The High Cost of Discount Culture

Penguin Group (USA), 2010 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


Science journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell offers many insights in this terse, but engaging overview of the discount industry, starting with the image of shoppers browsing mindlessly through discount store aisles filled with shoddy merchandise. Her mix of history, economics and psychology delivers a disturbing portrait of the discount industry from the industrial era to the present day. Some of her examples and arguments are repetitive or simplistic, but after reading this book, you’ll think twice about every price tag or special promotion. Shell, who acknowledges that she is a bargain hunter, too, never gets preachy. Instead, she prompts you to examine the hidden financial, political, environmental and global costs of the discount culture. Many so-called bargains are not good value, and shoppers pay extra tolls in wasted time and resources. getAbstract recommends Shell’s treatise to shoppers, economists and executives in the retailing and manufacturing industries.


Attention Shoppers

Bargain hunting is a bottomless shopping bag for many consumers. The quest for bargain sales and deep discounts often reflects a deeper individual desire for economic control. In the shopping aisles, scoring great deals seems like the way to gain victory points in the retail game. Unfortunately, the financial points you win when you go bargain hunting are often cheap illions.

Many shoppers, particularly in America, seem infatuated with low prices, and the relationship is not one-sided. The retail industry is wooing consumers with a record number of discount chains, outlet malls, dollar stores and warehouse clubs. Faced with heavy discounting, shoppers have a difficult time understanding price tags or decoding value. Often, they don’t or can’t distinguish between high- and low-quality.

Confused, they stock up on low-priced bargains that offer diminished or dubious real value. Some so-called deals are actually rip-offs. But the public’s growing appetite for low-priced, low-quality products makes it difficult for merchants to sell full-priced, high-quality goods.

Innovations in Commerce

Before the Industrial Revolution, many products...

About the Author

Ellen Ruppel Shell is a contributing editor and correspondent for The Atlantic. She is also a science journalist, professor and co-director of the science journalism graduate program at Boston University.

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