Made in USA: Turning preference into purchases (part 1).

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Republished with permission from Harry C. Moser, Founder and President, Reshoring Initiative® Published February 12, 2019, Assembly Magazine

Studies show that Americans prefer U.S.-made products, and that this preference can help bring manufacturing back home. But can we turn consumer preference into purchases?

The Reshoring Initiative has aggregated consumer surveys from 10 sources, gleaning insight into the preferences of more than 14,000 U.S. consumers. Findings show that there is a decisive preference for U.S.-made goods: 97 percent have a positive view of goods manufactured in the U.S. Americans also have a positive opinion of companies that manufacture in the U.S.: 91 percent believe it is important to manufacture in the U.S. and think the government should take steps to support American manufacturing.

Quality, jobs and the economy are the most commonly cited reasons for which Americans prefer U.S.-made goods (Harris Interactive, Gallup, Alliance for American Manufacturing). Similarly, Americans support U.S. manufacturing out of a belief that it’s important for long-term job growth and economic stability. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe a strong manufacturing sector is important to national security (Thomas 2018). A study conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center indicates that more than 80 percent of respondents cited retaining manufacturing jobs and keeping U.S. manufacturing strong in the global economy as very important reasons for buying U.S.-made products. About 60 percent were concerned with the use of child labor offshore, or believed U.S.-made goods were of a higher quality.

The preference for U.S.-made goods has a generational component that leans toward older Americans. A 2018 Thomas survey found that, although 61 percent of respondents said they were more likely to buy U.S.-made products, there exists a generation gap regarding the quality of such products. Baby boomers (52 percent) and Generation X (50 percent) believe U.S.-made products are superior, while only 40 percent of millennials and Generation Z share that belief. In total, 45 percent of all respondents thought U.S.-made products were superior to products made offshore, 41 percent thought the quality was typically the same, and 14 percent thought made-in-USA quality was inferior.

While their preference is clear, whether Americans actually purchase American goods is more difficult to determine. Some surveys indicate that less than half of consumers made an effort to purchase U.S.-made goods in the past few months (Gallup). However, according to a Boston Consulting Group survey, 80 percent of American consumers would be willing to pay more for U.S.-made goods. In fact, nearly a quarter of them were willing to pay a price premium of at least 10 percent across all categories of goods surveyed. And, 60 percent of respondents reported having done so in the past month.

Americans report the highest preference for purchasing American goods where concerns about quality, safety and durability are high, such as appliances, clothing, furniture and automobiles. Indeed, Americans are willing to pay extraordinary premiums (upwards of 60 percent) for U.S.-made baby toys and furniture (Harris Interactive 2010, BCG 2012).

Winning substantial contracts via mega-retailer Walmart’s Made in USA initiative made reshoring possible for Michigan-based American Plastic Toys and Ohio-based 50 Strong. “Our customers have told us that, second to price, where products are made influences their purchase decisions,” says Cindi Marsiglio, Walmart’s vice president of U.S. manufacturing.

U.S. appliance manufacturer Whirlpool has pumped more than $1 billion into its U.S. facilities since 2010 and recently added 200 jobs. Positive factors for reshoring include consumer preference, impact on domestic economy and proximity to customers and the U.S. market.

In my next column we will look at how to turn consumer preference into purchases, bridge the generational divide, and influence consumer purchasing behavior.

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