I have difficulty reconciling myself to discount stores. Primarily the reason is that I have long harboured the view that you get what you pay for. Even if the assertion in support of discount stores is that there is so much there which is the same quality but at a higher price somewhere else, I nonetheless cling to the further belief that people are persuaded to spend money on stuff they don’t need only because it is cheap. I am well aware that my scruples will hardly be of any interest to or effect upon those who are dedicated regulars at discount stores. But I’d nonetheless prefer to continue my rant.
The other objection I have to discount stores – an objection which is really just a refinement of the objection to lack of quality – is that the items being flogged are “seconds” which occasionally matters in only the smallest details but regularly means there are indeed serious imperfections which in the result make the product quite useless or so far from the intended purchase as to be much mistaken.
Many discount stores are undeniably a collection of junk. This is not only a variation on the earlier theme of being cheap; it is a stand-alone criticism. The material is not only inexpensive but poorly made and destined to be rubbish within a short time. We are contributing to a culture of hoarders.
Recently as a result of fires in Asian factories it has come to the attention of the North American consumer that the low priced clothing now appearing in grocery store aisles is made at considerable risk to the poorly paid workers. Additionally we are made aware that these same factories are putting our own people out of work and out of business. Again the question is, “At what price cheap?” Where once we may have assuaged our conscience by complimenting ourselves on satisfying our needs with humble textiles, we now see in the plainest of terms that large commercial interests are profiting on the backs of the most vulnerable members of humanity – and we’re helping them do it. It is no accident that the names of stores on the lips of many are those belonging to the barons of today’s commerce – Walmart, Costco, Giant Tiger, Target, etc.
I acknowledge that I have the privilege to scoff at cheap goods and that there are those who of necessity cannot. This is a hard one to contradict. But I think it is part of a more serious erosion of our general expectations. First, by virtue of the so-called affordable prices, we are led to expect we can have almost anything we want at a price we want. Second, we are lulled into a state of dullness by the inherent mediocrity of what we buy. Growing up I recall the reputation of entire countries such as Switzerland and Germany for quality goods. To a lesser extent the Americans have encroached upon this distinction. But for the most part it is an advantage of which few people speak these days. The notable exception is the Japanese automobile, a peculiarity which couldn’t have been imagined fifty years ago.