Earlier today, I was sitting in a local Dunkin' Donuts, drinking coffee and watching CNN on a Samsung television. It wasn't that long ago that Samsung was all but unknown in the U.S.; now they're one of the market leaders in flat-panel TVs, DVD players, cellphones and other products. Samsung got where they are by offering high-quality products that could rival Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Nokia, Motorola and others, at highly competitive prices.
Earlier this week, U.S. auto sales for January were reported, and only three companies reported improved year-to-year sales: Subaru, Kia and Hyundai. Hyundai grew more than 14%, not by offering ever-larger cash-back deals and financing discounts, but by simply agreeing to take back cars in the first year after purchase from buyers who lose their jobs.
Through a combination of good value and innovative marketing, these Korean companies are coming out ahead...as is Dunkin' Donuts, which is kicking Starbucks' butt with good coffee at a lower price. It seems that people are willing to trade off comfy chairs and cachet to save some money. And, Wal-Mart is just about the only retailer that's continuing to grow; it's taking even more market share away from competitors with its low-price strategy.
It's impossible to say whether these trends will hold once the economy recovers, but it seems unlikely that we'll go back to "business as usual". Consumers will continue to demand more value for their money, and the companies that can't, or won't, provide it won't be around much longer.