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For many people, buying “made in America” products is a top priority. For many businesses, the fact that their products are made in America is a major selling point. Now that so much manufacturing has been moved overseas, though, does buying American still matter? After all, many products that are technically assembled here in the U.S. are made of components that originate around the world. Further complicating matters is the fact that there’s no surefire way to determine whether or not something was really made in America or not. With these points in mind, what does buying “Made in America” products even mean anymore?

Defining “Made in America”

The altruistic among U.S. may assume that any time a product is labeled as being “made in America,” it must have been built here. Sadly, that’s often not the case. Sometimes, its parts come from overseas, but final assembly occurs on our shores. Other times, the entire process and all parts originate here. All too often, however, products that are almost entirely–or entirely–made overseas bare “Made in the U.S.A.” labels too. The motivation for this deception is clear: profit. According to a Consumer Reports survey, eight out of 10 Americans prefer buying American-made products, and around 60 percent are willing to pay up to 10 percent more for the privilege.

Of the many labels you’re apt to run across regarding the origins of a product “made in America,” the following are the most common:

  • Made in America – Per FTC guidelines, this label can legitimately be used by products that are manufactured in North America. Therefore, they may have been made in Mexico or Canada too.
  • Made in the U.S.A. – Technically, only products made completely and solely in the United States may bare this label. There’s a catch, naturally: U.S. territories count as “Made in the U.S.A.” too, so Americans living on actual American soil may not have built such products.
  • Assembled in the U.S.A. or America – As implied by the term “assembled,” these products are typically made up of components that originate overseas, but final assembly happens somewhere in the United States.
  • Flag Symbol – This is probably the most misleading label of them all. The FTC has no official guidelines deterring companies from slapping American flag labels on their products. Consumers see the flag and often assume a product was completely made in America. Many times, however, the product wasn’t built here at all, and none of its components were, either.

FTC Standards: What Classifies as a “Made in America” Product?

Due to the confusion regarding which products are legitimately made completely in the U.S. and which are merely labeled as such to boost sales, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, established standards regarding which products are allowed to bare “Made in America” or “Made in the U.S.A.” labels. The FTC requires all or almost all of a product to have been made in the U.S. for it to bare the label. Only a negligible amount, if any, of foreign components are allowed, and final assembly must take place in America.

Unfortunately, the FTC isn’t set up to actively enforce these guidelines. They typically only investigate matters that are brought to their attention. Not surprisingly, competitors often tattle on each other for using such designations. Therefore, you can’t safely assume that products with Made in America labels were actually made here.

Country of Origin Marks

When in doubt, look for the country of origin mark on a product to tell if it’s made in the U.S.A. or not. The mark is required by U.S. Customs for all imported goods, and it’s typically found on a very obvious. part of a product. For example, in a refrigerator, you might find it inside the door.

Why Buy American?

People prefer buying American for many reasons. If you weigh the pros and cons of buying American, you’re apt to adopt the same policy yourself. After all, there are very few disadvantages to doing so. In fact, the one that’s trotted out all the time–that American-made products cost way more–is becoming increasingly less true. Besides, as evidenced by the Consumer Reports survey, many people will gladly pay more to buy American.

Of the many reasons people give for preferring to buy American, the most popular include:

  • Supporting Workers and the American Economy – When products are made overseas, jobs go overseas too. By purchasing American-made products, you may help keep jobs in America or even bring more here.
  • Quality – American companies often adhere to far more rigorous. quality control protocols than companies in other countries. Safety issues may come into play with some products too, prompting many to seek out American-made goods.
  • Work Conditions – Even if someone is unfazed about buying goods made by foreign workers, the fact that such products have been made by children or in sweatshops may prompt them to seek out American-made wares.

Reshoring – The Resurgence of American-Made Goods

Now that the recession is well behind U.S., many U.S. companies and top brands are reshoring, which means bringing manufacturing back to U.S. soil. For example, Apple made waves with its announcement that the Mac Pro will be built in Austin, Texas, instead of Shenzhen, China. Walmart recently announced plans to boost spending with American suppliers by $50 billion over the next 10 years. According to the Department of Commerce, manufacturing output in the U.S. increased by about 45 percent between 2009 and the end of 2014. The Reshoring Initiative, which seeks to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., has successfully gotten more than 300 companies to do so since 2010.

Made in America – Does it Matter?

In today’s increasingly global economy, does buying American even matter? Most would agree that it does for the reasons listed previously and many others. With that being said, though, be a savvy consumer. Don’t blindly purchase products just because they claim to have been made in the U.S.A.. If buying American matters to you, do your due diligence. Identify companies that legitimately design and manufacture their products here, and then give them your business. At the same time, remember that it often simply isn’t possible to find a particular product that’s only been built here in America.

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