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How Culture Impacts Service Expectations—and Why Americans Settle for Less

[RETHINK Retail] — Quality customer service should be a no-brainer when walking into a retail store. But finding a shopper who has had all quality shopping experiences is few and far between. And some shoppers want a store experience that exceeds their expectations so much that they’re willing to put their money where their gripes are.


Culture may influence shopping expectations

Approximately 47 percent of surveyors (out of a total of 20,736 surveyed) would avoid doing business with a retailer or consumer brand if their experience was frustrating. And that frustration could come in the form of various factors, including difficulty browsing and/or purchasing items.

Interestingly, 47 percent of all consumers said that they were open to paying more for a service experience that exceeds their expectations every time—with frustrated customers almost twice as likely as satisfied consumers to be willing to do so.

The 2019 survey was conducted by Coleman Parkes Research Ltd., on behalf of Accenture. Consumers weighed in from 19 countries: Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Respondents in China were most likely (81 percent) of all groups to say they’d pay for an experience that exceeds their expectations. In Germany, the better-experience-payment was 63 percent for frustrated customers versus 27 percent for satisfied customers. In Italy, it was 61 percent for frustrated customers versus 33 percent for satisfied customers.

On the other hand, the United Kingdom and the United States were a lot more lenient when it came to store expectations. Only 31 percent of U.S. consumers were in favor of a better-experience-payment while 28 percent of U.K. consumers would opt-in.


Why are Americans least likely to pay for better service?

From a geographical standpoint, there are quite a few things in American culture that may be considered rude in other regions: tipping, laughing with an open mouth, whistling, punctuality, not wearing a mask while sick in public, opening gifts in front of the giver, not rejecting a gift, being left-hand dominant, blowing your nose in public, crossing your fingers and/or talking with your hands in your pockets. Simple gestures here may be completely unacceptable to do in retail stores worldwide. Tip jars sit everywhere in U.S. stores, from fast-food restaurants to cafes to candle and cosmetic counters. Meanwhile, in places such as Japan, superior service is just expected without an added incentive. It’s also automatically calculated into the bill.

But why are Americans more lenient when it comes to “bad” manners in their own stores? And why are Americans less likely to pay for better service? Sure, the U.S. ranks in at number 25 for most tolerant country, but is there another reason?

One factor that may make Americans less likely to pay a higher price for a store experience is they’re most likely to shop online—removing concerns about rude employees, unorganized stores, crowded parking lots and other in-store purchasing frustrations. In 2012, the U.S. had the highest total revenue from online shopping worldwide. By 2015, the average amount spent per online shopper was $1,804, according to World Atlas.

With 96 percent of the adult U.S. population ordering items from behind a smartphone and/or computer screen, some of the usual shopper frustrations are diminished. Major deal-breakers for online shoppers would include not being able to navigate the site, items being out of stock online and/or having problems with final cart purchases.


Would eCommerce retailers do themselves a disservice by upping their rates?

In a digital world where consumers now have access to check multiple stores for the same product, companies already know they better keep their rates within reason. Quartz reports that before online shopping took off in the 2000s (with Amazon leading the pack), merchants may have only increased their pricing once or twice per year as a response to inflation or competition. But with algorithms, prices are constantly fluctuating online just to stay in the retail game. In turn, markdowns are much more likely than markups.

So, if product prices are going down, paying for a store experience doesn’t help U.S. shoppers get the retail bargain they’re often in search of. However, considering today’s retail stores often keep their in-store and online prices the same, this may work for and/or against employees, business owners and department stores. These lower prices force retailers in high-end areas to charge less for their products, while still being forced to pay top dollars for store rental space and employee wages. This may lead to bankruptcy, store closures and lower inventory.

Customers who are willing to spend a few more dollars to retail stores may be helping their own in-store experiences and even online customer service experience. For some groups, this is absolutely worth it. Others are OK without stores exceeding their expectations. But just as certain cultural behaviors may be considered a big deal to some while perfectly acceptable to others, it’s up to retailers (and people) to decide what matters most.