At our newly opened Slave Mart, I saw shoes for $4.99. So when they wear out in a few months, you buy new ones!
Cheapness -- and the decline in durability that has accompanied it -- has triggered an astonishing increase in the amount of clothing we buy. In the mid-1990s, the average American bought 28 items of clothing a year. Today, we buy 59 items. We also throw away an average of 83 pounds of textiles per person, mostly discarded apparel, each year. That's four times as much as we did in 1980.
Since 1995, the number of toasters and other small electro-thermal appliances sold in the U.S. each year increased from 188 million to 279 million. We buy more than 2 billion bath towels a year, up from 1.4 billion in 1994.
In a paper [PDF] that came out last year, three business professors illustrate how inducing manufacturers to cut product quality enhances Walmart's competitive position. "Because lower quality products are usually cheaper to produce, it is often argued that discount retailers induce lower quality in order to drive down prices. Our model suggests, however, that the competitive and bargaining position effects provide incentives to induce lower quality regardless of changes in production costs," the authors write.
Walmart is also a master at getting shoppers to buy more than they came for. It employs all of the techniques that have been shown to spur "unplanned buying," according to a recent study [PDF] in the Journal of Marketing. The study found that large stores that promote the concept of one-stop shopping and can only be reached by car generate the most impulse buys. Marketing messages that evoke abstract shopping goals are also highly effective at inducing people to put more stuff in their carts.
According to the study, the least amount of unplanned buying occurs when a shopping trip involves multiple stores, each with a specific product focus, and the customer arrives on foot or by mass transit -- in other words, when you shop at small neighborhood and downtown retailers.