The Made In America Store is making the most out of a recent David Letterman complaint on his Late Show that "We can't even make our own back scratcher in America, why?" A press release announces, "In response, the Made In America Store has sent Letterman a Maple Landmark Back Scratcher, entirely made in America."
A new survey from Li-Ning, the Chinese athletic footwear and apparel company founded and named after China's most famous Olympic medal-winning gymnast, suggests that Americans might just be in the market for a Chinese-made back scratcher after all. In fact, the survey's highlight finding suggests that over 90 percent of US consumers are ready to buy a Chinese brand.
The core findings from the consumer survey by Digital Li-Ning, a Chicago-based joint venture between Acquity Group and Li-Ning, confirm what some might have expected as well as offer a few surprises. A few of the highlights:
- 62% of Americans are more likely to purchase products from Chinese companies toda than 5 years ago
- Approximately two-thirds of Americans consider products from Chinese companies to be comparable to other countries
- More than half of U.S. consumers believe that in five years, the best Chinese products will measure up to American products
- Consumers were likely to purchase items ranging from appliances, toys, consumer electronics, as well as footwear and athletic apparel, with a majority preferring to purchase consumer electronics from Chinese companies over any other type of product
- Nearly a quarter of Li-Ning survey respondents were unaware if they’ve purchased a Chinese product before, and the majority was able to recognize Chinese brand names
One consumer perception about Chinese brands is that they are substandard, or competitive on price only. This idea of China as the world's factory for the cheap junk that lines the shelves of America's big box retailers is a difficult one for China's brands to shake. With regard to this perception, Digital Li-Ning's study found that about three quarters of respondents "said their opinion of products manufactured in China has stayed the same or improved over the past 5 years." Additionally, "80% of Millennials and 92% of upper income level consumers stated that the quality of products manufactured in China has remained consistent or improved."
While not able to take all the credit, the improved consumer thinking about the quality of China-made goods is certainly due in part because of the very high profile relationship between Apple's iPhone and its "Made in China" label. When Apple recently took a licking in the press for its partnership with labor-practices-challenged Foxconn, the tech brand shot back that the kind of quality workmanship needed for the iPhone could only be found in China.
While the Li-Ning survey demonstrated that American consumers "may have heard Lenovo or Haier and recoiled because they’d never heard of a Chinese brand before," in today's marketplace those brands "are being sold at retail locations next to Dell and Frigidaire."
Beyond household products, a lot of Americans are already investing in Chinese brands. In April, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that China's brands are increasingly capturing the heavy equipment industry. These brands' strategy? A focus on higher quality. The movement — and the hope it embodies — is best summarized by a new Trendwatching presentation titled, "Made Better in China." Riffing on "Made in China," it's a catchy twist on the tainted label, a latter day version of the old Shanghai Tang tagline, "Made by Chinese."
Beyond consumer goods such as Li-Ning athletic kits and Haier washing machines, Chinese brands are looking to other services like banking. The Bank of China was recently approved to establish a Chicago branch while the Agricultural Bank of China was green-lit for a location in New York. The Bank of China is also hoping to open in Toronto, Canada soon.
As Li-Ning's report notes though, it was not so long ago that American consumers regarded Korean brands with apprehension, if not outright scorn. That is, if Americans regarded them at all. Today, Samsung and Kia are trusted brands commonly found in US households.
It goes without saying that Li-Ning has a particular dog in the fight. After a promising jump into the US market, the Chinese athletic brand has been forced to regroup and attempt a "new China" approach.
One product sector where Chinese brands probably have a long, long way to go? Dairy.