Putting a Premium on American-Made Products

by Lydia Saad

Public more likely to pay twice as much for U.S.-made merchandise than Chinese goods

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- To buy or not to buy toys made in China; that is the question many parents and grandparents face in today's marketplace, a question that will likely intensify in frequency during the upcoming holiday season. Confronted with news of one Chinese product after another tainted with toxic or illegal levels of lead, pesticides, antibiotics, and chemicals, Americans are clearly thinking twice about purchasing goods bearing the "Made in China" label.

A recent Gallup Panel survey asked respondents to think about eight different types of products and for each one to say whether they would be more likely to buy a Chinese-made item, or an American-made equivalent that costs up to twice as much.

The results suggest an overwhelming concern on the part of Americans about the safety of Chinese products, particularly in the food and children's toy categories. Half of Americans say they would even pay a premium to buy American-made electronics, an industry led largely by companies outside of the United States.

Food, Child Safety Come First

When it comes to food, nearly all Americans -- 94% to be precise -- say they would likely buy food produced in the United States rather than less expensive versions of the same food made in China, even if the U.S. product costs twice as much. About four in five Americans (82%) say the same thing about purchasing children's toys, as well as household furniture (76%).

Willingness to pay more for something made in the United States drops into the 60%-to-70% range for household appliances, shoes, home products, and clothes.

Americans are about evenly split between buying American-made electronics versus Chinese-produced items.

I'm going to read a list of products, each of which can be made in China at lower cost or in the United States at a higher cost. If you were looking to buy [RANDOM ORDER], which would you be more likely to do -- pay up to twice as much to buy the product made in the United States, or opt to buy the less expensive version of the product made in China?

2007 Sep 24-27

Pay more for U.S. product

Buy less expensive Chinese product

 

No
opinion

%

%

%

Food

94

6

1

Children's toys

82

16

2

Household furniture

76

22

1

Household appliances

67

32

2

Shoes

63

35

2

Products for the home (linens, kitchen items)

61

37

2

Clothes

60

38

2

Electronics

50

48

2

With large proportions of U.S. imports in these categories coming from China, the spate of recent recalls affects a broad swath of U.S. retailers, and the problems are particularly troubling for both large discount stores and smaller "dollar" stores that rely heavily on imported Chinese merchandise.

Adding to that difficulty, the Gallup Panel survey produces the counterintuitive finding that low-income Americans are significantly more likely than high-income respondents to say they would pay a premium for certain products made in the United States rather than from China. This is particularly evident in terms of household appliances and electronics, but also for clothing and shoes.

Percentage Willing to Pay More for American-Made Products
By Household Income

$75,000+

$35,000-
$74,999

Less than
$35,000

Low Income vs.
High Income

%

%

%

 

Appliances

56

63

80

+24

Electronics

40

47

62

+22

Shoes

58

61

68

+10

Clothes

53

61

63

+10

Household goods

57

61

61

+4

Toys

82

80

84

+2

Furniture

72

79

73

+1

Food

95

92

95

0

Americans' willingness to pay more for American-made products differs little between men and women except for toy purchases, with 87% of women saying they would pay more compared with 77% of men.

Larger differences are seen according to age, with Americans aged 50 and older showing much more reluctance than younger Americans about buying Chinese products. For instance, nearly three-quarters of Americans aged 50 and older say they would pay more for American-made clothes and shoes, compared with just more than half of 18- to 49-year-olds. Similarly large gaps are evident with respect to appliances, electronics, and household goods.

Percentage Willing to Pay More for American-Made Products
By Age

18- to 49-year-olds

50 and older

Difference

%

%

 

Electronics

41

64

+23

Appliances

58

79

+21

Clothes

52

72

+20

Shoes

55

74

+19

Household goods

54

70

+16

Toys

77

90

+13

Furniture

74

80

+6

Food

93

96

+3

Implications

These data clearly support the challenge facing merchants who rely on the sale of Chinese-produced goods. This builds on earlier Gallup data that indicate 72% of Americans are paying heightened attention to the country of origin of products they buy and 65% are making an effort to avoid products made in China (see "American Consumers Showing Aversion to 'Made in China' Label" in Related Items).

Balancing quality and cost is a fundamental aspect of shopping, and quality doesn't always win. Buying store-brand boxes of pasta on sale may be more enticing than picking up a gourmet Italian import for twice the cost. And why buy $100 bottles of wine, when some $15 bottles taste just as good? Marginal improvements in the texture and taste of foods may be far less persuasive incentives to pay top dollar than is safety, and safety is now the issue when it comes to Chinese imports.

However, shoppers' challenges are complicated by the fact that, with so many products made in China, it can be impossible to find an American-made alternative. Thus, a parent might need to choose between the Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway her child reallywants, and a handmade train set from Vermont Wooden Toys. Unfortunately for those parents interested in educational electronic toys, the only American-made alternative might be a wooden abacus.

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 24-27, 2007. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. The final sample is weighted so it is representative of U.S. adults nationwide.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ± 4 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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