I live in a small town in Alberta. Let’s call it Lower Sackville because that has to be the best name for a town in the history of mankind.
Lower Sackville is like a lot of sleepy towns. It has a Wal-Mart and a Canadian Tire and a McDonald’s and so on. Depending on your perspective, these businesses either are a welcome sight or a personification of everything wrong with this world.
Consumers tend to love it when a Wal-Mart comes to town. It’ll undercut every other local retailer, especially for the first few months. Many existing shops can’t adapt, and you know what happens next.
Small businesses, naturally, hate it. “You should shop local,” they say “because that money helps to support local businesses. I take that money and put my kid into hockey or some other nonsense. Shop local.”
The whole shop local movement has got to be the worst idea I’ve ever heard. And believe me, I’ve heard a lot of crap over the years. Here’s why.
The lunacy of small town shop owners
Let me invite you to every small town clothing store, art gallery, shoe shop, kitschy kinck-knack store, electronics reseller, and antique shop. They’re all identical. Every damn one of them.
Each one is ran by a frustrated employee who decided they were sick of working for THE MAN. These people want all the benefits of working for themselves without any of the associated responsibility. They will insist on only working Monday to Friday (9-5, naturally), despite knowing many of their customers also have similar hours. If the place is even open on the weekend, hours are sporadic.
Prices are never even close to competitive, for a number of reasons. Small shops have terrible buying power. They also do no volume, so each item has to have a 100% markup to make up for it. Shops are cluttered, poorly laid out, and are filled with second-hand fixtures.
But it’s okay! Service is where these stores shine, you dummy. The whole reason why you shop local is because a local store is going to go above and beyond! When was the last time that mouth breather at Wal-Mart helped you carry your purchase to your car?
How do they do that?
Is the owner more knowledgeable? Sometimes, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of knowledge if you’re selling knick-knacks.
Is the owner nicer? This one is really hit and miss.
Is the return policy better? L to the O to the L. Have you ever tried to return something to a locally-owned shop? They want to murder you. Nobody at Wal-Mart gives two craps if you want to return something.
But hey, better service! Somehow!
How small town merchants insult your intelligence
Let’s think about the whole shop local movement here for a second.
There’s a local business person out there, somewhere, who is doing a shitty job. They charge too much for their stuff, but try to make it up with some sort of imaginary elevated level of service. And yet they expect a reasonably educated consumer in 2017 to buy stuff from them.
This is why the whole shop local thing exists. These store owners know deep down inside that they have absolutely no competitive advantage over a big box store. So they force you to pity them.
“My product is virtually identical to the one you can buy on Amazon, but 20% to 50% more. The only reason to buy it from me because you feel sorry for me.”
Consumers have a responsibility to their dollars. They need to exchange them for the greatest value possible. Amazon understands that. Wal-Mart understands that. Your average business owner not only doesn’t believe is, but then they also insist you specifically light money on fire just to support somebody who isn’t very good at selling things.
You know how every organization thinks they’ve got the best employees? Some do have great employees. Others? Not so much. It’s the same thing with service levels at small town businesses. Some really do go above and beyond. Most barely go through the motions any better than a local schleprock manning the electronics department at the local Wal-Mart.
Why are we rewarding it? Why do we let small business owners get away with it? Compete better, dammit.
So no, don’t shop local
I’ve gotten to the point where I buy very few things locally. I still support both my town’s grocery stores (especially since I used to work at one), but the majority of my food gets bought at Costco. I buy my clothes, my shoes, and damn near everything else either in the city or online. Until local stores stop insulting me and stop offering the exact same damn products I can get elsewhere for 20% to 50% more, I will continue to go where I can get the best value.
Sheesh. No wonder retail is such a terrible business.