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Consumer Mobility and the Communication of Difference: Reflecting on Cross-Border Shopping Practices and Experiences in the Dutch-German Borderland

Martin van der Velde, Bas Spierings


The current debate on consumption and retailing represents shoppers as highly mobile and looking for different experiences. In an attempt to find satisfaction, shoppers are assumed to explore many places and countries. It is in cross-border regions that large functional, physical, and socio-cultural differences can be experienced in a relatively small area. Such differences could make crossing national borders appealing as well as unappealing. This contribution scrutinizes what cross-border shoppers are looking for and what level of "unfamiliarity" they are willing to accept. A brief analysis of cross-border shopping practices in the EU is combined with a detailed case study of Millingen in the Netherlands and Kranenburg in Germany to explore what shoppers see as (un)appealing. We argue that the knowledge shoppers have of people and places on "the other side" and information that is communicated may (re)arrange differences as "familiar" and "unfamiliar". Places promising "familiar unfamiliarity" seem to appeal to shoppers and therefore generate cross-border shopping practices. Paradoxically, the construction of borders and the communication of appealing differences seem necessary to sustain and promote shopping mobility.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229