Mental barriers are stopping many consumers from buying more Australian-made products than they could.
Whether it’s being seduced by flashy foreign brands, a lingering inferiority complex or simply chasing cheaper prices, our brains affect shopping decisions, and psychologists and economists say they can be rebooted.
“A basic problem we have faced is we have built up an industry and then people don’t support it,” said AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver.
“The last Holden Commodore produced was probably the best one they produced, but people wanted to buy imported vehicles,” he said.
Dr Oliver said Australia historically had an “inferiority complex” compared with big overseas brands, which had run advertising campaigns over decades to imprint products in people’s brains.
But Aussie products now were “very high quality and very successful”, he said.
“Just think twice when you buy something. Think why are you buying that foreign-made product, and is it based on price?”
Research by Roy Morgan and The Australian Made Campaign found three-quarters of Australian consumers have a preference for Australian-made in categories such as agriculture, gardening equipment and children’s products.
But only about half of consumers prefer locally-made clothing, jewellery, bags, cooking equipment and dinnerware, it found.
Australian Made chief executive Ben Lazzaro said people appeared to prefer local products where quality, safety, health and high standards were important.
“Several factors influence consumers purchasing decisions – country of origin is only one,” he said.
Price, brand and a sector-specific factors also played a role, Mr Lazzaro said.
“We urge consumers to think about the knock-on effects of their purchases,” he said.
“When you buy Australian Made products you are investing in thousands of Australians at all stages of the supply chain, from the local makers and growers to wholesalers and retailers. The flow-on effects from your purchases can be huge.”
Psychologist and behavioural economist Phil Slade said people’s buying decisions often depended on how they viewed themselves.
“If we see ourselves as fashionistas, we will pay more for overseas things that feather our identity,” he said.
Some chose foreign brands because it was “all about the image people are trying to project to others”, Mr Slade said.
“There are mental barriers,” he said.
Consumers could tackle barriers by teaching themselves to feel proud about buying local, Mr Slade said.
“Also envisage the person who made it, which makes it bespoke and not something that is mass produced.”
University of Technology Sydney professor of economics Lionel Page said when faced with products of equal price and quality, consumers were more likely to buy the local item.
However, some overseas products – such as clothing from South East Asia – were cheaper because of cheap labour.
Even though Australians were parochial and had strong feelings towards buying Australian products, “most people put cost decisions first”, Prof Page said.
He said governments could help producers promote their Australian-made goods, but shoppers should not be made to feel guilty about their purchases.
“It shouldn’t be about telling consumers to feel bad.”
AUSSIE PRODUCTS WE PREFER
Agricultural and gardening equipment 80%
Children and baby care products 74%
Building and renovation materials 68%
Pet care products 68%
Furniture, beauty and cosmetics 60%
Clothing, jewellery and accessories 56%
Cooking equipment and dinnerware 54%
Source: Australian Made, Roy Morgan 2020