Shopping Local

Part One

Community shop local campaigns aimed at groundswell support of local businesses often message their communities with the benefit this provides for local charity, the local tax base, and an air of duty or the “right thing to do”.  There is nothing wrong with these messages, but they often don’t resonate with consumers.  “Supporting” government with our dollars is not a popular notion.  It’s hard for people to “feel” the connection between local business owners and the support they often give to local charities out of their earnings.  The younger the consumer is, the less likely their community ideals are physically tied to where they live.  Their sense of community is an electronic one with people around the world.

But it isn’t time to declare this appeal to support local business a bygone one that is without merit.  We just need to adjust our messaging.  In fact, the better message to send is one we should haven been sending all along.

I wrote a piece about this in a 4-part “Think Local” series for K-State University, using a rather edgy, in-your-face tone meant to grab attention and cause controversy.  I’ll summarize the core message here, but you can read the full article too.

Here is the set up: When you as a consumer want to pay a merchant less for anything, no matter what it is, the implied question is: “Will you accept a lower wage to work for me today?”  Is that a strange way to think about it?  Yet, we can’t escape the truth of it.  What would the experience be like if you went to work today and your employer said, “Will you give me a discount on your work today?”  How would you like to haggle your wage, or be in competition on a daily basis with others who can do your job who might undercut you?  (This is a way to bring the point home to consumers who haven’t been on the business owner’s side of the coin.)

As an extension of this basic concept, the more retail purchases that get made online, the fewer local jobs there will be.  It’s simple math — local jobs get paid for with local purchases.  As consumers, people think loyalty to a merchant is out-dated, yet do these same consumers at work consider loyalty from their employers, even regular wage raises, to be a thing of the past?  Now the message takes on a whole new level that resonates.

Yet, it still goes further than this.  What about big-box chains — can we feel good about purchasing locally there?  To the degree that it does support the local tax base, sure.  But consider this: in years past a working family could support children and a mortgage on a full-time, retail sales job.  Can anyone do that today working in a local ‘Mart store?  Why?

Why is because, as consumers, we flock to the ‘Marts to pay less for our goods, and accept the wage discount from the workers who those ‘Mart employers actively encourage them to supplement their income with welfare.

This all fits within the problem of Commoditization.

Jeff Koenig