The web is one of the most amazing, and disruptive, forces in history. It has created and enriched some things, and destroyed and debased others.
It was only a few years ago that Whistler had a video store, and only a few years before that we had three. We also had a music store once upon a time. Now people download all that content, legally and illegally, for a variety of reasons including price — you can’t beat free — and convenience. Jobs have been lost, as well the economic activity tied to those stores and employees.
Online and comparison price shopping were threatening to do the same with other retailers as well, though there are signs things are turning around.
Some people will always shop online or at discount stores for the lowest price, without consideration for jobs or the health of the local economy. However, it seems the majority of shoppers still value the retail shopping experience: the service, the friendly advice, the human touch and the fact that they’re doing something positive for the local economy.
People also want to touch the product. Consider this: you can buy any of Apple’s products online, but it’s still the busiest store in any mall.
At the last Business Alliance for Local Living Economies conference in September, one researcher found that the number of independent book stores in the U.S. increased by about 15 per cent from 2009 to 2013, despite the growth of Amazon. Local coffee shops, bakeries and specialty food stores are also thriving, as well as other independent retailers.
“Buy local” campaigns deserve some of the credit, but the biggest change is at the top with manufacturers, publishers and distributors realizing they still depend on brick-and-mortar stores for 85 per cent of business. If they want to keep reasonable margins, they can’t shoot themselves in the foot by offering big discounts to online distributors.
As a result, online savings aren’t as significant as they used to be for many items, and in many cases the manufacturers are setting the price. The playing field is being levelled.
There are so many good reasons to shop locally this year, including the great selection and the fact you’re supporting locals. Our gift guides are full of local shopping ideas, and a walk through the village should find something for everyone on your list. And if a store doesn’t have something, most of them will order it in.
If price is an issue, being a loyal customer at a local business in Whistler is actually a far better deal than online shopping. They’ll find you the exact thing you need at the best price, and will even go back into last year’s stock to find it at a heavy discount.
Giving gifts at Christmas is supposed to feel good. Shopping locally helps.
— Andrew Mitchell