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Why People Really Buy Local

When we buy local, we support small business owners, many of whom are great community supporters, always giving back in helping with local causes. The sales tax collected from local purchases comes back to the community and, theoretically at least, reduces the amounts of other kinds of taxes needed to operate our government entities; schools, cities, and counties. Also, there's the axiom we've heard for years that every dollar spent locally will circulate five or six times in the community. All in all, buying locally is good for the economy and sets our communities up for healthy growth. These are all viable, compelling, and rational reasons to buy local but are not really the reasons a majority of consumers would choose to buy local instead of from big box stores or the Internet.

People Don't Buy Based on Reason

The challenge is that most people don't make purchase decisions based on viable, compelling, and rational reasons. People make purchasing decisions based on emotions that even the experts don't totally understand. Preaching--i.e., appealing to people's reasoning--to buy local is not enough. In fact, it's a turn-off to some people. I estimate that only 10% to 15% of the population will buy local just for the sake of buying local. 

Some People Buy Only Based on Price

Many, but certainly not all, think price is the only thing that matters. In her 2004 country hit "Red Neck Woman," Gretchen Wilson sings "…Victoria's Secret, well their stuff's real nice. Oh, but I can buy the same damn thing on a Walmart shelf half price…" Most of the "Red Neck Women" in the world are not going to buy local from the mom-and-pop shops. Even though Victoria’s Secret is not a mom-and-pop shop, it represents the idea of a smaller, specialty shop as opposed to the big box store.

Incidentally, Victoria’s Secret has had their own problems staying relevant to all women, not just the Red Neck ones. The planned public offering last August of “Victoria’s Secret & Co” is the attempt to become relevant again in the minds of today’s women. I rarely go to malls and have little interest in keeping up with the news of a company like Victoria’s Secret, so I don’t really know how the new company is doing today.

While buying at the local Walmart is not considered "buying locally" by some, at least the sales taxes generated stay local. So, if you're going to buy from Walmart, better in your hometown than somewhere else. BTW, Walmart does not necessarily have the lowest prices on everything, but they've spent a gazillion dollars over the years advertising that they do. It's a hard myth to bust.

People Want Excellence in Shopping

So, what is it that makes some small, mom-and-pop stores survive and thrive even in a global economy and even after a global pandemic, with the dreaded box stores everywhere and competition from every possible kind of Internet sources? Excellence. Excellence in the goods and services offered and in the way they are presented. People want to be treated with kindness. They want to receive what they expected for the price paid. Being surprised by receiving more than they expected keeps them coming back again and again. People want a positive experience they can't get anywhere else. Most of the box stores and Internet outlets are horrible at providing a positive experience.

People Want Excellence in Public Institutions

In a broader sense, the principles of "buying local" apply to our public institutions as well as small retail businesses. We all expect a certain level of competency from our local and county governments, our schools and hospitals. But once those basic competency levels are met, what determines where people want to live, go to school or go when they are sick? They will go where they get the most attention and the most positive experience.

There are programs and initiatives that help businesses and public entities sharpen their skills at offering a positive and excellent experience. We have access to some of them, but it starts with an awareness of what people really want and a desire to provide an excellent experience. It's the interactive experience with all entities in a community, and whether it's excellent or not, that determines where people want to live, work and shop.


Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Fab Lab ICC or Independence Community College. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org.



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