[LETTERS to the editor]Wal-Mart failed due to Americanization

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[LETTERS to the editor]Wal-Mart failed due to Americanization

The success story of E-Mart, a domestic retailer, and the failure in Korea of multinational corporations such as Wal-Mart, the world’s No.-1 retailer, and Carrefour, the top retailer in Europe, are not enough to justify the claim that globalization fell to “glocalization.” This case is just another instance of intense competition resulting from free trade and Americanization. People say that Wal-Mart failed to catch the Korean consumer’s preferences, rashly assuming that, just like with American customers, cheap prices justify anything. In fact, some Korean ajummas said they did not like the warehouse-like atmosphere of Wal-Mart and preferred the department store-like, neat, sophisticated atmosphere and cheap prices of E-Mart.
But let’s go over this “Korean consumers’ problem” against Wal-Mart’s “warehouse-like” atmosphere. Glocalization-ers argue that Wal-mart failed to satisfy the “unique” Korean consumer’s preference for a neat and department- store-like shopping environment. However, if this is true, there is no way to explain the success of Costco, with an atmosphere way more warehouse-and-factory-like than Wal-Mart.
Korea is not “a graveyard for some of the most competitive global brands.” Wal-mart’s failure could have occurred anywhere in the world. Let’s assume E-Mart competed in the United States. Where would American consumers go ― to the dull but cheap Wal-Mart that has “glocalized,” or a clean and neat store with good and cheap products? Of course they’d choose the latter. American customers don’t only care for cheap prices; maybe they didn’t care for a nice shopping environment because they’ve never been to E-Mart. But Korean customers who have been to a better market will not go to a worse retailer. Such things cannot be called glocalization; they are typical things that always go on in the market.
The success story of E-Mart and the failure of Wal-mart have nothing to do with glocalization. Instead, blame Americanization. The competition between the Americanized E-Mart and the American Wal-Mart is unconvincing as glocalization just because E-Mart is a Korean retailer. In fact, theirs was a fierce fight between two Americanized companies. Everybody seems to be busy relating this issue to glocalization that they forget about the failing sijang, or traditional markets of Korea. Glocalization is defined as the mix of global standards and local standards. Where is the local standard in E-Mart? Can we go there and bargain down prices like in the traditional markets? Can their salesladies remember our faces and slip in one or two more rice cakes for free? E-Mart sells products that Koreans need, but basically it’s an Americanized store. To sum up, the story of E-mart and Wal-Mart may be significant because Wal-Mart, a huge company, failed, but this thing happens all the time. That’s what the market is all about. Glocalization does not fit in this story because neither Wal-Mart nor E-Mart was “glocalized” in the first place.

by Jang Hye-won
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