Passable or Passé?
The 2015 holidays are about to begin and America looks forward to Black Friday Eve. (When will calendar-publishers finally drop the old-fashioned name ‘Thanksgiving’?)
Some years ago, the mania for holiday shopping discounts and deals superseded an 1869 gold market crash previously known as Black Friday. American Express then designated Small Business Saturday to motivate shoppers to favor their locally owned & operated retailers in light of the purchases these were losing to national chain stores and online. Yet, American Express also promotes Cyber Monday, so clearly the sentiment is limited to its own interests.
A lately-trending musing of small business owners: should I just close on Friday the 27th and, heaven forbid, actually spend time with family and friends, allow my employees the opportunity to do the same, and abandon this futile attempt to compete where I clearly cannot? Hopefully, those who choose this course do indeed make some quality time instead of using it themselves to do close-combat in a big box store aisle.
Wherever you land on Black Friday, perhaps something good that all small business owners can do in their communities is pull up out of the weeds of one annual day of retail chaos and revisit the big picture. How will main street small businesses fare in 2016, and how will their communities fare with and/or without them?
The Advocates for Independent Business and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have just released an excellent infographic. (Infographics are quick-uptake, visual ways of advocating for something, especially when communicating research and data in a way that everyone can appreciate.) This infographic re-raises the issue of the local economic impacts of online shopping. They have put it out to the small business community and asked us to use it liberally.
Of course, we could all print and put these up around town for public viewing, an activity which would itself be an anachronism in today’s internet-connected environment within which most people get their information. Yes, those of us who care could Twitter the link, boost commercial Facebook posts, feature it on our websites or even be so philanthropic as to buy newspaper or billboard space to tell the community of shoppers that they can choose better recipients for their shopping dollars. But, IMO, that ship has sailed. The younger the shopper, the more insulted they are by messages that promote shopping locally as an ethical choice. That is entitlement marketing, and it stopped resonating when handheld devices began vibrating in our pockets.
Communities that have thriving local economies have excellent leadership, and leaders set the tone. Where are our local Chambers of Commerce, business and trade organizations, federal and state-run facilities (like military bases, universities, and government offices) and local government entities buying needed goods and services? Do local business owners buy first from and support each other? Do your local banks offer customized debit card rewards with local businesses to their customers or send them online? Where do your local schools buy their classroom supplies and sports equipment? Do leaders in your faith communities promote wise family spending in-town with local providers, some of whom may be sitting with them in the pews, in addition to asking for charitable giving?
Open markets and free choice are a fundamental bedrock of our American economic system and must never be eroded. If you want to shop with Amazon, no one should be able to stop you. Nonetheless, at the intersection of spending and freedom-to-choose is the understanding that a fully-informed choice yields generally better outcomes than a choice made in ignorance. Much of retail lives on the poor choices of American consumers, yet community leaders are (or should be) leaders because they have demonstrated a greater-than-average ability to make better, and better-informed, decisions and lead others to imitate them.
Local leaders in every community should pause for a moment this Black Friday and ask themselves if they truly know how well their local businesses are doing. They should do a gut check to see if they are, themselves, making purchasing decisions on best total value rather than price alone and favoring local relationships with local providers for the sake of their own communities within they work, live, and depend on that enable them to do what they do. And, are they leading the local, respective organizations that they oversee to seek out and favor local providers for the goods and services their organizations need? If not, then how can any policy of local shopping preference that our community leaders advocate be taken as anything other than hypocrisy and dismissed by their constituent resident consumers?