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School of Business and Management

Living and Consuming Across Borders


Insights into the “precarious and challenging” lives of transnational professionals working simultaneously across multiple countries have been published in The Journal of Consumer Research.

Building a tight network and sharing inside knowledge on products and services are some of the strategies uncovered that transnational workers employ to weather the challenges of living in two, three or sometimes four countries at a time.

The research, Transnational Marketing Navigation: Living and Consuming Across Borders, is based on interviews, personal diaries and visits with 30 transnational professionals aged 26 to 63 about their experiences of living and working in more than one country.

Dr Zahra Sharifonnasabi is Assistant Professor in Marketing at Queen Mary University of London, who led the research alongside Dr Laetitia Mimoun of ESCP Business School, Paris, and Professor Fleura Bardhi of Bayes Business School.

She said: “Transnational living is complex, challenging, resource-heavy and often precarious.”

“Transnational professionals need to extensively invest in their time, money and effort to plan their lives. We have also seen how this group of workers use their network to adapt and react to “external shocks”, such as increases in visa fees, Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

“This research could have relevance for consumer brands, HR professionals working multi-nationally and perhaps travel and hospitality industries.”

"Examples of transnational consumers can be found in long-distance family arrangements in which, for instance, one parent lives and works in the UK with the children while the other parent lives and works in China; long-distance company assignments in which, for instance, oil ring workers are sent abroad on an offshore platform for several months at time; seasonal migrations in which, for instance, people will spend the winter teaching ski in the mountain and the summer teaching surfing next to the sea, and expats whose whole family moves internationally every few years following corporate assignments, to name a few." 

Within the paper, the researchers investigate how transnational professionals interact across a Transnational Social Space – a network of social, market and institutional ties across borders.

The research identifies three key strategies employed by transnational professionals to maximise resource and opportunity, while minimizing the cost of living and ensuring future mobilities: clustering consumption, embracing commercial lock-ins and developing cluster-based competency.

Clustering consumption

Transnational professionals take advantage of localised access to products and services, honing in on what local markets can offer – for example, buying groceries in Greece and cosmetics in the US. This cuts down on time and resource searching for products in an unfamiliar area.

One interview respondent said “Shopping in Greece and the US is much easier because I know what I want. I bring canned products and wine to my place in London and haven’t made an attempt to search here [UK].”

Embracing Commercial Lock-ins

Transnational professionals work hard to build and maintain relationships with services and are prepared to travel across borders to access these when they have a trusted commercial friendship. The study shows these efforts help transnationals maintain a sense of security and continuity by preserving consumption routines and ties spread across their clusters, despite the precarious nature of their lives rooted in frequent mobilities and lack of a singular home.

For example, a respondent has maintained a relationship with her hairdresser and beautician in Spain, despite living across the UK, US, Spain and Italy.

“Preserving these commercial friendships helps transnational consumers secure commercial, financial, and social benefits, such as priority welcome without an appointment in exchange for loyalty,” said Dr Sharifonnasabi.

Developing Cluster-based Competency

Transnational professionals must acquire local knowledge as well as transferrable skills to navigate different countries they are engaged with. Therefore, they may purposefully, narrowly, and occasionally adapt to an entire consumer society. For example, for a respondent based across three locations, they maintain a home and family cluster where they put down roots, a rented flat in their secondary location and hotel contract with a tertiary location.

The respondent said: “In Dubai, I stay in a hotel that I have a contract with. It is easier than owning or renting, also cheaper…. I have learned to live with basics here. In London, I’m in a rental flat with a nice kitchen. I like to cook…. I also brought some rugs to my place in London to make it homier… In Berlin, the story is totally different. I obviously have my relatives and my wife and neighbors. It is a very different social life. I know everyone and I know the country very well.”

The paper also explores the impact of disruptions and external shocks, such as economic, political and socials crises including the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. The authors discuss that transnationals adapt their networks (e.g., moving investments to a different country with better rates and lower risks) in response to external shocks. Indeed, maintaining a transnational network of places, people, and institutions, however challenging and resource heavy, can serve them as a plan B when situations become unfavorable.

Dr Sharifonnasabi concludes: “This research is important because it highlights how living in a transnational social space is complex, challenging, and precarious. Our informants testify to being stretched to the limit in terms of resources and feeling fragmented. They experience significant financial costs and logistical efforts, which are often not supported by their employers.”

Transnational Marketing Navigation: Living and Consuming Across Borders, was published in the Journal of Consumer Research on 21 July 2023.



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