Consumerism In The Philippines: Why Do Filipinos Patronize Foreign Products?

Filipino Consumerism

The bizarre acceptance that western is better is not only destructive but it is proof that Filipinos are their own worst enemy.

Have you wondered why Filipinos prefer to purchase imported goods over their local products? Perhaps you’ve noticed that most of the gadgets that Filipinos purchase are foreign and not local brands. Well, let’s dig a little deeper to understand why this is happening and examine consumerism in the Philippines.

Filipino Consumerism

The Philippines is a developing country and because of this, Filipinos constantly complain privately and publicly about poverty, malnutrition and expensive education. However, if you go to malls, you will be surprised at how jam-packed the stores are.  One would swear that it’s payday every day and the excessive consumerism is contradictory to the obvious poverty that exists in the barangays that surround these oversized malls.

Consumerism has enveloped Filipinos. The Philippines is one of the poorest countries in Asia but it is the home to three of the ten largest shopping malls on earth. The number of shopping malls and condominiums continue to increase in major Philippine cities and this construction fools Filipinos into believing the economy is growing thus coercing them to buy goods or homes that they cannot afford.

Picture the following:  Most, if not all households, own a cellular phone no matter what their economic status is. Fast food restaurants, coffee shops and cafés have become favorite hangouts; watching the latest movie is a must to remain relevant; owning the latest tech gadget has become a clique trend and driving one’s own car is a near necessity.  Sounds like your typical western nation…right?

Um, no, not really.

Why is this happening? Perhaps, because it’s what social media and the Internet are presenting to Filipinos each and every day and the politics of vanity tell us that possessing the latest tech gadget makes one popular or saves them from clique disgrace.

The urban cultures in major Philippines cities are shaped by shopping malls. As a Filipino, when you ride an MRT or LRT, most stations are connected to a mall. When you work at a BPO (outsourcing, call centers) company that employs thousands of Filipinos, you will find a number of restaurants and shops next to your place of work, enticing you to purchase their goods. Within the same perimeters, you will find new residential suites next to shopping malls and near your office, inviting you to buy or rent. Wherever you go, you are always presented with something to buy as if you’re a walking wallet.

Fortunately for retailers, there is so little marketing required because Filipinos love to spend their money.

“We like to enjoy ourselves. Some cultures value sacrifice, frugality and giving up for the future. We are not quite one of those. We like to live,” said Benedicto “Poch” Cid Jr, chief brand advisor of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. “We like to be noticed. We like to be fashionable. We like to be in style. We want to be ‘pogi’ or ‘maganda’ and its a characteristic of ours.”

Filipinos may have different reasons for purchasing but Cid Jr.’s comments are not fact. Foot traffic is heavy in malls when the retailers cut their prices.  Small budgets ensure that Filipinos will only purchase specific goods when the items are marked down fifty to seventy-five percent.  Even if the goods are unnecessary purchases, Filipinos will brag of the money they saved.

I have friends who practice the mantra of “shop ‘til you drop.” They have the latest phone, drive their own car and live in a spacious unit in one of the newest condominiums in town. At first glance, you would say that they are living a beautiful life. However, come pay day, their money disappears quickly to pay bills, loans, utilities and essentials. Yes, they are earning more than the average Filipino, but their budget is so out of whack that they often have to borrow money from relatives and friends to make ends meet until the next paycheck.

How Filipinos Patronize Foreign Products

Aside from purchasing, Filipinos tend to be picky when it comes to the brand they purchase. There was a time when only the rich could afford iPhones and Mac Books. The brand sealed one’s economic status. Strangely, more and more Filipinos who don’t enjoy any elitist status are buying brands that they cannot afford.

Many employees – specifically BPO workers –  save their salaries to purchase the latest iPhone, Nike shoes or Prada bag. Filipinos love to buy foreign brands and mall retail outlets such as the Gap, Uniqlo, Forever 21, Zara and H&M to name a few, are always packed. Also, most Filipinos purchase cell phones from Samsung, iPhone, Nokia, LG and Asus brand over the local brands such as Cherry Mobile, MyPhone and CloudFone. The choices – especially economically – make no sense other than to obtain some bizarre desire to appear westernized.

In general, Filipinos prefer imported products over the local ones. Yes, it is more expensive, but aside from the price they are convinced that when an item is produced overseas it is better than anything they can buy locally. This might sound absurd to you, but this mentality is deeply rooted in the Filipino consciousness.

Why Filipinos Snub Their Own Products?

The Philippines had been a Spanish colony for 333 years until the Americans took over in 1898. Since then, western influence has left its mark on the Filipino lifestyle, political environment, and, of course, purchasing decisions. Western lifestyles and socio-political outlooks dominate the Filipino public sphere.

When the white man landed in the Philippines, they introduced advanced machinery, better tools and accessories that mesmerized the Filipinos. They were so impressed with foreign products that they soon realized that their local brands were inferior. This colonial mentality has maintained western popularity for centuries and has impeded Filipino retail and manufacturing independence.  The bizarre acceptance that western is better is not only destructive but it is proof that Filipinos are their own worst enemy.

Even today, colonial mentality infiltrates social, political and purchasing decisions. White Filipinos or mestizas and mestizos are preferred over brown-skinned Filipinos. Imported products such as chocolate, canned goods, watches, shirts, bags and shoes are always deemed to be more tasty, delicious and higher quality. Looking closely, studies have proven these assumptions to be false.

Trying Hard PH shared a blind taste test of imported versus local Filipino food products. The experiment included three participants where they compared local and international brands of drinks, chips, cookies and candies. Upon completion of the tests, the local products received 12 votes while the imported received.  A small example?  Yes, but it proves that local items are not subpar in comparison to foreign goods.

The colonial mentality in the country has two dimensions:  First, the lack of patriotism or active awareness, appreciation and love of the Philippines; second, an actual preference over imported things.

Filipinos tend to have lasting loyalties to the brands they use but this loyalty can be considered both positive or negative. It’s positive if the family is using a local product because, more likely than not, family members will continue using the same product if it remains available. However, it’s negative if the family or individual is loyal to an imported brand. Other than the merchant who sold the product, few Filipinos benefit from this purchase. Buying this imported product and remaining loyal to it effects local and national economies; effects employment and effects your direct family. The following is a short note to Filipinos:

There is no circumstance, except appealing to your personal vanity, where buying an imported product is a win for the Philippines.  No situation; not one.   When you buy an imported product, you send another OFW away from his/her family.  When you buy an imported product, you give money to foreigners who don’t care about you, your city or your country.  When you buy an imported product, you are, in essence, the reason why the Philippines will never, ever become a first world nation.  Stop blaming your government and look at the man in the mirror.

What can we do to help Filipinos patronize their own brand?

Filipino products are high-quality but since they are not internationally recognized, selling them is more challenging. Good thing there is a non-governmental organization like Yabang Pinoy (YP), which is dedicated to promoting locally-made products.

“There are new international brands that constantly come to the Philippines, but the challenge is for the consumers to become more aware of the local products that available and more importantly are of equal or higher quality. For every purchase of an internationally-made brand, you can be sure there is an equal or even greater Filipino product in the market,” said JM Jose. “Through the PH-Made Movement, we introduce, or re-introduce local brands to the market so the next time people go to the department store, grocery, or mall, they know what Filipino brands are available there, and hopefully have a conscious effort to choose local.”

The organization is behind the Global Pinoy Bazaar that gives all-Filipino brands a chance to be recognized in the market. The event doesn’t want to compete with the international brands but aims to change the mindset of every Filipino to make local purchases.

“Everything depends on the mindset of Filipino consumers. We hope that if there is a choice to be made between foreign and local products with same price and quality, the buyer will choose to go homegrown.”

Perhaps, this is the time for Filipinos to try homegrown products. Patronizing locally made items means more work for fellow countrymen. So, if you are already using a local brand, start promoting it to your friends and family. If you are using imported products, give local brands a chance. Be experimental and try to find a similar item that is produced locally.

As Mark Twain said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.” Filipinos lack patriotism. Perhaps, it is high time that Filipinos recognize the absence of this attitude, develop it and cultivate it in the minds of their children.

What’s your take on consumerism in the Philippines? Are you willing to support local brands and promote patriotism on your next shopping trip? The choice is yours but patronizing your own will benefit you and everyone around you. Do you agree?

Written by Catherine Armecin



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  1. Nailed it. One of my biggest pet peeves is our stupid obsession over imported name brands. It has ridiculously gone to the point that we’d even prefer to buy fake foreign brands over genuine local ones. What???

    This mindset is destructive; both for our wallets (we’re not the lowest earners in Asia, but we’re the worst savers according to studies) and obviously for our economy (we’re feeding the comfortably-living US, Korean, German, UK workers; not the impoverished Pinoy ones).

    Let’s smarten up, huh?

  2. White Filipinos or mestizas and mestizos are preferred over brown-skinned Filipinos

    I HATE THIS MENTALITY!!!!!!! I don’t even live in the Philippines but having visited the country I encountered really distasteful behaviour and service!


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