Bavarian stores look to cross-cultural measures to attract more Americans
By MARTIN EGNASH AND MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 4, 2019
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Bavarian leaders are educating store owners on how Americans shop, while aiming to make businesses more profitable and daily life a little easier for the many thousands of servicemembers in the area.
Businesses near the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas hope to attract more Americans through a series of cross-cultural measures, advertising acceptance of value-added tax forms and U.S. credit cards, and being aware of U.S. holidays, officials said.
The chamber of commerce in Regensburg for the Oberfpalz area recently began distributing “VAT Form Accepted” stickers to business owners, chamber spokesman Florian Rieder said.
About 30,000 Americans live in the area and have an estimated purchasing power of 800 million euros ($900 million) annually, he said.
Rieder said businesses in the areas surrounding U.S. military bases have noticed some differences in how U.S. soldiers shop when compared to Germans.
“Bavarians enter a store and they first want to spend some time alone and check things out before they expect a shop owner to talk to them,” Rieder said. “Americans are different. They expect that they are immediately greeted, and they prefer it if someone approaches them quickly to advise.”
Little things like these would matter because they affect customer satisfaction, he said.
More businesses owners also need to accept credit cards because many Americans have little cash on them — unlike Germans, who more often prefer cash, Rieder said.
German businesses could also offer sales and specials on American holidays if they’re more aware of them, he said.
Rieder said the chamber of commerce adopted the concepts from colleagues in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, which includes Ramstein Air Base. The American purchasing power in the Kaiserslautern area alone is estimated at roughly 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion) annually, according to the chamber’s website.
Many servicemembers stationed in the Grafenwoehr area regularly shop both on and off post.
Capt. Mike Van Dyke, a troop commander with the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, said that although he occasionally shops for groceries on post, most of his purchases are in German stores. Van Dyke, an avid cyclist and outdoorsman, said he prefers more of the equipment available in German stores than on post.
“I buy almost everything on the German economy,” Van Dyke said, citing quality and variety of available products.
Van Dyke said that he and many of his more experienced soldiers use VAT forms to save money on big purchases but generally don’t use them for smaller things, since they must buy the VAT forms on post.
He said that newly arrived soldiers sometimes forget to use the forms.
“I think as leaders, we should do a better job at making sure we educate our junior soldiers on money-saving habits, like how to use VAT forms,” Van Dyke said. “They get a class about it when they arrive, but everyone is always jetlagged during those classes, and so much information is crammed into those days that it’s hard to retain everything.”