America: Bottom of the barrel? Race to the bottom? Cheap? Crap?

G51989

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Feb 25, 2012
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http://consumerist.com/2008/08/01/why-do-americans-insist-on-buying-cheap-crap-instead-of-high-quality-merchandise/

Not a very long artical, but as someone who was born and raised and lives in and owns a business in America and having traveling most of Europe and Asia. And even spent time living overseas, and married to a French women, so I think I am in a good position to comment.

Why do Americans like cheap garbage? Why is America as a country a huge race to the bottom?

I have noticed, in Europe and pretty much everyone I know in Europe. Walks into the store/market/car dealership or a restaurant for example. The typical European, at least all the ones I know and lived with,never car much about price within reason, they simply bought the best for what they need it, Food, Cars, appliances, coats, pants, furniture stuff like that. All of them were always interested in the best they could afford, not the cheapest. They also seem to hugely support local industry and business.

In America? Totally different story.

Americans mill around like zombies in big stores like Target, Wal mart, best buy, ect. Paying zero attention to quality, as long as they see a " BIG SALE EVERY DAY LOWPRICES PRICE MATCH SALE! SALE! SALE! BUY BUY BUY BUY ! RANDOM HOLIDAY! BUY OUR CRAP! BUY! YOU NEED IT! IMPRESS PEOPLE YOU DONT KNOW WITH OUR CRAP! IT MIGHT LOOK NICE! BUT ITS CRAP! BUY OUR CRAP! CHEAP! WE PRICE MATCH! WHY BUY SOMETHING WELL MADE WHEN OUR CRAP IS CHEAPER! I MEAN SURE! IT MIGHT BREAK IN 2 YEARS AND FALL APART! BUT BUY OUR CRAP! BIG MAC FREEDOM FOR 4.99!!! WITH LARGE DRINK THINK OF THE IMPRESSION OF VALUE! BRANDING! BRANDING! "

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKv6RcXa2UI

100% true.

So what I don't get, is why do Americans want the cheapest crap possible? And I do mean CRAP, it seems like very few Americans are interested in buying anything locally and well made, they would rather save 50 cents to put towards a McChicken. They would rather bad a badly made car, then one that will last and be nicer to drive, they would rather 2 for 20 at Crapplebees than go to a place run by a Chef with real food.

Then you have a HUGE number of Americans complaining ( Tea Party, Libertarians, Republicans ) complaining that everyone is " entitled " makes to much money, calls police, firefighters, labor unions, ect " overpaid takers ", they want to destroy any social safety net, stop any funding on improving the country, they think the " magic free market " can fix everything, and they actually go out and campaign for lower wages.

Is it just me, or is America just a giant race to the problem? The past 40 years clearly show that it is.
 

Bug-Creator

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May 30, 2011
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But but FREEDOM FRIES !!!!! :p


Don't worry most of that is also true around here in Germany (and probraly most of europe), atleast with the people making below average wages.


I guess thats the reason why you see that increasing in the US, lots of people have to deal with declining buying power (especially since 2006) and have yet come around adapting their lifestyles.

So they still want that big house, 3 cars and eating out 4 times a week and have to do all that on the cheap to avaoid being hit by credit-card shrapnel.
 

iBlazed

macrumors 68000
Feb 27, 2014
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Amen brother. It's a "Walmart Culture" in the US and it absolutely sickens me. Our grandparents would be so ashamed at what it has become. Bye bye mom and pop shops.
 

turtle777

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Apr 30, 2004
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I think there are two things at work:

1) Many people can't afford to buy anything but cheap (crap) stuff. Even if they understand that spending more would last longer, they don't have the financial ability to "invest" in something that lasts.

2) Many people love the act of shopping, and love to accumulate stuff.
Since their financial means are limited, they get more stuff if they buy cheap crap.

Most people don't even put any thought to it.

I guess I'm different.

E.g., I don't buy new cars.
For the amount I would spend on a new, regular car, I'd rather buy a used luxury car. Since they are built better, they will still last as long, but I definitely enjoy the quality of the craftsmanship and technology over the run-of-the-mill average car.

-t
 

Arran

macrumors 601
Mar 7, 2008
4,353
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Americans are exceedingly competitive and I think that might have something to do with it.

  • Having more stuff than the next guy is easier to measure because numbers don't lie.
  • OTOH, having better stuff is a subjective assessment. It doest deliver a decisive win because it can be disputed.

Best way to win the game is not to care what others think. Particularly people you don't even like.
 

LIVEFRMNYC

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Oct 27, 2009
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America has always been a consumer driven country. And just like other things in American culture, shopping is a die hard habit. When products get more expensive matched with the economy not at it's best, Wal-Mart flourishes in selling the same or similar items at a cheaper price. Good advertisement and credit cards make things so much easier for consumers to buy, buy, buy.

Money management seriously needs to be taught in schools starting at early ages. The one thing I've noticed from traveling all over the world is, people of the same income bracket overseas save much more than Americans. Which is why they can afford to make more sensible decisions when purchasing stuff. For Americans it's, ooh new stuff ...must buy. This is mostly a lower class and lower middle class issue.
 

samiwas

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Aug 26, 2006
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A lot of it probably stems from the fact that over half of Americans make less than the equivalent of $15/hour full time, and about 30% make less than the equivalent of full time at minimum wage.

It's practically impossible to support a blossoming economy on such crap wages. Why do we pay such crap wages? Well, we'd like to blame it on all the poor leaches who are lazy and don't learn skills. But let's face it…it's because profits and executive compensation are more important.

As long as the people are paid crap, they will be buying crap.

I fall right at about the 90% range for income, and even I find it hard sometimes to support a wife and child. I can't imagine doing it at half of what I make (which is the 66% range). But I also try not to shop at WalMart or buy crap, although I don't really go for high-end chef restaurants or fancy cars, either.
 

iBlazed

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In my opinion, "cheapest" is a word that has a negative connotation. When something is the cheapest, it makes me feel that something is wrong. With many other Americans, "cheapest" is a word of pride, makes people feel proud they got a good deal even if it's a horrible deal. This was illustrated best in the other thread about switching to LED bulbs where one member wrote "I just go to Walmart and buy what's cheapest". Nevermind the fact that the cheapest bulbs will last the least time and will actually cost more time and money to replace as opposed to LED bulbs, and never mind the energy savings that are completely irrelevant to so many people unfortunately. Me on the other hand, I buy LED bulbs, I'm looking into solar panels and ductless air and heating, I drive a BMW and I use Apple products. This is because I hate cheap garbage and care about long term savings and efficiency. And I'm by no means rich. Oh...and I NEVER step foot in a Walmart, goes against my morals even though my densely populated area is absolutely saturated with 3 Walmarts within 10-15 minutes of my house.
 

Happybunny

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Sep 9, 2010
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Don't worry most of that is also true around here in Germany (and probraly most of europe), atleast with the people making below average wages.

.
You make an interesting point, but what I have seen is here in Netherlands more people with good wages/salaries shopping at both Lidel or Aldi. The reason is simple value for money, in the various consumer programs on TV the products from both supermarkets are nearly always in the top three.

Fresh food is bought on a local bases, but this again is more cost effective.
 

Meister

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From my experience in the US people and businesses are way more generous.
For example:
All my friends in the US soley eat at restaurants. And thats a good thing!
When cash changes hands thats good. Its good for business and people.

Here in Germany I see lots of people going to pathetic cheap ass stores with underpayed slave workers like Aldi, Lidl, Netto, aso. I feel bad for these people. Working there is not a career and it should be reserved for students and ex-cons.

I only eat at good restaurants and tip generously. I am not on earth to collect food, cook, sort trash and wash dishes. I rather put my money into a business and get served in return. Thats what I like about the US.
 
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iBlazed

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From my experience in the US people and businesses are way more generous.
For example:
All my friends in the US soley eat at restaurants. And thats a good thing!
When cash changes hands thats good. Its good for business and people.

Here in Germany I see lots of people going to pathetic cheap ass stores with underpayed slave workers like Aldi, Lidl, Netto, aso. I feel bad for these people. Working there is not a career and it should be reserved for students and ex-cons.

I only eat at good restaurants and tip generously. I am not on earth to collect food, cook, sort trash and wash dishes. I rather put my money into a business and get served in return. Thats what I like about the US.
You seem to view the US through rose colored glasses. Those cheap ass stores with slave labor that you talk about in Germany all go under one name in the US: WALMART. Americans flock to walmart like geese flock to Florida in the winter. And not all Americans eat out daily, most of us cook at home.
 

Meister

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You seem to view the US through rose colored glasses. Those cheap ass stores with slave labor that you talk about in Germany all go under one name in the US: WALMART. Americans flock to walmart like geese flock to Florida in the winter. And not all Americans eat out daily, most of us cook at home.
You might be right.
 

iBlazed

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You might be right.
I think the grass is always greener on the other side. When I was in Germany last year I got all the same positive impressions that you got of the US. I think that a lot of times I view Germany through those same rose colored glasses. Your posts put a lot of things into perspective though.
 

Huntn

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May 5, 2008
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Retailers have been so intent in the U.S. on lowering prices on their products for competitive advantage, they did not project ahead to realize (or did not care) that killing employee wages for max profits would eventually catch up with our society and it's buying power. In many cases quality has suffered. If it will be bought, they will continue to sell it, a vicious cycle. I myself always look for deals with the caveat that depending on what I'm buying, quality matters to varying degrees. I can't deny that I never enter Walmart, but it happens rarely. Sometimes they actually have an item I can't find elsewhere. This is not to imply that all products in Walmart are crap, but then I have issues with their employee policies.

From personal experience, I know that off brand chargers for Apple products coming from China are frequently pieces of crap. I avoid those and look at Apple or major brands that I am familiar with, so quality does have it's place.
 
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BenTrovato

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Jun 29, 2012
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I only eat at good restaurants and tip generously. I am not on earth to collect food, cook, sort trash and wash dishes. I rather put my money into a business and get served in return. Thats what I like about the US.
Perhaps your other points are valid but only eating at restaurants can't possibly be good for long term health. :confused:
 

Zombie Acorn

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Feb 2, 2009
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A lot of the **** that is bought on either side of the pond isn't necessary to life anyways so the quality really doesn't matter at the end of the day. Getting people to spend instead of save is how we keep the economy going.
 

vrDrew

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Jan 31, 2010
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Why do Americans like cheap garbage? Why is America as a country a huge race to the bottom?
There is obviously some truth in some of the observations. but I'd caution about making too many broad generalizations. There are many areas where America, and Americans, demand and receive top quality products and services (especially) that put most of what is commonly available in Europe (and the rest of the world) to shame. I'd put most American craftspeople (residential plumbers, electricians, etc.) up against their foreign competitors any day. And don't get me started on the subject of the beef you get at your local supermarkets.

When it comes to "buying cheap crap" I think there are a number of factors at work. When it comes to clothes, for instance, I think Americans buy a lot of cheap clothes because they can. All but the very cheapest American homes (apartments, trailers, etc.) are well equipped with voluminous closets. Most European houses seem to view closets or proper storage space for clothing as something of an afterthought.

Also, on the subject of clothing, I think younger Americans are increasingly taking advantage of so-called "fast fashion" - buying cheap clothes from companies ike H&M (A Swedish company..) - knowing full well its not going to last very long, but buying anyway because it represents affordable fashion.

On a not-so-positive note, I think that a lot of the cheap-buying comes about as a result of poor information. People may have never learned what characteristics to look for in a given item - and lacking sufficient knowledge, people make their decision primarily on the easiest to evaluate: Price.

I've heard a guy say: "Why would anyone spend $12 on a screw driver - I got one at Wal-Mart for 99 cents." Not realizing that the 99 cent screwdriver had chrome plating that peeled off after the first use, whose shoddy plastic handle slipped in his hand, and whose soft-steel tip easily deformed. I've bought "expensive" tools and I've bought "cheap" ones - and by now I've come to realize that the "cheap" tool is usually a very bad bargain indeed.
 

ElectronGuru

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Sep 5, 2013
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From my experience in the US people and businesses are way more generous.
This might be a translation issue, but I'm not following what you mean by generous. When I eat out, it's for selfish reasons like wanting the better taste, wanting to get out of the house, or most often, when there just isn't time to cook for ourselves. For most of the frequent diners I know, eating out is less of a choice (or sometimes even a pleasure) than a necessity.

A lot of the **** that is bought on either side of the pond isn't necessary to life anyways so the quality really doesn't matter at the end of the day. Getting people to spend instead of save is how we keep the economy going.
Wait, I thought the goal was to get more cash into the hands of people who create jobs. Is this not what savings does?

On a not-so-positive note, I think that a lot of the cheap-buying comes about as a result of poor information. People may have never learned what characteristics to look for in a given item - and lacking sufficient knowledge, people make their decision primarily on the easiest to evaluate: Price.
This is the basic problem with retail. I make premium products and would never consider putting them on a retail peg. You simply can't evaluate quality and features in a busy store as you're rushing between the lumber isle and check out.

I've heard a guy say: "Why would anyone spend $12 on a screw driver - I got one at Wal-Mart for 99 cents." Not realizing that the 99 cent screwdriver had chrome plating that peeled off after the first use, whose shoddy plastic handle slipped in his hand, and whose soft-steel tip easily deformed.
I've spent my entire life thinking about tools and tool quality and have much to say, but will wait until I'm on a proper keyboard!
 

Meister

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This might be a translation issue, but I'm not following what you mean by generous. When I eat out, it's for selfish reasons like wanting the better taste, wanting to get out of the house, or most often, when there just isn't time to cook for ourselves. For most of the frequent diners I know, eating out is less of a choice (or sometimes even a pleasure) than a necessity.
It might be for selfish reasons but you are supporting a restaurant business (and everyone depending on that restaurant) everytime you eat out. If you are selfish the right way then everyone profits. If other people are happy often its better for you anyway.
For me thats actually a reason. When you eat at home noone profits except for you.. and wait ... you have all the work...you lose time and its boring.

----------

Perhaps your other points are valid but only eating at restaurants can't possibly be good for long term health. :confused:
Not if you choose restaurants wisely.
 
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G51989

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Feb 25, 2012
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From my experience in the US people and businesses are way more generous.
For example:
All my friends in the US soley eat at restaurants. And thats a good thing!
When cash changes hands thats good. Its good for business and people.
I don't get it, in the US people and business are more generous? America has significantly lower standard of living for MOST of its population compared to Western Europe.

Lets also realize that most people in the US do not eat out every day, and when they do they typically go to Fast Joints like McDonalds or Burger King, or a large Sit Down Chain like Applebees, Olive Garden or a Dennys. GOod restaurants are pretty hard to find outside of major cities in America.

 

VulchR

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Jun 8, 2009
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The OP has obviously never been in rip-off Britain, where everything is expensive and largely crap. I live in a house, which makes me feel fortunate these days, but it was built to such a poor standard that it would be condemned in the US. In the UK even devices based wholly on solid-state electronics seem to fail. I think perhaps the idea of craftsmanship is found in isolated pockets around the UK, but it is far from universal.

On my part, I believe strongly that higher quality goods are likely to save me time and frustration, so I work and save to buy them with the expectation that I will use them for a long time.
 

SLC Flyfishing

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My impression lately has been that European goods often provide style and the illusion of quality. Especially when it comes to automobiles. My German made car is the most stylish, fun to drive, but completely unreliable and shoddily made vehicle I've ever owned.

The most sturdy I've had vehicle on the other hand, was American made. And the most reliable, Japanese.
 

tshrimp

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Mar 30, 2012
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America has always been a consumer driven country. And just like other things in American culture, shopping is a die hard habit. When products get more expensive matched with the economy not at it's best, Wal-Mart flourishes in selling the same or similar items at a cheaper price. Good advertisement and credit cards make things so much easier for consumers to buy, buy, buy.

Money management seriously needs to be taught in schools starting at early ages. The one thing I've noticed from traveling all over the world is, people of the same income bracket overseas save much more than Americans. Which is why they can afford to make more sensible decisions when purchasing stuff. For Americans it's, ooh new stuff ...must buy. This is mostly a lower class and lower middle class issue.
Agree. Or at least be taught in the home. I was always told by my parents that if you can't afford it you don't buy it. Credit card or not. Wish more schools and parents did this. Looking back I am so grateful they did this. Also our government has been a bad example where they spend money they don't have, so there are very few "roll models" in this area.

As for buying "cheap crap". Might be true. Many I know, including myself, buy cheap if it is something we won't use often, or need for a one time use. No need to spend $$$ if something will be used once or twice, but if you are going to use something a lot then it is less expensive to buy the good stuff in the long run.

P.S. Schools where I am at don't even teach writing (cursive) any longer, so although a great idea I wouldn't hold my breath. We are having teach this at home.
 

Meister

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... Fast Joints like McDonalds or Burger King, or a large Sit Down Chain like Applebees, Olive Garden or a Dennys...
... :D .... :D .... Not really what came to my mind as 'restaurants'.
My perspective is limited to metroplitan areas. mainly the southland. Im an urban person and dont do well with villages.