloe, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and other major couture designers were featured throughout the interior. While this store did not have the quantity of clothes in various sizes, each designer only had 2 or 3 styles in one or two sizes. Shoppers were much more sparse in this store, however for the shoppers that can afford to pay 1500 pounds for a dress or outfit are still guaranteed INDIVIDUALITY if they choose to purchase here. Shoppers at Liberty are extremely wealthy, know fashion, and know the designers they want to buy from. With that said, since each designer only had one small rack with a few select pieces, if a consumer purchased from  Liberty they are guaranteed to own a piece that is unique and perhaps one of a kind.

Over the course of the past week, I have observed perhaps hundreds of shoppers, been to many stores, and talked to some interesting people that all have a unique style. In the end though the main consistency that I found with the majority of Londoners is that they all value INDIVIDUALITY.

Well, time to experience Manchester! Cheers London I can’t wait till we meet again!

~Lauren

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