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As Amazon continues to grow, and expand its offerings, it’s getting harder and harder for local businesses to keep up. Here’s why I think ‘buy local’ campaigns don’t work, and what businesses should do to compete.

 

Making people feel guilty.

Some people simply can’t afford to buy local. It’s the same reason Wal-Mart does better than your local kitchen supplies store, for example. Some people are under a lot of financial stress, and if going to Wal-Mart, or shopping at Amazon is cheaper than shopping locally, then they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for doing so.

And, that’s one of the main issues with a lot of ‘buy local’ campaigns. Some of them encourage people to buy locally, but some of them also imply that if you don’t buy local, you’re guilty of some sort of offense against local businesses.

People will buy what they can afford. Let them.

What local businesses don’t understand.

You absolutely cannot compete with Amazon on most things. Whether it’s shipping speed, price point, or variety of products, there’s no way you can outshine them, no matter how hard you try!

Here’s where you CAN win: CUSTOMER SERVICE.

That’s right. People are more likely to buy local if they feel like they trust you, and know you. They’re more likely to buy from you if you issue refunds, no questions asked. They’re more likely to return to your store if your staff are pleasant to talk to!

What a lot of local business don’t seem to grasp is that it just takes one bad experience at a store to turn off a customer. My own father ordered something from a Canadian company recently, and he had so many issues with them, that he’s decided to just shop on Amazon from now on.

You can offer something that Amazon can’t: a first name. And in order to do that, you have to put customer service above all else. You have to make sure your food is high quality. You have to set the bar high, and be clear with your staff that you will not tolerate any exceptions to what you expect out of them. And then, you have to reward them for great service.

Too often, local businesses just stock their shelves, hire a student to work the cash, and then let things like customer service go to the wayside. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if only few stores even have a customer service policy and training in place.

The disappearance of experts.

One of the things that has really hurt local shops is the lack of, and almost complete disappearance of experts. Go to your local hardware store, or your camera shop, or your hobby store, and you’ll start noticing that few of them actually know anything about the products that are on the shelf. 

Radio Shack store

I remember going to Radio Shack back in the day, or EB Games when it was still cool. The people who worked there were massive nerds who knew everything about electronics, and video games. You didn’t have to read an online guide to get an idea of what to buy. You’d just ask Joe, David, or Melissa. They knew their stuff. 

Those days are gone. So, tell me again, why would anyone shop at your niche store if you can’t even bother staffing it with experts?

So long, Mom and Pop!

Another sad loss in many cities is the disappearance of Mom ‘n Pop shops. I have so many fond memories of cheap diners, hot dog stands, little shops full of candy, or the family butcher shops.

That’s the problem with ‘buy local’ campaigns – in a lot of cases, today’s local stores are owned by strangers who don’t even work there! They’re investments, they’re owned by people who don’t even live locally. There’s no personality, no feeling of community.

Mom and Pop shops offered a sense of warmth because the more you shopped there, the more you felt like you were part of their family.

OMFG, get a website.

Seriously. At the very least, any and all local businesses should have a website that lists their store hours, and what kind of products or services they sell. They should also have an email address. Even better if you can setup an e-commerce store on there for people who can’t go into your store (hello pandemic!).

A Facebook Page is NOT a website. Lots of your customers, and potential customers, are not on Facebook and don’t want to message you there.

 

Answer your fecking emails.

When the pandemic started, I emailed three local bicycle shops to get a tune-up. None of them replied. So, I turned to a mobile bike shop service. I also emailed a bunch of other local stores to get info on how to buy products from them, or to find out how late they were open, or to get service, and lo and behold – only one or two replied to me.

What’s the point of having an email address on your website if you’re not going to use it?

I no longer frequent any of those stores, and in many cases, ended up just buying the product on Amazon instead.

 

Make it easy for us to support you.

While the tone of this article might be a bit rude, it’s really just a wake-up call. Telling us to ‘buy local’ isn’t going to work, unless local businesses make it easy and enjoyable to support them. You have to look at the reasons why people shop on Amazon, and figure out why they should shop with you. 

If you don’t care about customer service, if you’re too overwhelmed to answer your emails, if you don’t even have a website, then fix those issues first. You actually CAN compete with the big box online retailers. You just have to care about the things that attract people to your store, and I guarantee you, a lot of it has to do with customer service. If you win at that, then you’ll be just fine.

On that note: if you’re a business with a physical location, and you want to get some ideas on how you can make income online, I’ll offer you a FREE one-hour consultation. I want to help you guys out.