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Are Americans becoming second-class consumers?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2004

Are Americans becoming second-class consumers?.

Reader comments

Stefan JonesApr 20, 2004 at 12:20PM


Could Americans be so addicted to buying on price — the Wal-Mart syndrome — that manufacturers cut corners to produce units cheap enough to have a chance in the market?

AdamApr 20, 2004 at 1:26PM

Is that a rhetorical question?

KaijimaApr 20, 2004 at 2:58PM

I do believe Americans are to some extent, that addicted to buying on price. I mean really, entire stores which cater to products even slightly out of the Wal-Mart range are shutting down becaue people are choosing the cheaper (and lesser) products of Wally World consistently.

Aside from that though, I long seen American consumers regarded as slow and not so much “cheap” as uncomprehending of quality. It causes an odd memory; as a kid, I remember feeling blah when I was dragged through Five and Dime stores, seeing the haven for super cheap, crappy products - especially the fourth-rate knock-offs of toys for children. Looking around today, it feels increasingly like everywhere has become a Five and Dime store.

Stefan JonesApr 20, 2004 at 3:58PM

There IS a market for high-end food, clothes, sporting gear, etc., but it is found in specialty boutiques and high-end department stores. Rarely anywhere else.

I’ve heard that warehouse clubs have enough swing to get manufacturers to create lines of products specifically for them.

Dick LugarApr 20, 2004 at 5:36PM

Americans are idiots and won’t know quality. Everyone knows this. This is why even IBM, an American company, sold better quality slim laptops only in Japan. (Also, in America, except for women, everything bigger is beautiful. Just an observation about American attitude.)

SamApr 21, 2004 at 9:57AM

Nowhere is the issue of Americans seeking out the best price more evident than in food. Our government heavily subsidizes factory-scale farming so that our food supply is inexpensive. It leads to low-quality, unsustainable agriculture.

I understand why people eat at McDonald’s (“low price”), and yet I don’t understand: for nearly the same price, or a few cents more, you can get a hamburger that actually tastes like beef and hasn’t come from a cow that ate his dad.

Other countries seem to get this: food is very important to your well-being, so it’s important to spend money on good food as it is practical and available.

There are people in this country who understand this, though not many. Just like some people understand it’s better to pay 50% more for a product that lasts three times as long as the cheap alternative.

And one last thing: I remember growing up and being told that products that weigh more are more desirable, because that means they were built “with quality.” I think this is a peculiar American mindset, that light-weight equals shit.

StephenApr 21, 2004 at 11:42AM

Sam, that’s why SUV’s are the most dependable, built like a rock, and like nothing else! I remember hearing that too—not from my parents, however—and while it sounds particularly dumb it does have some truth (although not with SUV’s).

Many appliances, electronics, cars (BMW, Mercedes, Bentley, Royals Royce), and other things that weigh more do so because they are built with redundant systems (ie: larger heatsinks in stereos, two alternators in cars, etc).

Although it is funny to hear people make the direct connection: more weight = better quality

jim winsteadApr 24, 2004 at 12:26PM

trading up: the new american luxury by michael silverstein and neil fiske has lots of good information about how, when, and why american consumers decide to go after premium items.

nickApr 25, 2004 at 9:23PM

The mobile/cell phones that many major manufacturers produce for the US market are particularly crippled, in part thanks to the mess of competing standards and North America-only frequency bands. The Siemens S56 that I got for free with Cingular, for instance, is a crippled version of the S55.

There’s a belief, I think, that American consumers will happily pay for ‘quality’ but not quality, if you understand the distinction: that’s to say, that they’ll buy items that are crafted to fit the market-driven vocabulary of what ‘quality’ entails (often associated with brand-name labelling), rather than items that are especially fit for the purpose.

Whether that will change in the context of online shopping, in which user ratings and reviews are often alongside the item listing, I dunno.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.