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Why should I shop local?

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Shopping local is within the gift of the consumer. It is their choice to make depending on circumstance. However, from the business point of view, If a guilt trip is the best reason you have to offer a customer for using you, then in reality, you probably don't have that much to offer a customer.


There are so many small retail and hospitality businesses that need the help of a professional - so many really great businesses, led by enthusiastic people, busting to do the right thing, that I would gladly advise for free if it meant they stay afloat. However, in my experience, the small business owner has a fatal flaw in 70% of cases. Seven out of ten refuse to listen to advice, they are blinkered to their faults, they refuse to accept blame. These same businesses don't even listen to their customers for God's sake, why would their customer or I, waste our time?


Clicks and Mortar - long time


When I walk into Asda, I know I will be able to get a wide selection of products, I will be able to get them cheap, and I will be able to get them with very little staff support or hassle. When I want that, it feels great. Fast, simple, cheap.


There is no guilt campaign from Asda. There is no appeal to me about how bad of a person I am if I don't shop at Asda. There are no protestors outside my house or outside other stores convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Asda. When I step foot in a Asda, I go there because that is exactly what I need at that time. I go there because they are better than anyone else at providing for me as a consumer. I go there for the things I know I can get. I don't go there for expert advice, I go for grab and go. I don't go there for the highest quality, I go for consistent quality. I don't go there for fine tailoring, I go for cheap threads - I go there because it is the pinnacle of convenience shopping outside the house - What I need, when I need it at a price point that I need it to be.


When I shop at Amazon.com, I get a wide selection of goods, at a cheap price with both the ease and occasional difficulty that comes with shopping online. They do that better than anyone else. When I want that, it feels great to turn to Amazon and get that, and to get it exactly as I expected, and more often than not, be surprised by an experience that is even better than what I expected.


There is no guilt campaign from Amazon, there are no protestors outside my house convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Amazon. There are no online ads pointing out how immoral it is of me to shop anywhere that isn't Amazon. I use Amazon because Amazon is exactly what I want at that moment.


This is in sharp contrast with 70% of locally owned shops.


Locally sourced...


When I step foot into a local shop, all too often I find nothing remotely of value to me. It is an unpleasant experience with an unhelpful, or sometimes even rude and unknowledgeable service assistant / owner. I am invariably there because of convenience (to me) - and yet a lot of the time, that sense of convenience is usurped by a feeling of anger, resentment or neglect. If I am not there out of convenience, it is as a passive consumer, looking for inspiration. I am there with a bi product sale of a few quid, or because I can't be bothered to look any further. I am not there with a credit card busting to be used.


I just do not feel like I'm contributing to my local community by shopping in such places. To the contrary, I find myself wishing that the lowest value shops have a change of ownership - the sooner the better. In retail and hospitality, we are in the people business, and the sooner these current owners are out of the people business, the better. By even being in existence they take up valuable property that can be used by others seeking to innovate the local space, to provide better customer rewards, to create much less shopping tension, and ultimately to develop a better use for that local space.


Thing is - not only do I not feel guilty for not 'actively' shopping with mediocre local businesses, it makes me sad that they even exist. They are partially propped up by the guilt movement that encourages customers to disregard all other benefits in favour of having the opportunity to shop locally. This is a movement I find misguided at best. I find this whole heinous thought process more often than not ill-informed, often enough I find it willfully ignorant and therefore I conclude that it is blatantly deceitful. Actually, the moral thing to do, is this. We could help struggling local businesses with eager owners, to make the most of their opportunity and flourish. There are a good number of local business owners that need that help, and are prepared to listen to change. The other option is that we should help bad local businesses go under by not using them, and therefore helping to clean out that retail or hospitality detritus that takes up local bricks and mortar space.


Confusing charity with shopping, confusing philanthropic activity with consumer activity benefits no one but the mediocre shop owner.


Shopping locally generally offers me only one added value — immediacy. I like shopping locally because it is nice to have an item that I want in my hand before I buy it so that I can look it over. It feels nice to have it in my hand ten minutes after I decide that I want it. Soon that will barely be an added value. With Amazon and Argos offering same day delivery, and local supermarket essentials on JustEat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats, it is already barely more immediate to shop for most things locally. If I can restrain myself for an hour or two and not have truly immediate gratification, then Amazon, all things considered provides a far more valuable shopping experience to me than a local shop - on virtually all products. This is why the high street across the nation is polarising at budget brands like Home Bargains, where consumer choice is limited to supplier price point availability.


When I read the local paper (online or via social media of course, nobody actually buys a newspaper anymore). Especially at christmas time, I see articles about how important it is to 'shop local' . I see as many as one or two sections in each edition that state how important it is to shop locally, giving no reason other than survival of local shops - the guilt trip - shop local regardless of quality, price and service, or its your fault they disappear.


It is practically mindless — this "shop locally" statement. Guilt about not shopping locally and feeling good about the idea of shopping locally is practically the only value proposition offered by local stores and their media relations team in the local council. Instead the articles should read "shop at good shops," or "shop at shops that give you what you want and how you want it."


The emotion of the shop local message, is often relevant because we are talking about family businesses. Business handed from one generation to the next. These businesses often started by a brilliant entrepreneur, maintained by an emotionally attached next generation, and usurped by competition, in the hands of the low attached third generation. Yes, All too often the poor local businesses are owned by people, that through no skill or judgment have the money to support them. These are generally the people that don't listen, don't adapt, and eventually close. This is not the case for each individual of course, there are also far too many great businesses that fail because of circumstances beyond their control.... Circumstances like a change in business rates so extortionate, they wipe away the operating profit; or a crisis like COVID19 has created in the retail and hospitality sectors.


So, as we now know, the reason for success or failure is for the majority of cases, in the hands of the owners decision making.


Questionable Decision Making


The Butcher: Picture the scene, it is Saturday morning 10am, I have decided that tomorrow is Roast Beef Sunday. We are in the middle of lockdown due to COVID19, and local shopping as a result has become a rather more important part of British life. I make my way to the local butcher. Remembering the last 2 weekends, I decide to go early, and hopefully avoid the queue....



I join the back of the queue... I am second in line to the door. I can see through the window, the butcher wandering nonchalantly, chatting with the customer. I can also see some lovely looking beef, and 4 (FOUR) other people in the back room, whilst Mr. Butcher continues to wander around behind the counter - at times he too disappears in to the back for say 3 or 4 minutes at a time. At no point did the pace change.... ever.


To cut a long story short, eventually I get in the shop, order my topside for 5 people, a dozen of Tamworth's finest Tomato Sausages, and 2 packs of thick cut bacon. I decided that I had to tell the butcher what I had seen, and hopefully help him make better decisions. So I tell the butcher that he had lost 4 people off the back of the queue in the last 30 minutes I had been here watching through the window. He didn't seem bothered simply retorting "we are busy". I suggested that as the average order value during this time was £56, he had lost £224 in half an hour, and that he could afford an extra member of staff to help. He got a bit salty at this point, asking me who was I to be telling him that... well actually I am a customer that's waited half an hour in the freezing fucking cold pal - but that aside, I am only trying to help. He couldn't be less interested in improvement, his excuses were many; this is how he had always done it, this is how his Dad did it, this is how his Grandad did it, he couldn't fit anymore staff in the shop, they had got a lot of orders to do, we can't help it if we are busy and then the classic - COVID19 (don't you just love how everything shit about service is blamed on that nowadays).


I still bought my stuff; I mean I am not daft - the product is superb and I had waited for half an hour. But will I go next Saturday ? Maybe not. I will always try and help, but the the business was haemorrhaging cash and the owner is either a rich a blinkered fool, or worse doesn't give a damn. The dis-associated 3rd generation maybe, it would be interesting to know.


The Toy Shop: Anybody that knows me, knows my pet hate for all things signage. In the UK we are obsessed with putting up notices with blu-tac or sellotape to tell people what they can't do when they are in your shop. The big brands are bad enough, with their no eating / no drinking / no dogs unless its a guide dog signs, amongst others. There's something - who are all these people that go shopping with their dog ? I mean come on - does it really did a sign ? I am yet to see a sign that says "you are very welcome to spend your money here".

But this one toy shop in Derby - its a few years back I saw this now, so maybe out of business. They were past masters at the sign. On top of the generic things mentioned, you also couldn't come in if you were a child (this is a toy shop), or if you wanted Monopoly they told you that they didn't sell it upfront... oh and if you didn't know exactly what you wanted, then you weren't welcome either, because browsing was banned. I have wondered to this day what determines a 'browse', what determines a 'look' and how you should behave to prove you weren't actually doing either... I wonder what would have happened if I had actually asked the extremely angry looking little man sitting behind a cash desk at the door, smoking a roll up, if they had Monopoly.


I really hope they have gone out of business, I would hate to think that they would survive very long regardless of how outrageous the story is.


The last example I would use is the Spar at the BP garage local to us. This is a shop intent on making life difficult for both customer and staff. The manager is so beligerent. I am sure if you asked him who the most important people are in his business, he would start with him and his bosses. Because it cannot be the staff or customers, otherwise they wouldn't make some of the decisions they do - like 10p a litre more for fuel than the next nearest stop, like removing bacon and sausage from sale, like not selling alcohol, like asking new staff to work 3 shifts for no money as a 'trial' for training purposes... And then you see things like this sign on the doors:

I am really not sure how they identify a 'student' - do they verify each person that comes through? As a mature student, do I up the numbers by one? Or is it actually school children in uniform they want to ban... You know, the ones in a rush to get to school on time that dont have time to queue. Or is the truth that they had a problem once, and so have pidgeon holed the 97% well behaved with the 3% thief?


Bonkers.


However...

In some places — and the places are thankfully becoming more common — walking into a local store truly is brilliant.


Because competition has upped the level of difficulty required to run a store, and driven so many bad stores out of business, we are left with increasingly better stores that are increasingly customer focused. For a consumer, that is a great shift in local businesses. Businesses that don't provide more local value than the guilt of "shop local" are becoming less common.


This is sadly not happening as quickly as it could. People stuck in an ideology, as thoughtless as any other ideology, profess that "buy local" is some sort of unchallengeable axiom, a fundamental, impossible to further elucidate truth that all people must profess and live by or otherwise are subject to moral condemnation.


The Asda and the Amazons of the world came into the league and upped the competition to premiership level. Of this, I am entirely grateful, and though I really like these companies and companies like them, I also look forward to the next generation of companies that squeeze the Asdas and the Amazons of the world. Of course, the established stores in any place had the new destabilising competition.


But, Its great for the consumer.


The upshot is, that choosing where to shop is not a linear journey, there are many choices to make first. In many cases, I would prefer to pay more, and get assured quality - like the butcher for example, or art, or handmade product with real provenance.


So, would I prefer to shop local? Of course I would, but not at the expense of quality, service and welcome.




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