The Middle East is a growing and lucrative marketplace. This exploratory study examines retail service in Kuwait and Lebanon, regions with long histories of trade. Retail service, however, has not been well documented in this region. To our knowledge, this is the first study that examines customer and salespeople perceptions of service encounters in these countries, in light of their culture, religion, and nationalities. As retailers expand into new markets worldwide, such information is vital to their success. Future research directions are discussed. Article:
Prior to the Gulf War and the 9/11 attacks on the United States, many in the U.S., and other Western countries, knew little about the Middle East. Besides Islamic terrorists primarily conducting operations in Israel and other foreign countries, Westerners generally recognize the Middle East as an oil-rich region, but few have a deeper understanding of the market opportunities in this region (Abbasi and Hollman 1993). The discovery of commercial quantities of oil in several countries of the Gulf Region in the 1930s has enabled the transformation of these nomadic desert societies to the economically and ethnically varied countries of today (Commerce 2001).
For clarity, we refer to the Middle East as all the countries in the region, including the two of primary interest in this study—Kuwait and Lebanon. Gulf Region or Gulf States are generally interchangeable terms referring to the typically oil-rich countries along the Persian Gulf, from Kuwait to the United Arab Emirates and including Iraq and Iran. Lebanon is not a Gulf State. The term ―Arab‖ is a cultural and linguistic definition and not a ―racial‖ definition. It refers to the many peoples in the Middle East and North Africa. While the countries without oil reserves have generally remained relatively poor, the oil-rich Gulf Region economies are diversifying and wealth is spreading beyond the royal families to those in lower socio-economic classes. The growth of the middle class has been significant.
Wealth produced by oil attracts a huge immigrant population to those Middle Eastern countries that have significant oil reserves. This amounts to over 60 percent of the population in Kuwait. Most immigrants to Kuwait originate from the Arab world, from Egypt to Syria, providing doctors, teachers, engineers, office staff, and skilled workers (Russell 2000). Immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other parts of Asia fill service jobs, and are in lower economic strata. Additionally, a few European and American expatriates work in the oil, finance and commerce, or defense industries and occupy the upper economic bracket in Kuwait. In Lebanon, 95 percent of the population is Arab, 4 percent Armenian, and 1 percent other nationalities (Russell 2000). Lebanon is predominantly Muslim (70%) and Christian (30%). Like Kuwait, Lebanon has been faced with war. However, unlike Kuwait, Lebanon has not been as politically stable. Therefore, there has been much less foreign investment in Lebanon. Growing middle and upper-middle classes have spurred the development of retail stores in many Middle Eastern countries, especially in the Gulf Region. An increasing percentage of the population has traveled to the West, particularly Western Europe and the United States, where retail service has long been stressed. Fast food retailers such as McDonald’s and Burger King have particularly popular, but others such as TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, and Hardee’s are also well established and growing (Ramseyer 2001). As global retailers penetrate the Middle East and as customers become more sophisticated, the importance of service increases. While many Western retailers have devoted time and resources to better understand their local customers, venturing into the Middle East presents new and intriguing challenges. In this study...