Shopping locally in an online world.

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The Internet is a phenomenal resource.  If you can think of a product, you can probably find it for sale online.  You can take your time to discern features and compare prices, to find a deal.  Besides the incredible selection, shopping online and having someone drop all of our holiday purchases at our doorstep is unbeatably convenient.  So why would you ever dream of shopping locally?

1. You can’t live in the Internet. The number one reason to spend money locally this holiday season is because you love where you live. The Guilford Green would not have the same ambiance if it were surrounded by nothing but office space and empty storefronts.  Retail attracts tourists, who contribute real dollars to the local economy, and independent stores give your town part of its unique character.

2. The Internet won’t fund your next non-profit event. Who sponsors Little League or the high school play? Who donates silent auction items to the SARAH gala or Men Who Cook?  Not Amazon (you’d need $10,000 in Amazon Smile purchases to earn a $50 donation).  Local businesses spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on causes that we all care about.  They also utilize local services, like plumbers, oil companies, and cleaners, who in turn support local non-profits.  Businesses can only afford to do this with the support of local customers.

3. You can’t see your neighbors on the Internet. Sure, you can see their Facebook posts and Instagram hashtags, but we all know how little of our true selves are shared in social media. Research from several psychologists reveals that talking to strangers makes people happy.  The interactions you get with the local barista or cashier can lift your spirits.  If you run into an acquaintance at the store and stop to chat, it can make your day.

4. The Internet can’t answer specific questions. Sure, you can ask Alexa or Google a question, but the answers you get back are general, often vague, and do not always get to the heart of your problem. When you don’t know the right question to ask, the Internet is useless.  Walk into a local clothing store and explain the occasion for which you need to purchase a new outfit, or ask at the local book store for the novel with a purple cover about a dog, and the clerk can discern what you need without a direct question.

5. The Internet doesn’t take cash. The best way to stick to a budget is to shred your credit cards and only spend cash. Spending cash keeps 2-3% of your purchase out of the hands of the credit card giants (sidebar: Did you know that stores are the ones that pay for your credit card miles and cash-back bonuses?  The transaction fee paid by the merchant increases in proportion to the rewards given back to the cardholder).  There is no way to transact business in cash online, but every local business will accept cash all day long.

6. You can’t touch the Internet. A picture is worth a thousand words, but when the package delivered looks nothing like the picture you saw online, the disappointment is real. At a store, you know what you are paying for before you walk out the door.  You also have the benefit of an expert curator selecting the products that sit on the shelves of that store.  No store has the space to fit everything, so owners pick and choose what they believe is relevant to the local people and current season.  This can ease customers’ feelings of being overwhelmed by choice.

7. You will never meet the owner of the Internet. How many local business owners do you know by name and/or face? The next time you are in an independent business around town, ask to speak to the owner.  Much of the time the answer will be, “I am the owner,” or “let me get him/her for you.”  Compare this to online companies that rarely even have a phone number to call.  Owners that see and interact with their customers are far more likely to listen to customer feedback and treat them like individuals than those who are faceless.

8. You don’t need a password to shop locally. A person can go crazy trying to track all of the usernames and passwords collected from online shopping. Remembering what you used for which site, or going through the “forgot my password” gauntlet can add significant time and stress to a simple purchase.  Sure, many brick & mortar businesses have loyalty programs and will collect customer data when they can, but you can refuse the program and still make a purchase.  By shopping locally, you can also avoid being automatically signed up for the flood of emails that inevitably comes along with making an online purchase.

9. You can’t refuse a bag on the Internet. You keep a stack of reusable bags in your car for groceries, pack your lunch in a glass bento box, and carry a silicone straw to the coffee shop. Then you buy a product online and it is delivered conveniently to your doorstep in three layers of plastic, bubble wrap, and cardboard taped together with more plastic.  Sure, in-store packaging needs its share of work on the environmental front, but at least you can control the outer packaging when you shop locally.

10. It feels good. You give a gift and the recipient joyfully exclaims, “Where did you find this?!?” Responding with, “Online,” deflates the excitement balloon and ends the story.  When you can tell the person about the journey of poking around a store, spotting the perfect gift, talking to the sales clerk, and wrapping it just so, it extends the experience for the giver and the receiver of the gift.  You know that you supported a local shop, kept 67 cents of every dollar in your community, and the recipient feels cherished.

The Internet is not going away.  We will all spend money online this holiday season.  Sometimes shopping locally takes a conscious effort, but it is worth the energy.  Making a conscious decision to spend even 10% of your holiday budget at local businesses this December will keep the stores you love in business, enriching the community for seasons to come.

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