Insights
Dec 13, 20197 min read

Do Our Nationalities Shape the Way We Shop Online?

Vivika Söderbäck headshot

by Viveka Söderbäck

What assumptions do people make about you based on your nationality? You might find these stereotypes funny or annoying, but they persist nonetheless. These preconceptions might shape many things we do in life, but does that include the way we shop online? Let’s find out.

Each nationality has its own stereotype; a way in which outsiders view the country and the people. Some are surprisingly accurate while others miss the mark by some way. The question is, are these stereotypes apparent in everything we do? In my role as Consumer Insights Manager at Klarna, I especially wanted to know if they affect people’s shopping behavior.

After doing several consumer studies, we came to quite an interesting discovery: You actually can recognize some stereotypes in the way that people of different nationalities manage their finances. Which brings us to the next question: Does this mean that our shopping behavior is dictated by where we come from?

Let’s have a look at three different nationalities, their stereotypes and their economic patterns.

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The stereotypes

Germans. We might typically see them as structured and wanting to be in control. They’re always on time, don’t say more than necessary and carry a tough history of wars with them. And yes, this stereotype also reflects the way they take care of their finances. Germans check their bank accounts regularly; if not every day, at least several times a month. They’re also seen as thrifty and take big pride in saving money. They simply are control freaks, right?

Americans. They live in the land of the free, but how free is it if you don’t have a proper credit score? Well, you’re not free to get a mortgage for housing at least. In the US, it’s all about gaining a high credit score, and you do that by buying things on credit – and paying it back on time. This shows your financial reliability; you have spending power and, most importantly, you can pay your bills on time. Because of this, Americans are not that afraid of debt, and over the years it simply becomes a part of their everyday life. They are the people with all the freedom, as long as they can pay their credit card bills on time.

Swedes. The people who love everything to be equal. They split the bills at restaurants and highly promote gender equality and an inclusive environment. Sweden is very much a welfare country and hasn’t been in a war in 200 years. Swedes live for the 25th of every month, as that’s when everyone (yes, I really mean everyone) gets paid. Talk to a Swede for ten minutes and you will certainly have discussed the housing market or the weather. Speaking of the housing market, it’s very common to buy your own apartment or house relatively young, simply because there are not enough rental apartments out there.

When it comes to economic behavior, Swedes check their bank accounts from the 25th (payday, yay!) up to the 31st. After that, not so much. Young people are quite scared of debt, but once they take out that housing loan they become more comfortable with the idea. They’re not afraid to spend their money either, whether it is going to restaurants (even though the prices are sky-high) or buying housings. A bunch of happy welfare people from the North, in other words.

Beyond the stereotypes

These descriptions, although they may have some truth to them, are strongly exaggerated and based on stereotypes. But looking beyond the generalizations, there is a rather natural explanation for the differing financial behavior of each nationality which can be summed up in one word.

Context.

It’s all about the structure in society. What’s the country’s history, when do people get their salary, and at what age do they typically take out loans? These are all important questions that influence the whole economic cycle of a country.

Germans are not necessarily control freaks, they simply have to check their bank accounts regularly since the economic flow in Germany doesn’t revolve around one date (as it does in Sweden, for example). Payday varies, and bills are paid throughout the month, which makes it hard to neatly take care of all major income and expenses in the space of a few days.

When it comes to credit and loans, Germans are quite wary. They are firm believers in debit and cash, and many people will only take on debt if it’s to buy a home. This is made possible by the wide offering of rentals (no need for a mortgage early in life) and a mentality of holding onto your money in case of worse times ahead. The latter is a typical heritage from wartime.

Americans, on the other hand, are not afraid of debt, since they have to build up a credit score early on. It becomes part of their lifestyle and something they have to have, if they are ever to be able to take out a larger loan for housing or a car. It’s all about the credit score, remember.

Swedes aren’t averse to credit either, since many are forced to take out a mortgage quite early in life. This is, in contrast to Germany, because of poor availability of rentals, especially in bigger cities. Also, almost every student gets into debt while studying. Swedes’ financial behavior is very much focused on the 25th (payday for everyone) and all bills are due in the days that follow. By the 31st they really don’t have to check their accounts much, since everything has (often automatically) been taken care of already. The money they still have on their account after the 31st, can be spent with a good conscience. Sweden has also been spared from wars in modern history and is very much a welfare country. If something happens to you (you lose your job or get sick), social institutions will have your back.

But what happens if you take all of these shoppers out of context? On an international level, you’ll see we aren’t that different after all. We all want the same in the end: to buy from somewhere that we can…

…feel safe
…get a hassle-free experience
…and choose the way of shopping and paying that suits us best.

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The good and the bad news

Okay, enough about consumers and their stereotypes. What does this mean for online retailers? Well, there is both good and bad news. Let’s start with the good.

Regardless of the market, consumers are not as different from one another as you may think.

And the bad news is…

That every market is different because of its context. And if the context changes, so do consumer behavior.

The takeaway from this is that you have to get to know your market well, but still have in mind that all shoppers simply want the same thing in the end: A great shopping experience that fits the context.

It’s as simple as that. Good luck!