Purpose – The purpose of this study is to assess differences between the guidance offered by cultural studies in the services literature and the retailing literature for emerging markets. To research these differences, the role that the contact person has towards South African township residents' willingness to buy is to be assessed. Design/methodology/approach – A services quality survey of black (ethnic Xhosa) township residents was performed for two different retail types: new, small, independently owned grocery retailers located within the townships, and established, large, national chains located within the city centres. The influence of these services quality measures on willingness to buy was assessed using the partial least squares method for each of the two retail types. Differences between the model parameters for these two retail types were assessed using ANOVA. Findings – The results show that, consistent with the retailing literature, the contact people in these new, small, local and independently owned retailers focus extensively on empathy to influence willingness to buy, while the contact people in the large, traditionally white-owned national retailers jointly focus on assurance and responsiveness to influence willingness to buy, and spend very little effort on empathy. Research limitations/implications – Research implications are based on the usefulness of supporting theory, namely that the guidance offered by the cultural studies in the retailing literature is more predictive than that in the services literature for the emerging South African retailing market. Practical implications – It is found that core elements in relationship marketing are well ingrained in collectivist Xhosa cultural norms. The results suggest that these cultural norms can, and should, be leveraged by the new independently owned grocery retailers. Originality/value – The research addresses a key concern within emerging markets and offers practical help for retail development within this dynamic economic setting.
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