I’m a small business owner and I, like you, sometimes do my shopping online. I’d love to say I always shop local, or always shop small business, but that simply is not the case as its not always practical, and sometimes local retailers do not offer the items I wish to purchase.
In today’s world, with the technology we have, we are able to shop from anywhere, at any time, from vendors around the globe. We are no longer confined to the products that are stocked by our local retailers, in the traditional brick and mortar stores, and often that is a really good thing. It allows us as consumers to access materials or products that would otherwise not be accessible in the past. Despite its unique advantages, is online shopping always the best route? When is it better to shop online, when is it better to shop local, or does it really matter?
I believe there to be three main types of consumers, especially when looking at home improvement or larger technical purchases (Like cars, appliances etc.), and I believe all of us fall into at least one of the categories below…
Researchers love digging up information. Time spent gathering info is time well spent for these consumers. Researches usually are self guided and understand the products they want, how they want to get it, how it will be installed and need very little guidance on the purchase.
The Moderate has done their research and may have their products mostly narrowed down. They may know what they are looking for generally, but may also have questions that require professional advice to help further guide them into a better informed purchase decision.
Rookies are often just starting their shopping research and have little experience or expertise in what they are shopping for, or have little interest in gathering more information and would rather rely on professional guidance in their purchase. (We have probably all fallen into this category at one time or another…I know I have.)
Shopping local with small businesses can be a rewarding experience. Often small businesses specialize in the products they sell, and are experts in their field. Local businesses are made up of people who are largely passionate about what they sell or provide and can offer advice and assistance that is second to none. This expert advice can be worth volumes when researching a purchase, and the added value of this expertise should be considered when shopping around. As with all consumers, I like to get the best value for my dollar. The best value may not always be the least expensive, and the least expensive is rarely the best value. While the saying “you get what you pay for” may not be quite as true as it once was, its important to remember that expertise, quality and service usually come at a small cost, but is often worth the money charged.
While all consumers can benefit from local retailers, I feel consumers that identify as Moderates and Rookies can most benefit from local resources and expertise. You might pay a little more (although you may be surprised at how little difference in price there may be), but supporting small or local businesses keeps your money close to home and helps support people in your community.
Online shopping opens up possibilities on the types of products and materials you can purchase and allows a broader price range of material which you can shop. Looking for a specialty item? You can be sure a online vendor has it somewhere. Need a widget for as cheap as possible? Yep, the internet has those too. Need service and have multiple questions? Well……..that’s where the internet can start to fall short. Sure, most internet retailers can answer basic questions and most offer fair guidance, but answers to involved questions or tricky situations can often be difficult for internet only businesses, especially ones who sell in large volumes. Internet retailers’ big advantage is often in better pricing, which usually comes from lack of overhead (buildings, employees and other liabilities). Another advantage for internet businesses over brick and mortar is taxation, which as of now, unless retailers are located in your state, internet sales are tax exempt (which can save up to 9% in some areas).
Internet retail is excellent for simple purchases that do not require special considerations or circumstances, or for consumers who don’t mind putting in the leg work to ensure they are getting exactly what they want or need. I find most of my online purchases are non-technical, simple to return items, unless I know I am working with a company that specializes in the items that I am buying from them.
I recommend online shopping to every type of consumer, but would caution anyone to do their homework before making a big purchase online (especially home improvement related purchases). Since research oriented consumers naturally do this, its a perfect match for them. While I would not exclude the other types of shoppers from making purchases online, I would caution those who are less familiar to ensure they are working with an online company that has experience in the field and can answer difficult questions and help solve problems.
Hybrid retailers have a presence online but also maintain a traditional store front. Obviously this is the best of both worlds. Large retailers, like the “box stores,” are good examples of this, and smaller mom and pop type shops are starting to follow suite. Doing business with a hybrid retailer can benefit all types of consumers. Usually pricing is extremely competitive (it has to be to sell online), but there are experts in the store to fall back on when you have questions or technical difficulties. I usually have my best shopping experiences when working with Hybrid Retailer, and it’s how I have structured my business.
So, as fellow consumers, how do you like doing business? Are you an online only shopper or do you like supporting those companies in your hometown best?