Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A polite message to every customer

It's Thanksgiving this weekend and that means for the USA 'Black Friday' the kick off of the Christmas shopping season.

Here's a message to all the people everywhere that visit shops to decide what they want to buy then go home and buy it on Amazon or other online retailers or even use apps on their smartphones to buy it online right there and then. It's called 'showrooming' and it's killing both small and big businesses and the high street. 4 in 10 smartphone owners admit they've used their device in stores to compare prices on a product. Of those, 97% said they bought the product for less online.

Jeez Louise, you spent all that time and money on parking, petrol or bus fares to get to the shop. Why don't you consider the convenience value of the £2 difference on that DVD for Aunt Mabel to be satisfied that the job's done? If you need to take it back it's probably a lot easier to take it to where you got it from and exchange it instantly then schlep to the post office and pay the postage. When the last of the independent retailers has gone bust and tumbleweeds blow down your high street, those bargains won't be online anymore.

Without a thriving retail sector, your town won't be such a nice place to live, your home's value will have fallen and local investment will have dried up along with any well paid local jobs. Bricks and mortar shopping, such as it will be by then, will involve driving even further distances to out-of-town centres, costing you a fortune in fuel, along with increasing the commute to any employment people can find in the retail sector. That will probably drive more customers to do more shopping online so the vicious circle will increase to become a whirlwind of retail destruction.

Small retailers can do and should do more things to provide services and offer features that online retailers can't but the big boys online have much deeper pockets and are in for the long haul to crush any competition. Naturally you can't find everything you want in your local shops, the rot in the high streets started a while back so there's a smaller range of goods available in the average market town than a decade ago, but if you go into a independent toy shop or even a boo hiss big-box retailer to check out a product's features and then abuse their hospitality to go buy it online, I think you deserve every karmic retribution.

Plus we've learned recently some of those online retailers, unburdened by local business rates, are avoiding paying their corporation taxes too. Unless the public recognise the fact that buying online will cost them more in the long run than buying in a shop, it will be game over for many small businesses and small towns and much of the economy as a whole. There's very little legislation we can produce to protect the small independent retailer that won't stifle competition or reward failure but, just as most of us decide not to steal even when given a the opportunity, we should consider the morality of our conduct as it's the only protection they have.

So this holiday season, have a heart and please support your local independent retailers who depend on this season to see them through. Or there won't be much to celebrate in their homes while you share the joy of getting the lowest price in yours.


If you've ever wondered, the people in the iconic 1936 'Migrant Mother' photographs are Florence Thompson then aged 32, Ruby Sprague then age 5, and the baby Norma Rydlewski.

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