Sunday, December 19, 2010

Being a savvy consumer in the US

Disclaimer: these facts are solely based on our personal experience as consumers in the US, Canada, Brazil and Europe.

When we moved to Dallas, in 1998, the consumer dynamics changed drastically, comparing prices was no longer as relevant as it was in Sao Paulo, in the US you literally get what you pay for, you buy a cheap mattress, the mattress will less you only a few years, you are almost always guaranteed to get something of lesser quality, in Sao Paulo it was very common to find the exact same product with huge price differences.
Unless you find a good sale on a certain product you are familiar with the price, you will be always getting what you are paying for, time after time.
This is why when in the US you are always better off buying the most expensive product which will be most likely the best quality and the best value, almost always, almost...
Below are some other situations to be aware of as a consumer while in the US.


Grocery stores here are very similar to Brazil in my experience.
I always got what I wanted when complaining about a certain issue, both at grocery stores in Sao Paulo and in every place we ever lived in the US, Texas, California, Florida, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Rest assure that you will be able to exchange or return whatever you want/need with no problems what so ever, people won't even ask you for a receipt, spoiled food, bad smelling meat...whatever, get a replacement product or cash back.


I can even say that we have had an experience in Toronto.
Just this past summer while in Toronto, we bought a few grocery items at a Walmart Superstore at the Dundas Mall and as we got to the parking lot a jar of olives broke thru the super thin plastic bag and broke on the cement as I was loading the car.
I walked right back into the store, complained to the manager and she gave me a replacement jar, no questions asked, so I can say, Canada should be similar to the US and Sao Paulo when it comes to grocery store issues.
Gil has lived in Toronto for 2 years and according to his experience you will be ok when returning any products to any large grocery store in Canada but God forbid you have a problem with any small mom and pop kind of store, it will be a lot harder and on a case by case base.
He said you are mostly on your own in those kind of situations, however it is worth to mention that Gil lived in Toronto in 1990 and 1991, a lot could have changed since those days.


Californians are absolutely ahead of "our time" when it comes to consumer rights in the US.
Mattresses and furniture have to be made with fire retardant material and most products have much higher standandards when sold in California.
A couple of years ago, I bought a U$3,98 hand mixer during a black Friday impulsive purchase at Walmart. When I got home and opened the box there was a tag on the hand mixer's electrical cord with the following warning:

Warning found on a hand mixer bought at a Walmart in Rhode Island circa 2007

Cheap hand mixer bought at Walmart during black Friday 2007

 You get what you pay for...HAND MIXER U$3,98, cheap and you get POISONOUS LEAD as a BONUS...

I put the darn thing back in the box, placed it out in the garage and washed my hands profusely. I just remembered and it's been 3 years and I haven't returned the lead poisoned appliance yet...and probably never will...
If this CRAP is harmful to Californians why would it be any different in New England, I just don't get it, how does Walmart get away with it.
Californians are super DEMANDING when it comes to consumer rights, product safety, green products etc... they definitely lead the country in many aspects. (except for civil rights, shame on the religious right CA for prop 8)


Generally in Brazil you can find exact same products for a better deal.
I remember driving downtown Sao Paulo to buy high quality stuff for better prices, high count Egyptian cotton sheets and towels. You could find the same brand sheets and towels at the MALL for twice, sometimes three times as much, it was definitely worth to shop around.
The same goes for most other products you purchase in Brazil, if you know where to go, you will definitely get a good bargain and take home the same quality.
Not in the US, usually when you find something cheaper, there is a 98% chance there is a catch, the catch is usually cheaper quality, it will end up costing you more because you will need a replacement soon.
Quality has always been king to me, you will find a cheaper "silverware set" on sale at Macy's but the first time you place it in the dishwasher it will come out full of rusty stains, we have returned sad set of silverware before we ever used it. I placed it in the dishwasher to have it clean before the first use and it came out full of rusty stains, that set went back to Macy's that same night.
We bought a Cuisinart Blender at Macy's a couple of years ago, it was supposed to last a long time and be of superior quality but an aluminum inner ring on the Glass cup started to show rust marks, we returned it and haven't bought a new blender yet, these is an exception and rare situation, Cuisinart products are usually very good.


I found an awesome "Cuisinart" toaster oven for U$50,00 just last week, stainless steel with all the bells and whistles, loaded on to the shopping cart, this wasn't an impulsive purchase, I have been looking for one of these for a while and I know they cost around U$150,00. What was the catch?
This toaster oven had a warning under the box that read "REFURBISHED AT THE FACTORY", limited 1 month warranty. These ovens usually have a 1 year to 3 year warranty.
Thanks but no thanks! I want something that will last...
Our current "DeLonghi" Italian made toaster oven has served us well for the past 13 years, it's a little beat up after moving with us 10 times in the last 13 years but it is still working, so that replacement project has been put on hold for a while.


As a general rule stores have always been somewhat flexible when you return stuff, here again, not too different from Sao Paulo, you bought the wrong size, no problem, want a different color, no problem, got a gift you didn't like, no problem, get store credit and get whatever else you want.
Cash back nowadays only with a receipt and within the stipulated time frame, we long left the time of innocence when you could return products for cash back no questions asked.
Lately, some stores are starting to give us trouble, TARGET started giving customers a hard time lately, they are getting pickier everyday and Walmart has gone as far as creating a BLACK LIST of customers who return too much stuff.
Walmart now takes down your drivers license number every time you return an item without showing a receipt, if you return 3 items in one year, you can't return any more items until 12 months rolls around and your driver's license number clears their system.


The same color and design Lacoste black polo shirt bought for U$30,00 at an Outlet Mall is NOT the same quality as the exact looking one bought at a Lacoste store at an upscale MALL for U$55,00, the one at the MALL will have better material and better dye and will last much longer without fading.
I bought one at an outlet Mall just outside of Boston that read MADE IN PERU at the tag while the one bought at the fancy Lacoste store says "MADE IN FRANCE", the one from PERU you can see thru when you place it against a light bulb, not the french, more expensive counterpart, however the look almost identical.
My brother bought me a black Lacoste polo shirt at "El Corte Ingles", an upscale department store in Madrid, Spain, the tag said MADE IN BARCELONA, Spain, awesome quality, thick material, vibrant color that won't fade but it cost an absurd 115 Euros, OUCH!!!
My European friends explained that we Americans prefer to buy a dozen cheap shirts of different colors for 115 Euros and Europeans prefer to purchase 1 good quality shirt for that same price, expensive, but it won't fade and it will last a long time.
That is how they compare the different mentality of consumers in Europe and the US.
I think Brazilian consumers are very much like Americans when it comes to quality X price.
I never purchased Lacoste in Brazil by the way. I would have to mortgage our house to do so :)

Made in Peru Lacoste Polo Shirt, from the outlet Mall, cheaper but of inferior quality


Jim said...

Finding quality for less here in Brazil is about knowing your stuff. It is a very difficult hunt.

Kitchen appliances (like toasters) are almost always crap, unless you dig deep into your pocket. We brought a toaster oven with us that probably cost US$60. There is nothing even close to its quality and functions available here without having to go to a high-end boutique kitchen store and pay two weeks wages.

You definitely have to shop around here - definitely!

Gil and Ray said...


You are right, electronics and appliances are more expensive in Brazil than in the US.
But again, the US is the only country where these things are cheaper, even Canada took me by surprise when we visited this past summer. First of all we saw a lot of MADE IN CANADA stuff everywhere, things were more expensive in Toronto but we saw much less MADE IN CHINA stuff over there...
It seems like we are the only country who made the decision to give up our factories for cheaper imported crap.
Brazil also has much less imported stuff, most of your electronics or appliances will be MADE IN BRAZIL, where they will naturally cost more because of the strong Unions, lots of high Taxes to support "Bolsa Familia" and other gov programs...
It's a choice, cheap imported crap and failed cities with closed factories all over the country seemed to have been the choice we made in the US.


Jim said...

Living here has definitely been a lesson in trade protectionism.

Everything is MADE IN BRAZIL. I love that, on one hand, but it definitely makes for higher prices and limited choices.

There will come a day when this is lessoned... for sure.

Gil and Ray said...


Yes, decisions, decisions, the ideal would be a balance between the two ways...
In an ideal world we would have a lot of choice of affordable locally made stuff...
Who knows, anything is possible!
I am an eternal optimistic!


Anonymous said...

Good post and Smart Blog
Thanks for your good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog Ancient Egypt and more Ancient Egypt Maps for Kids and Students thanks again admin