Is my offering going to work in a new culture?


One of the key features to building a successful ecommerce business on an international scale is knowing the different cultures you are selling into. Social, economic and religious factors are the main influencers of culture, and they all have a significant impact on people’s online purchases. To succeed in international ecommerce, you and your business need to understand the marketplace and how customers make their choices.

Some countries share similar cultures and thus share similar purchase patterns, for example, countries in the EU. Other countries, however, may be completely stand-alone in how they shop online. India and China for example are two of Asia and the world’s biggest manufacturers and leaders of import and export, but they each have different preferences in the quality and types of products they buy, as well as the methods in which they pay.

Here are the main contributing factors to different cultures and what you need to know about them when selling into new markets:

Familial constructs

The power shift between parents and children is different between western and eastern cultures. The different dimensions within families will impact who makes the purchase decisions and this will therefore need to be considered when marketing your product: are you aiming it at the child, or the parent, or both? How will your message get through to the right audience so that they click ‘buy’?

For example, it is known that many children in North America and parts of Europe are majorly influenced by advertising and consumerist culture. Items that are endorsed by celebrities, new trends and modern technology, or exclusive products and just down right expensive toys, are always at the top of their wishlists. These western children might pester their parents for a new toy or a new product they have seen online. Your product and brand message therefore needs to speak to them.

In contrast, ‘pester power’ is weaker in eastern countries such as China, where the parents are the main decision makers and will look for products that will educate or benefit their children in a different way. With other factors such as online restrictions or strong religious values, some children in eastern cultures may not have regular access to the internet, if at all. Your product there needs to have a different marketing strategy to speak to those parents: different audience, different message.

Gendered marketing

Gender remains a topical and fascinating aspect of marketing strategies. When considering other cultures, you need to think about the different values that men and women have, and the different gender-based messages that a product can display. This is not necessarily excluding a product from one gender or the other, but more about how consumers associate by nature.

For example, sport and alcohol products characteristically portray ‘masculine’ slogans, as people generally associate or stereotype ideas such as ‘strength’ and ‘power’ with male tendencies. Other products and services such as charity based campaigns exhibit more ‘feminine’ qualities, as females are generally associated with ideas such as ‘communication and cooperation’ and ‘quality of life’. You therefore need to consider if your product lies in the balance, and whether or not you would benefit from leaning towards more ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ language.

Long-term vs. short-term investments

In the UK (and generally in the western world) we have a short-term attitude towards most things. Our “buy now, pay later” attitude means that we rarely think more than a few years ahead. There is a difference in time orientation in different countries, as well as in generations. For example, purchase patterns between the millennials markets and that of the elderly generations are exceedingly different.

If you are selling to a culture that has a long-term outlook, they need to know that you are going to be there in years to come. This can be done by advertising long warranty periods, providing long term support, putting an “established date” on your branding or any other methods that appeal to the long-term orientation of the market. If you are selling to a short-term culture, then the message needs to be that of innovation, change and new products and services.

Indulgence vs. restraint

Some countries favour indulgence over practical decisions. In western cultures, we are determined by our desire for pleasure and enjoyment out of life, rewarding ourselves and making impulse buys. In other cultures, perhaps where there are strong religious values or other ethical factors, a culture of restraint will prevail as people value ideas such as sanctity, altruism and are less bowled over by consumerist culture.

In short, if you are selling a product that relies on an indulgent market, attempting to sell it in a restrained culture will not work. For example, websites selling sex toys have been very successful in the UK and USA in recent years, but it is unlikely that they will be able to mirror this success in countries such as Oman and Dubai.

understanding different cultures in a new market

Individualism vs. Collectivism

This clearly has a profound impact on marketing; if customers fit into clearly defined groups then it is much easier to target them. Cultures with a high level of individualism are harder to penetrate than other so focus on those cultures with clearly defined groups that fit with your offering (or if those groups are important enough, develop an offering for them).


Some cultures prefer to know clear purposes and clear definitions of what a product is for and therefore would be drawn towards marketing that issues guidelines, laws, rules and regulations etc. Other cultures are drawn towards advertising that presents a sense of freedom to interpretation and endless possibilities. These cultures tend to respond well rebellious language and are more ‘free flowing’ in their purchases.

For example, if you look at car advertising in the UK, particularly that of 4x4s, the message is often that of freedom – the idea of getting away, and going wild is particularly important. In other cultures that prefer the rules and regulations in purchasing, this messaging is often replaced by the idea of strength and security. This is mirrored in alcohol marketing also. Think of campaigns such as WKD’s “Have you got a WKD side?” and you can clearly see that the message is one of freedom.


If you can understand the different factors, then you can decipher whether or not your product is going to sell. If you are able to adapt or change your product in some way to meet the requirements of a new culture, then do so. A larger audience means a greater chance for growth. You can only succeed in international ecommerce if you are willing to learn and embrace the importance of cultural difference.

Whatever product you are trying to sell, consider the above cultural differences and societal constructs. For more information, you can learn about the measurements outlined by Hofstede by contacting international commerce experts at Thrive Digital.

Topics: E-commerce, Export Planning, Insights & Statistics, Localisation, and Market Research
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