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United States of America (USA) - Consumer Issues

The US has a large consumerist culture, and this is reflected in the wide variety of shops, superstores, and mega-malls that populate the country and the sometimes overwhelming amount of choice of products available for purchase. You'll find chain stores as well as small, independently-run shops in nearly every major city and moderately-sized town in America. Major chain stores, particularly grocery stores, can vary by region, but superstores such as Wal-Mart (the same company that runs ASDA in the UK), K-Mart, Target, Costco, and Sam's Club can be found throughout the country. Home improvement stores (commonly known as DIY shops in the UK) include Home Depot and Lowe's. IKEA also has branches in some US cities. Popular chains of bookstores include Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million. Electronics stores like Best Buy, Circuit City, and Radio Shack are common throughout the US Pharmaceutical chains, which sell much more than just medicines, include Walgreens, CVS, and Rite-Aid.

When shopping in the US, or when bringing UK-purchased goods into the country, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Electrical appliances (voltages, adapters, transformers)

You may be wondering whether or not your domestic appliances will work in the USA. This depends largely on where you are coming from. In most cases, CD/DVD players will not be functional across national borders (unless they specifically state that they are or have been modified to be so). CDs themselves, however, can be played in most any CD player, and DVDs can be played in a “multi region” DVD player. You should be aware that televisions are not transferable, in general. However, many other appliances such as radios and kettles will work easily, but you may need to purchase an international adapter. There are transformers available to adjust for greater or lesser voltage. Finally, any item labeled with two levels of voltage is a dual carrier. These are less likely to require a transformer, depending upon the nation-to-nation relationship, but will most likely require an adapter. Transformers are necessary for all items that have microchip processing on any level.

Consumer protection

Most retailers will refund your money if you return an item along with the receipt that proves that you paid for it in the first place. In extreme cases, you may need to call an organization called the Better Business Bureau (BBB). This is a consumer protection agency that many businesses voluntarily join. Also, in the USA there are several publishers who produce magazines dedicated to reviewing and comparing consumer products, enabling readers to make highly informed decisions. Consumer Reports (, for example, provides “comparison shopping” in a quick read. Of course, today there are numerous consumer review forums, chat rooms, and blogs available online.


Tipping 15-20% in all restaurants and bars is considered normal behaviour unless your server does a very bad job. In other words, waiters and waitresses will expect to be tipped. All “red cap” service providers strongly prefer to be tipped, although this may not be required in the strictest sense of the term (cab drivers, red caps, waiters, waitresses, and the like are all types of work where tipping is expected). Tipping whenever you can is a good policy, though, as people tend to like it whether they expect it or not!

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