From a Housekeeper to a White-Collar Worker or How Ukrainians Form a New Consumer Segment in Poland

The fast expanding market in Poland, favored by steady economic situation, has recently encountered a new emerging segment of consumers – Ukrainians, which, among many foreigners, have created one of the biggest ethnic groups in Poland.

05 June 2017

The fast expanding market in Poland, favored by steady economic situation, has recently encountered a new emerging segment of consumers – Ukrainians, which, among many foreigners, have created one of the biggest ethnic groups in Poland. While the presence of Ukrainian community is no secret to many Poles due to shared historical, religious and cultural background, only a few have succeeded at noticing the dynamics in how fast the community representatives change in their preferences, behaviors and quantity. Some of the most competitive companies on the polish market, among the first, have already acknowledged the new group and created special offers to win the new segment. So, why is the new segment so promising and what should you know about the Ukrainian community in Poland?


The estimated number of Ukrainian representatives in Poland today, according to various sources, is anywhere between 200 000 and 1 000 000. In 2015 National Bank of Poland (NBP) reported a number of 76 000 work permit applications submitted by Ukrainians that year, with 50 000 positive decisions. In comparison, only 25 000 permits were issued a year earlier, whereas in 2016 the number of positive decisions for Ukrainians grew to 90 000.


Apart from people seeking jobs, a big portion of Ukrainians in Poland are students. In 2014/2015 The Central Statistical Office in Poland reported over 30 000 Ukrainians receiving education in Polish universities. To put this into perspective, this is around 53% of all international students in Poland. Considering the consistent growth of work permit applications each year, today an essential number of applicants are graduates seeking employment to satisfy their career needs. To be more concrete, a typical Ukrainian representative living in Poland today is no longer a 40-year-old lady providing cleaning services for wealthy Poles. According to NBP, after the start of military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, characteristics of an average Ukrainian living in Poland has changed drastically – every second Ukrainian is a young man in his late 20’s, early 30’s.


The essential change in the demographic characteristics among Ukrainians in Poland are also consistent with the change of their behavioral characteristics. Until recently, majority of Ukrainians were viewed as illegal employment seeking immigrants, typically construction workers or housekeepers, whose goal was to provide financial support to their families back in the home country, often accepting lower wages than an average Polish candidate would. Today a young generation of recent graduates no longer wish to continue this trend. They do not have a need to send money back home or to take low-wage jobs. Possessing a degree, they want well-paid official jobs that would help achieve professional goals. For many the priority is self-development, career growth and self-actualization. The priority is to feel equal and to be equal.


For many Ukrainians Europe has never been this close before. In June 2017, Ukraine is expected to be granted a visa-free travel for its citizens within the Schengen area – a big “dream come true” to many people. While, without a doubt, the number of Ukrainians traveling to EU will increase, it is not to be confused with illegal immigration. To many visa-free travel represents a trust from the side of EU, a gesture that conveys a message about equality and respect. Taken all together, it is quite likely that Poland will soon see a new wave of Ukrainians that wish to unite and become real EU residents, which means more white-collar work seeking people.


Considering the promising growth of quantity and potential of Ukrainian consumers on the Polish market, here are a few examples of the companies that have already acknowledged and reacted to the positive change. “Play”, one of the biggest telecommunication provider in Poland, has recently launched a new a marketing campaign promoting a special deal – Ukrainian speaking narrator offers cheap calls to home country, supported by one of the most popular Ukrainian bands.  Meanwhile, one of the most noticeable English schools in Poland “Speak Up” promises to teach Ukrainians English at affordable rates with ads being placed on numerous social media sites. Furthermore, Pekao Bank already provides information about their services in Ukrainian and Russian languages.


But before conquering the new emerging promising segment of consumers, one important thing must be taken into consideration. Consumers are different! They differ in their demographic, behavioral, psychological characteristics as well as in religious, cultural and national preferences. A failure to recognize such differences may result in big financial loss, damaged brand perception or even total boycott. To give an example, in 2016 Coca-Cola posted New Year’s greeting on Russian social media depicting a map of Russian Federation… an “incomplete” map of Russian Federation. Attentive users had quickly noticed the absence of Crimea, the region of Ukraine annexed by RF in 2014. Coca-Cola soon fixed the problem, by adding Crimea onto the map, just to face a bigger issue. Because Ukraine does not recognize the annex of Crimea, Ukrainians went further and called for a boycott of Coca-Cola. Eventually, of course, the ad was deleted completely, yet the brand image and loyalty was severely damaged, not to mention the financial loss – 11% decrease in net income in 2016 compared to 2015 on the Ukrainian market.


To conclude, while the Ukrainian community has been present in Poland for a long time, it is important to recognize the dynamics of change – from a middle age housekeeper to a progressive young individual seeking professional recognition. These transformations offer market opportunities to Polish companies by creating a new promising segment of consumers. However, consumers differ, and while due to shared cultural and history background Poles and Ukrainians may be similar, failing to recognize specific nuances within a segment may result in serious negative consequences. 


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