The Evolution of a Retail Brand: Tallinna Kaubamaja, Estonia’s Department Store

Authors: Dr. Brent McKenzie*, University of Guelph
Topics: Business Geography, Cultural Geography, Europe
Keywords: Estonia, Retail Trade, History
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 2:25 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Granite A, Hyatt Regency, Third Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Estonia returned to independence in 1991 after decades of forced incorporation into the Soviet Union. A major impact of this transition occurred in the retail sector. Retailing, as a result of the changes in political, economic, and social systems, was one of the most explicit examples of Estonia’s transition. From a period of centralized planning, and chronic shortages of poor-quality products and service, to an open market where both domestic and foreign retail brands completed. This study examines an exemplar of a retailer that successfully brokered these changes and continues to lead the department store sector in Estonia. Tallinna Kaubamaja, (“Tallinn’s Department Store”), was established during Soviet times in 1960, continued to operate throughout transition, a public offering, domestic and international expansion, and into the world of e-commerce.

Utilizing case study methods, this research examines how Tallinna Kaubamaja pursued the traditional retailing model of branch expansion, both in Estonia and internationally, and then into the e-commerce sector. This research analyzes Tallinna Kaubamaja’s focus on distribution in a small geographic market, as well as a market with a large, Russian ethnic population. This non-trivial customer base represented a number of challenges with respect to retailing to a population sector still linked to Estonia’s difficult past.

The case findings were drawn from Tallinna Kaubamaja archives, interviews by the author with former and current employees, and consumer shopping surveys. Contributions of this study focus on the interrelated roles of retail location, retail format, geography, history, and country of origin, on retailer brand success.

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