In a recent editorial, the Grand Forks Herald teed off on people who resort to petitions to try and stop retail store closings in their communities.
The petitions “are disingenuous and slathered in irony, since they often attract thousands of people who sign their name but obviously rarely shopped at those stores in the past,” the paper writes. “After all, if thousands of people truly were committed to shopping locally, would so many retailers be closing.”
Instead of signing petitions locals should try shopping locally, the Herald says.
That’s exactly right, as far as it goes, but these pleas for choosing local shops out of some sense of civic duty are about as futile as the online petitions.
If locals want local stores to stay open, then yes they must shop locally. That’s the only solution.
The other side of that equation, however, is that local stores need to find something they can give local shoppers that they can’t find online.
Some local stores like Walmart and Target (it’s hard to call national chains “local” but in this context, I take it to mean a brick-and-mortar presence in a community) are offering services like local pick-up of online orders. That’s a step in the right direction. Time will tell if it works.
It does illustrate the point, though. Individual shoppers are, for the most part, going to behave rationally. If they prefer shopping for their goods and services online, because of things like price or convenience or selection, they’re going to do that.
Appeals to shop locally might make them feel guilty, but they’re unlikely to change behaviors.
What would change behaviors are local businesses changing so that they can offer something the online retailers can’t.
What is that? There, as a certain grumpy Dane once said, is the rub.
If I knew I’d go find some capital and start a business. The retail industry is still searching for this whatever it is. I have confidence the brick-and-mortar industry will find something to regain an edge.
Because, again, shoppers are logical. They’re going to choose what works best for them. If that’s shopping locally, they’ll do that.
Local retailers can’t keep doing the same things they’ve always done, expecting local shoppers to come back again.
The sales tax thing? It’s not an excuse anymore. North Dakota shoppers have now paid an additional $27 million in sales taxes on online purchases since last year. I think what we’re going to find is the previous loophole in the sales tax for online shopping was never really the problem.
Shoppers have found something online which has lured them away from brick-and-mortar stores. Those who operate the brick-and-mortar stores have to find something to lure them back.
Nothing else – not petitions or campaigns to shame people into shopping locally – will work.