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8.2 PESTEL, Globalization, and Importing

Learning Objectives

  1. Know the components of PESTEL analysis.
  2. Recognize how PESTEL is related to the dimensions of globalization.
  3. Understand why importing might be a stealth form of international entry.

Know the Components of PESTEL Analysis

PESTEL analysisAn important and widely used tool that helps present the big picture of a firm’s external environment in political, economic, sociocultural, technological, environmental, and legal contexts, particularly as related to foreign markets; analyzes for market growth or decline and, therefore, the position, potential, and direction for a business. is an important and widely used tool that helps show the big picture of a firm’s external environment, particularly as related to foreign markets. PESTEL is an acronym for the political, economic, sociocultural, technological, environmental, and legal contexts in which a firm operates. A PESTEL analysis helps managers gain a better understanding of the opportunities and threats they face; consequently, the analysis aids in building a better vision of the future business landscape and how the firm might compete profitably. This useful tool analyzes for market growth or decline and, therefore, the position, potential, and direction for a business. When a firm is considering entry into new markets, these factors are of considerable importance. Moreover, PESTEL analysis provides insight into the status of key market flatteners, both in terms of their present state and future trends.

Firms need to understand the macroenvironment to ensure that their strategy is aligned with the powerful forces of change affecting their business landscape. When firms exploit a change in the environment—rather than simply survive or oppose the change—they are more likely to be successful. A solid understanding of PESTEL also helps managers avoid strategies that may be doomed to fail given the circumstances of the environment. JCPenney’s failed entry into Chile is a case in point.

Finally, understanding PESTEL is critical prior to entry into a new country or region. The fact that a strategy is congruent with PESTEL in the home environment gives no assurance that it will also align in other countries. For example, when Lands’ End, the online clothier, sought to expand its operations into Germany, it ran into local laws prohibiting it from offering unconditional guarantees on its products. In the United States, Lands’ End had built a reputation for quality on its no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. However, this was considered illegal under Germany’s regulations governing incentive offers and price discounts. The political skirmish between Lands’ End and the German government finally ended when the regulations banning unconditional guarantees were abolished. While the restrictive regulations didn’t put Lands’ End out of business in Germany, they did inhibit its growth there until the laws were abolished.

There are three steps in the PESTEL analysis. First, consider the relevance of each of the PESTEL factors to your context. Next, identify and categorize the information that applies to these factors. Finally, analyze the data and draw conclusions. Common mistakes in this analysis include stopping at the second step or assuming that the initial analysis and conclusions are correct without testing the assumptions and investigating alternative scenarios.

The framework for PESTEL analysis is presented below. It’s composed of six sections—one for each of the PESTEL headings.Mason Carpenter, Talya Bauer, and Berrin Erdogan, Principles of Management (Nyack, NY: Flat World Knowledge, 2009), accessed January 5, 2011, The framework includes sample questions or prompts, the answers to which can help determine the nature of opportunities and threats in the macroenvironment. These questions are examples of the types of issues that can arise in a PESTEL analysis.

PESTEL Analysis

  1. Political

    • How stable is the political environment in the prospective country?
    • What are the local taxation policies? How do these affect your business?
    • Is the government involved in trading agreements, such as the European Union (EU), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)?
    • What are the country’s foreign-trade regulations?
    • What are the country’s social-welfare policies?
  2. Economic

    • What are the current and forecast interest rates?
    • What is the current level of inflation in the prospective country? What is it forecast to be? How does this affect the possible growth of your market?
    • What are local employment levels per capita, and how are they changing?
    • What are the long-term prospects for the country’s economy, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, and other economic factors?
    • What are the current exchange rates between critical markets, and how will they affect production and distribution of your goods?
  3. Sociocultural

    • What are the local lifestyle trends?
    • What are the country’s current demographics, and how are they changing?
    • What is the level and distribution of education and income?
    • What are the dominant local religions, and what influence do they have on consumer attitudes and opinions?
    • What is the level of consumerism, and what are the popular attitudes toward it?
    • What pending legislation could affect corporate social policies (e.g., domestic-partner benefits or maternity and paternity leave)?
    • What are the attitudes toward work and leisure?
  4. Technological

    • To what level do the local government and industry fund research, and are those levels changing?
    • What is the local government’s and industry’s level of interest and focus on technology?
    • How mature is the technology?
    • What is the status of intellectual property issues in the local environment?
    • Are potentially disruptive technologies in adjacent industries creeping in at the edges of the focal industry?
  5. Environmental

    • What are the local environmental issues?
    • Are there any pending ecological or environmental issues relevant to your industry?
    • How do the activities of international activist groups (e.g., Greenpeace, Earth First!, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA]) affect your business?
    • Are there environmental-protection laws?
    • What are the regulations regarding waste disposal and energy consumption?
  6. Legal

    • What are the local government’s regulations regarding monopolies and private property?
    • Does intellectual property have legal protections?
    • Are there relevant consumer laws?
    • What is the status of employment, health and safety, and product safety laws?

Political Factors

The political environment can have a significant influence on businesses. In addition, political factors affect consumer confidence and consumer and business spending. For instance, how stable is the political environment? This is particularly important for companies entering new markets. Government policies on regulation and taxation can vary from state to state and across national boundaries. Political considerations also encompass trade treaties, such as NAFTA, ASEAN, and EU. Such treaties tend to favor trade among the member countries but impose penalties or less favorable trade terms on nonmembers.

Economic Factors

Managers also need to consider macroeconomic factors that will have near-term and long-term effects on the success of their strategy. Inflation rates, interest rates, tariffs, the growth of the local and foreign national economies, and exchange rates are critical. Unemployment, availability of critical labor, and the local cost of labor also have a strong bearing on strategy, particularly as related to the location of disparate business functions and facilities.

Sociocultural Factors

The social and cultural influences on business vary from country to country. Depending on the type of business, factors such as the local languages, the dominant religions, the cultural views toward leisure time, and the age and lifespan demographics may be critical. Local sociocultural characteristics also include attitudes toward consumerism, environmentalism, and the roles of men and women in society. For example, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have grown in international markets due to the increasing level of consumerism outside the United States.

Coca-Cola has used its appeal to global consumers throughout its marketing efforts.

Making assumptions about local norms derived from experiences in your home market is a common cause for early failure when entering new markets. However, even home-market norms can change over time, often caused by shifting demographics due to immigration or aging populations.

Technological Factors

The critical role of technology is discussed in more detail later in this section. For now, suffice it to say that technological factors have a major bearing on the threats and opportunities firms encounter. For example, new technology may make it possible for products and services to be made more cheaply and to a better standard of quality. New technology may also provide the opportunity for more innovative products and services, such as online stock trading and remote working. Such changes have the potential to change the face of the business landscape.

Environmental Factors

The environment has long been a factor in firm strategy, primarily from the standpoint of access to raw materials. Increasingly, this factor is best viewed as both a direct and indirect cost for the firm.

Environmental factors are also evaluated on the footprint left by a firm on its respective surroundings. For consumer-product companies like PepsiCo, for instance, this can encompass the waste-management and organic-farming practices used in the countries where raw materials are obtained. Similarly, in consumer markets, it may refer to the degree to which packaging is biodegradable or recyclable.

Legal Factors

Finally, legal factors reflect the laws and regulations relevant to the region and the organization. Legal factors can include whether the rule of law is well established, how easily or quickly laws and regulations may change, and what the costs of regulatory compliance are. For example, Coca-Cola’s market share in Europe is greater than 50 percent; as a result, regulators have asked that the company give shelf space in its coolers to competitive products in order to provide greater consumer choice.“EU Curbs Coca-Cola Market Dominance,” Food & Beverage Reporter, August 2005, accessed February 18, 2011,

Many of the PESTEL factors are interrelated. For instance, the legal environment is often related to the political environment, where laws and regulations can only change when they’re consistent with the political will.

PESTEL and Globalization

Over the past decade, new markets have been opened to foreign competitors, whole industries have been deregulated, and state-run enterprises have been privatized. So, globalization has become a fact of life in almost every industry.George S. Yip, “Global Strategy in a World of Nations,” Sloan Management Review 31, no. 1 (1989): 29–40. This entails much more than companies simply exporting products to another country. Some industries that aren’t normally considered global do, in fact, have strictly domestic players. But these companies often compete alongside firms with operations in multiple countries; in many cases, both sets of firms are doing equally well. In contrast, in a truly global industry, the core product is standardized, the marketing approach is relatively uniform, and competitive strategies are integrated in different international markets.Michael E. Porter, Competition in Global Industries (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1986); George S. Yip, “Global Strategy in a World of Nations,” Sloan Management Review 31, no. 1 (1989): 29–40. In these industries, competitive advantage clearly belongs to the firms that can compete globally.

A number of factors reveal whether an industry has globalized or is in the process of globalizing. The sidebar below groups globalization factors into four categories: markets, costs, governments, and competition. These dimensions correspond well to Thomas Friedman’s flatteners (as described in his book The World Is Flat), though they are not exhaustive.Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).

Factors Favoring Industry Globalization

  1. Markets

    • Homogeneous customer needs
    • Global customer needs
    • Global channels
    • Transferable marketing approaches
  2. Costs

    • Large-scale and large-scope economies
    • Learning and experience
    • Sourcing efficiencies
    • Favorable logistics
    • Arbitrage opportunities
    • High research-and-development (R&D) costs
  3. Governments

    • Favorable trade policies
    • Common technological standards
    • Common manufacturing and marketing regulations
  4. Competition

    • Interdependent countries
    • Global competitorsAdapted from Michael E. Porter, Competition in Global Industries (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1986); George S. Yip, “Global Strategy in a World of Nations,” Sloan Management Review 31, no. 1 (1989): 29–40.


The more similar markets in different regions are, the greater the pressure for an industry to globalize. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, for example, are fairly uniform around the world because the demand for soft drinks is largely the same in every country. The airframe-manufacturing industry, dominated by Boeing and Airbus, also has a highly uniform market for its products; airlines all over the world have the same needs when it comes to large commercial jets.


In both of these industries, costs favor globalization. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo realize economies of scope and scale because they make such huge investments in marketing and promotion. Since they’re promoting coherent images and brands, they can leverage their marketing dollars around the world. Similarly, Boeing and Airbus can invest millions in new-product R&D only because the global market for their products is so large.

Governments and Competition

Obviously, favorable trade policies encourage the globalization of markets and industries. Governments, however, can also play a critical role in globalization by determining and regulating technological standards. Railroad gauge—the distance between the two steel tracks—would seem to favor a simple technological standard. In Spain, however, the gauge is wider than in France. Why? Because back in the 1850s, when Spain and neighboring France were hostile to one another, the Spanish government decided that making Spanish railways incompatible with French railways would hinder any French invasion.

These are a few key drivers of industry change. However, there are particular implications of technological and business-model breakthroughs for both the pace and extent of industry change. The rate of change may vary significantly from one industry to the next; for instance, the computing industry changes much faster than the steel industry. Nevertheless, change in both fields has prompted complete reconfigurations of industry structure and the competitive positions of various players. The idea that all industries change over time and that business environments are in a constant state of flux is relatively intuitive. As a strategic decision maker, you need to ask yourself this question: how accurately does current industry structure (which is relatively easy to identify) predict future industry conditions?

Importing as a Stealth Form of Internationalization

Ironically, the drivers of globalization have also given rise to a greater level of imports. Globalization in this sense is a very strong flattener. ImportingThe sale of products or services in one country that are sourced in another country. involves the sale of products or services in one country that are sourced in another country. In many ways, importing is a stealth form of internationalization. Firms often claim that they have no international operations and yet—directly or indirectly—base their production or services on inputs obtained from outside their home country. Firms that engage in importing must learn about customs requirements, informed compliance with customs regulations, entry of goods, invoices, classification and value, determination and assessment of duty, special requirements, fraud, marketing, trade finance and insurance, and foreign trade zones. Importing can take many forms—from the sourcing of components, machinery, and raw materials to the purchase of finished goods for domestic resale and the outsourcing of production or services to nondomestic providers.

OutsourcingContracting with a third party to do some of a company’s work on its behalf. occurs when a company contracts with a third party to do some work on its behalf. The outsourcer may do the work within the same country or may take the work to another country (i.e., offshoring). OffshoringTaking some business function out of the company’s country of orgin to be performed in another country, generally at a lower cost. occurs when you take a function out of your country of residence to be performed in another country, generally at a lower cost. International outsourcingThe term for both outsourcing and offshoring work, or outsourcing to a nondomestic third party., or outsourcing work to a nondomestic third party, has become very visible in business and corporate strategy in recent years. But it’s not a new phenomenon; for decades, Nike has been designing shoes and other apparel that are manufactured abroad. Similarly, Pacific Cycle doesn’t make a single Schwinn or Mongoose bicycle in the United States but instead imports them entirely from manufacturers in Taiwan and China. It may seem as if international outsourcing is new because businesses are now more often outsourcing services, components, and raw materials from countries with developing economies (e.g., China, Brazil, and India).

In addition to factors of production, information technologies (IT)—such as telecommunications and the widespread diffusion of the Internet—have provided the impetus for outsourcing services. Business-process outsourcing (BPO) is the delegation of one or more IT-intensive business processes to an external provider that in turn owns, administers, and manages the selected process on the basis of defined and measurable performance criteria. The firms in service and IT-intensive industries—insurance, banking, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, automotive, and airlines—are among the early adopters of BPO. Of these, insurance and banking are able to generate the bulk of the savings, purely because of the large proportion of processes that they can outsource (i.e., the processing of claims and loans and providing service through call centers). Among those countries housing BPO operations, India experienced the most dramatic growth in services where language skills and education were important. Research firm Gartner anticipates that the BPO market in India will reach $1.8 billion by 2013.“Indian BPO Market to Grow 25 percent in 2010,” Times of India, March 29, 2010, accessed February 17, 2011,

Generally, foreign outsourcing locations tend to be defined by how automated a production process or service can be made and the transportation costs involved. When transportation costs and automation are both high, then the knowledge worker component of the location calculation becomes less important. You can see how you might employ the CAGE framework to evaluate potential outsourcing locations. In some cases, though, firms invest in both plant equipment and the training and development of the local workforce. This becomes important when the broader labor force needs to have a higher level of education to operate complex plant machinery or because a firm’s specific technologies also have a cultural component. Brazil is one case in point; Ford, BMW, Daimler, and Cargill have all made significant investments in the educational infrastructure of this significant, emerging economy.Spencer E. Ante, “IBM Bets on Brazilian Innovation,” BusinessWeek, August 17, 2009, accessed February 18, 2011,; “Cargill Annual Report 2006,” Cargill website, accessed October 27, 2010,; “Ford to Raise Brazil Investments by $281 Million,” Reuters, April 8, 2010, accessed February 18, 2011,; “Cargill Investing $210 Million in Brazilian Plant,” Forbes, February 2, 2011, accessed February 18, 2011,

Key Takeaways

  • A PESTEL analysis examines a target market’s political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal dimensions in terms of both its current state and possible trends.
  • An understanding of the dimensions of PESTEL helps you better grasp the dimensions on which a target market or industry may be more global or local.
  • Importing is a stealth form of international entry, because the factors that favor globalization can also lead to a higher level of imports, and inputs can be sourced from anywhere they have either the lowest cost, highest quality, or some combination of these characteristics.


(AACSB: Reflective Thinking, Analytical Skills)

  1. What are the components of PESTEL analysis?
  2. What are the four dimensions of pressures favoring globalization?
  3. How are the PESTEL and globalization dimensions related to the flatteners (in the context that Thomas Friedman talks about them in his book The World Is Flat)?
  4. Why might importing be considered a stealth form of internationalization or an internationalization entry mode?
  5. What is the difference between outsourcing and offshoring?