Business in Italy, Culture, Life in Italy

The Business Phenomenon in Italy

I wanted to change up my writing for this post to give people more insight into what my passions are. Beside food and weddings, I dream and think in a business perspective, I studied business and love its challenges.Well it has officially been a year since I moved to Italy and I think I have had a fair chance to see how business runs here. I would like to talk about the little things and the big things, as well as the nice things, the unfortunate things, and the phenomena.

The little things ~

Many businesses in Italy do not waste money on small things like plastic bags, extra staff, and air conditioning. In Italy, if you want to bag your groceries then you must pay for them yourself when you check out. This is a big money maker at 10 cents per bag. This not only makes the supermarkets money, but encourages people to go green and purchase reusable bags.You also don’t have the luxury of having a person bag your groceries for you-you do it yourself. This is a huge cost cutter for Italian supermarkets to not pay each bagger an hourly wage.

Italian supermarkets also do not hire people to collect the shopping carts and organize them; instead they created a self motivational system where you must pay 1 euro for a shopping cart in order to use one. If you want your money back at the end of your shopping then you must put the cart back where you found it.


Another small thing that Italian super markets do to save on costs is deal with less staff.  If you go to Walmart during peak times like 12 and 5 you will see several cash registers operating. Instead, in Italy’s version of Walmart (Ipermac) during peak times there are only three registers open.

The last little thing that is different in Italian business is that stores have only what they have and do not have much inventory. They operate with extremely low inventory! But, this is not a problem for them at all. If you go to an office store and need something that they don’t have then they will just order it for you. Time is no big deal in Italy so everyone accepts this. At the supermarket if you need red potatoes but they only have yellow potatoes then you just have to get over it. Supermarkets operate seasonally. Sometimes you can be lucky and find a store that offers more, but in general everything is seasonal. The downside to this however is that sometimes in order to find everything you need you must shop at 5 different stores. :-/

The big things ~

These next few things are the big differences in Italian business and American business. First, Italians don’t waste money on comfort and convenience. They have what they have, they don’t have what they don’t have (it’s a get over it mentality). Many businesses (apart from supermarkets) do not air condition or heat their buildings because electricity is so expensive in Europe. This was a major difference for me because I expected to be able to cool off when I entered into the City Hall to do business, or the doctors office. However, everyone else doesn’t seem to care very much, so I got over it too. Can you imagine how much money it would save if a huge store like Hobby Lobby did not air condition their building? Who knows how much extra cash they fork out in a year just for heating and conditioning.

Another huge difference in business here is that the operating hours are all wacky. Every day, stores shut down all over Italy from 1p.m.-5p.m. so that everyone can go home for lunch and take a break. Business resumes again at 5 until 8:30. This is the typical rule. However, in my town in the very most southern point in Italy stores are always closed Thursday evenings and Sundays as well. Some businesses decide to go even further and shut down on Mondays if they please. Now these operating hours all adjust during different seasons. Around the holidays you will see stores open for much longer, and in the summer just a little bit longer. This is the way it is in most parts of Italy, granted in the big cities like Rome and Milan it is not that way because of the amount of tourists they have.

The Phenomena ~

A few weeks ago my husband said “hey let’s go check out that new bar” (a bar is a cafe’ in Italian whereas cafe’ pronounced the way we say it means coffee). So I said “ok let’s go.” While we were sitting inside the cafe’ I became mesmerised and said “did you notice that this owner decided to open a cafe’ right here when there is already a cafe’ across the street, one adjacent to us, one around the corner, and one on every block?” This conversation lead us into the great phenomena. How is it possible that in Italy you can run the exact same business and offer the exact same product that other businesses offer just across the street and still be in business? It’s amazing and boarder line crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. But it’s not just the coffee shops that do this, the open markets do it, the jewelry stores, and the trinket stores. People not only stay in business but people actually go into business knowing that there are already 5 people with the same exact idea in close proximity! You would think they are crazy, but they aren’t because it works here. I’ll tell you why I think it works.

Italy is run off of small businesses (literally). I know that the last presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that America is run off of small businesses, but not at all in comparison to Italy. Everyone I know is affiliated here with a family owned business or small business. People here go into business and stay in business without really advertising. They trust that the people they know such as their friends, family, and acquaintances will always shop at their store instead of others. And they do! If a man decides to open a cafe across from the other cafes he is sure that his close friends will support him always. The Italians are close-knit, and rely on their valuable relationships. Their friends will tell other friends to shop at his store and so on. In order to keep these friends coming back the owner always (ALWAYS) gives a discount to them.

So the phenomenon that I found was that people not only stay in business but go into business where there are already several of the same ones operating. They do not advertise, they do not waste money on comfort or convenience and yet people still shop at their stores.  This works because of their cultural habits. Italians are laid back people where time does not matter and they can accept less than perfect. This is nice and realistic. It’s nice that businesses in Italy don’t have to worry about someone suing them if they don’t have the right type of onion that day! I do wish that American businesses could adopt some of the Italian strategies, however I do love the one-stop-shop convenience we have in America and could never give that up!


4 thoughts on “The Business Phenomenon in Italy”

  1. Great run down on business in Italy. The North is a little different in that they do heat buildings (I guess they have to). They also have air conditioning in the local supermarkets, but we always find that it’s not nearly cool enough. The Italians are terrified of getting a draft “aria” and will often ask for windows to be closed or aircon to be turned down because “C’e aria” (there’s a draft). One of the things I love is the service from small businessses. You wait your turn, but when it’s your turn, the rest of the world doesn’t exist! It’s great fun learning what’s what in our new home, isn’t it?

    1. Thanks! I bet it is different in the North since it’s more economically developed and closer to the European culture. Where I’m living you cannot possibly get any more south, so Italy down here is just Italy 🙂 I’ve also had your experience with small businesses and the special treatment. I think it’s great that every employee seems to know so much about their job even if they are at the end of the ladder. In America it is not that way because many places just hire teenagers to fill in temp. positions in which the teens don’t know much!

      1. Do they celebrate carnival where you are? I want to write about the Ivrea carnival, which will be held from the 9th of Feb this year. They have three days of orange battles and it’s really spectacular.

      2. They do celebrate carnival but it’s not as big of a deal over here I’ve noticed. I’ve heard that in the bigger surrounding cities there is much more going on, but mostly it caters to kids and to people who want to go club hopping!

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