I read yesterday that a PS4 game console costs R$4,000 here in Brazil. That is roughly US$2,000, or about 5x the cost of the same console at a Target store in the U.S. No wonder Brazilians are flocking to the U.S. for their purchases. And it’s a wonder how anyone can afford to buy anything here, even on credit.
They say that retail clerks in Miami and Orlando no longer speak English. Now, they all speak Portuguese. I don’t know if that’s true, but I would bet a Portuguese-speaker would have no problem finding a retail management job in Miami, New York, and Orlando, and perhaps soon in other destinations in the southern USA.
According to NPR, Brazilians regularly flood the U.S. on massive shopping sprees. It’s not uncommon for Brazilians to arrive in the United States with empty suitcases, which will be filled to the brim when they are ready to leave.
We met a fellow one evening who lives and works in Miami. He told us about a daylong trip that you can make from Brazil to Miami and back again…for the sole purpose of shopping. You leave Brazil at O-dark-thirty in the middle of the night, arrive in Miami at first light, spend your day shopping, and return to Brazil on the 9:45 pm flight out of Miami. All for about US$600. But that’s cheap, considering that the cost of items in the U.S. is only about a fourth of the cost in Brazil.
As a result, Brazil’s U.S. Consulates (particularly the one in Sao Paulo) are the busiest in the world, as families queue for visas allowing them to enter the U.S. Most days, some 3,000 people apply for visas at the Sao Paulo U.S. Consulate, down from 5,000 a day a year ago. Last year, more than 1 million Brazilians got visas to the U.S.
When they arrive in the U.S., they zero-in on Target and Wal-Mart and other paradises of low-cost clothing and electronics. (My Portuguese professor said that simple stretchy-cotton t-shirts are a must-buy, since you can’t get anything of “Target’s quality” in Brazil!)
Shoppers return with multiple suitcases carefully packed to the 60-lb. limit, and wearing what won’t fit in the suitcases. (Our friend said she once donned a second pair of pants and several extra shirts in order to not have to pay excess-weight fees for her luggage.)
But the shopping meccas might not just be in the U.S. anymore, as we saw on a drive out near Santa Barbara d’Oeste, an hour or so outside of Sao Paulo (understand, this can mean a three-hour drive, with two of those just trying to get out of the city).
There were were, driving on the open road, when we saw a Statue of Liberty being erected in what looks like a large mall under construction.
Turns out, that’s exactly what it was. A mega-mall, one of hundreds being opened by retail magnate Luciano Hang, who is apparently opening department stores at a pace of one every 15 days throughout the length and breadth of Brazil this year.
“Each cavernous new structure is an homage to American capitalism, with columns intended to evoke the White House and giant replicas of the Statue of Liberty, some more than 100 feet high, stationed at its entrance,” reports The New York Times.
The statues and the blatant consumerism are designed to draw shoppers into the malls, where prices are reportedly lower than elsewhere in Brazil. If this is the case, Hang will have a mega-treasure on his hands, some 100 of them by the end of 2015, he hopes.
Throughout Sao Paulo, I see people wearing Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Hollister brands, from little kids to grandparents. These are status symbols, signs that they have likely been able to shop in the U.S. It’s almost certain they never bought the items here, where a simple blouse in a department store costs a minimum of US$60.
This is a nation building on credit. Scary thought. When I got my hair cut the other day, my stylist asked if I wanted to use credit or debit. I said debit. She thought that perhaps I misunderstood the difference. Debit is taken out immediately, she instructed me, and credit is paid off later. I nodded, and repeated “debit.” She smiled and shook her head. I am obviously not Brazilian!