You're Wrecking Your Town: How our shopping habits are destroying our communities.
 
 Written by Lindsey Aarts

Written by Lindsey Aarts

“Showrooming.” Have you heard the term? If you are a small business owner, you have probably fallen victim to this shopping practice. If you are a consumer, you very well may have done this without giving much thought to its implications. “Showrooming” is the act of going to a local store to shop for a product, testing it out, trying it on, comparing it to similar items, asking questions about it from a store owner or employee, then going home and ordering it online for the cheapest price you can find.

I would be hard-pressed to think of a stronger indicator that we, as small business owners and consumers, need to pull our collective head out of our collective rear-end and start considering what this really means.

"One-fifth of the U.S.’s $3.6 trillion retail market will have shifted online within five years, and Amazon is set to capture two-thirds of that share..."

“Shop local’ and “Shop Small” have become nothing but whispered buzzwords drowned out by a society driven by convenience and the cheapest available option. Large online retailers—well, one in particular (can you guess which one? I’ll give you a hint it begins with an “A” and ends with “mazon”)—have aggressively sought to dominate one retail sector after another, leaving brick and mortar stores in the dust. Don’t believe me? According to a recent report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), one-fifth of the U.S.’s $3.6 trillion retail market will have shifted online within five years, and Amazon is set to capture two-thirds of that share. This year, the retail industry is on track to close a staggering 8,640 stores (over 2,000 more than peak numbers in 2008) across the United States. While this number generally includes large chain retailers, the implication for small, main street shops is not good. We certainly can’t place all the blame squarely on the shoulders of Amazon, but the numbers are still staggering. Amazon accounted for 53% of all e-commerce growth and accounted for 43% of all online U.S. retail purchases. It is Goliath, and while I could list a lot of terrifying facts about Amazon, the ILSR already did- about 80 pages worth. If even half of it is remotely accurate, we should all be rioting in the streets. But we aren’t. And that’s the problem.

"This year, the retail industry is on track to close a staggering 8,640 stores (over 2,000 more than peak numbers in 2008)..."

Back to our collective head in our collective rear-end. Imagine if all the small businesses in a town just went away? What would be left? The sad truth is that this is a reality that has been faced many times over as retail spaces are vacated, leaving a decaying mess behind. Cities have been forced to pay for the demolition of these buildings as they draw crime and cause surrounding property values to plummet.

No one chooses to live in a town with no working economy, no life, no character. No one chooses to live in a crime-ridden place with no services and nothing to do. So, why the hell would you do that to your own town?

"No one chooses to live in a crime-ridden place with no services and nothing to do. So why the hell would you do that to your own town?"

Consumers, stop using your local businesses as a tool for your online shopping. It’s rude at best. Maybe it’s borne out of ignorance, or obliviousness, or maybe you really don’t give a crap (if that’s the case, get the f*@# off my lawn! No. Seriously.) Your local businesses pay taxes. A lot more than you do. They fund your roads, schools, parks, and emergency services. They provide 55% of all jobs in the U.S and they keep money in your town. And they work really hard to do it. Amazon does none of this. Community is important. Why? Because even though we think more globally than ever and spend a lot of time clicking through a virtual world, we actually live and function locally. So, stop with the mindless spending already. No one is saying never shop online, but take some time to educate yourself about where your money is going. Find a local store or two or three that you love and become their champion- their mouthpiece. Do something that actually helps your local economy—and it really does help.

Business owners, wake up! The best thing you can do is recognize the problem and work together to fix it. I wish I could tell you how to take down Goliath, but I can’t. I’m also not out to demonize all online retail-it has its purpose; but if small businesses don’t start to open their eyes, adapt and figure out how to stay relevant in the eyes of consumers, we’re doomed. All of us. Because those stats about “shopping small” that you like to spout off from time to time are just as important for you to remember. You have a responsibility to yourself and your community. Be good stewards, give them reasons to come back. Don’t half-ass it. It only takes one mediocre experience to lose a customer (which really means you’ve lost that customer as well as their friends, family and family of friends…). Educate people. Keep pushing the message. Work together. Offer an experience that you can’t buy online-community. Change the culture. End “showrooming”.

While buying online may seem like the least expensive option, the truth is that there are very real, long-term costs for a culture that seeks the cheapest deal with a retailer that aggressively tries to outcompete and eliminate the very businesses that support our day-to-day life. We all must work together as consumers and business owners so that one day, we can collectively become the David that takes down Goliath—and builds stronger, healthier communities in the process.

Sources

Image Credit: Kevin Dooley - "Buyer's market"

Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell, “Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Tightening Grip Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities,” Report written for the Institute of Local Self Reliance (November 2016). https://ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/ILSR_AmazonReport_final.pdf

Lindsey Rupp, Lauren Coleman-Lochner, Nick Turner, “America’s Retailers Are Closing Stores Faster Than Ever,” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-07/stores-are-closing-at-a-record-pace-as-amazon-chews-up-retailers.

United States Small Business Administration, “Small Business Trends,” https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/running-business/energy-efficiency/sustainable-business-practices/small-business-trends.