Despite being a new year, businesses continue to struggle. Well, we should be more clear: many small, local businesses are struggling. No surprise, many large corporations are doing just fine and have managed to gain even more power and wealth. As a result, calls to ‘shop local’ have become louder and more frequent.
But, what does shop local actually mean? Is going to your local farmer’s market once a week enough and does it even have an effect on your local economy? Proponents of the movement claim that individuals have the power to save local businesses by choosing to spend their money in their respective communities. Seems like a simple and effective fix, right? Maybe, maybe not. Others disagree and argue that shopping locally isn’t as beneficial as it’s made out to be. They argue that shopping globally is often a better choice and is, in fact, beneficial to local economies in more ways than one.
Most of us care about keeping our local businesses alive but, at the same time, don’t want to burn a hole in our pockets. We’ve decided to put shopping local and shopping global head to head in various categories to see how they compare.
For most, this purchasing factor is the most important because, quite simply, price matters - a lot. Comparing the two shopping options, it is safe to say that locally produced products generally cost more. There are many reasons behind this, but it generally comes down to higher worker wages, cost of materials and the fact that items are produced in smaller quantities.¹ It is hard to compete with foreign labour costs and mass production and, as a result, foreign goods are often much more affordable. Supporters of shop local are often dismissive of this factor by responding that local goods are worth the price but, for many, a hefty premium for a local product isn’t in their wallets. Even if they would like to shop locally, they may not be able to.
Locally made products are portrayed to be of better quality, with claims like “made with care” or “farm fresh”, but are they really that much better? The truth is that the quality of a product is not determined by where it’s from; good and poor quality products can be (and are) produced anywhere. Sure, hand-knit sweaters are made in your local community, but they’re also made half the world away. The difference is that maybe your local shop sells only one-of-a-kind sweaters rather than large quantities of the same design. Uniqueness definitely brings an intangible value to a product, but the quality of each may be comparable.
Interaction builds relationships. Simple, but true. Local shops tend to put more effort into building relationships with their customers since they care deeply about strengthening their ties to the community.² Owners are usually eager to assist you and create a positive experience. So, if you’re after that warm, welcoming feeling, local shops are more likely to provide it. Shopping globally typically doesn’t have this effect, especially if it’s done online. In large chain stores, the customer service isn’t always reliable and it is often up to the customer to guide themselves through their shopping journey. This may be unattractive to some, but for those that prefer to be self directed anyway, large box stores are the way to go.
Essentially, there are two ways of looking at the environmental impact of local and global goods. It is true, of course, that locally produced goods travel only a fraction of the distance that foreign goods do, making their emissions much lower than their foreign counterpart travels. On the other hand, just because an item is made locally doesn’t make it efficient; certain areas of the world are better equipped to produce certain goods and contravening this is a waste of time and energy.³ Is building a high carbon footprint greenhouse to expensively grow oranges in BC any better than the vehicle emissions discharged to import cheap Florida oranges? What happens, then, to our apple exports? Another example is the waste of high skilled labour when an individual makes something, like an electronic, that can be easily produced by a factory abroad and maintain the same quality? One could argue that one option is less harmful than the other, but it truly depends on the product at hand.
Impact on Local Economy
The impact on the local economy is one of the biggest motivators for individuals to shop local. When money is spent locally, it helps small businesses continue operations and keeps wealth in the community. These are positives, but some experts in the field have a contrasting opinion. When people overspend on locally produced goods, they have less disposable income to spend on local services like restaurants, bars and other entertainment sources.³ They argue that when individuals have less money to spend, the local economy actually ends up hurting more. Nevertheless, many people feel better supporting their local shop down the street rather than mega retailers that are infinitely wealthy.
Where you choose to shop is a highly personal choice involving many factors. At the end of the day, you know best where your money should go and how you want it to be spent.
What does buy local mean to you?
Hyatt, A. P. (2016, September 3). FACE OFF: Buy Local VS Buy Global. Retrieved from https://www.tradeready.ca/2016/trade-takeaways/face-off-buy-local-vs-buy-global/
Kopp, C. M. (2020, December 11). Big Box Stores vs. Small Retailers. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0212/big-box-stores-vs.-small-retailers.aspx
The Bad Premises Behind "Buy Local". (2014, November 14). Retrieved from https://informationstation.org/kitchen_table_econ/the-bad-premises-behind-buy-local/