Not Made in the U.S.A.? Who Cares?

One survey finds that it doesn't much matter to many U.S. shoppers -- especially younger ones -- where the stuff they buy comes from

Politicians may rail against Benedict Arnold CEOs shipping work abroad, and unions may bemoan the loss of U.S. factory jobs. But do Americans care where the stuff they buy was made? Not much, it turns out, and that apathy could hasten the offshore movement.

When shopping for home-improvement or home-decorating products at big-box retailers, 7 out of 10 people say they don't look at the country of origin, according to a new nationwide phone survey by pollster TeleNation. What's more, 57% say the national source has little or no effect on what they toss into their carts. The percentages are notably higher for those aged 18-24: Nearly 85% in that group don't know where products come from or care. By comparison, a majority of those in the 55-and-older group says they're swayed by where products are made.


  Education levels also made a difference in people's responses. Among those with only a high-school diploma or less, 51% take country of origin into account when they shop for home goods. That percentage drops to 30% among those with post-graduate degrees. (The survey found no meaningful differences by region, income level, employment status, or gender.)

David L. Weiner, CEO of Marketing Support Inc., the Chicago branding agency that sponsored the survey, says the breadth of consumer apathy surprised him and his company's clients, which include U.S.-based home-products makers and retailers. A decade ago, he notes, 84% of consumers told a Gallup poll that they moderately or strongly sought out American-made goods.

He predicts that acceptance of foreign products will only grow, as more-nationalistic seniors die off and are succeeded by laissez-faire youth. Another factor: The quality of many imported goods has greatly improved, negating a selling point many American manufacturers once had.


  Weiner's client base sees the shift, too. In fact, many are already making the move. Ace Hardware, for instance, opened its first buying office in Hong Kong in late April to bring more low-priced Chinese tools to its stores. And Maytag (MYG ) quietly has signed deals with Chinese manufacturers Haier and Kelon, allowing them to make air conditioners under Maytag's Amana and Admiral brand names. The American company is also importing big-ticket appliances made by Korean outfits Samsung and Daewoo that are sold with Maytag and Amana badges.

For U.S. manufacturers, Weiner declares, "the game is over." Offshoring "just has its own momentum," he adds. Americans may not make this stuff here, but, hey, at least they still buy it here.

By Michael Arndt in Chicago

Edited by Patricia O'Connell