As Christmas draws near, Andrew Nolan discusses the importance and the benefits of shopping locally.
With Christmas rapidly approaching, both business and online storefronts have seen a drastic surge in footfall. Every year, Christmas time sees a spike in consumerism, but given the context of the pandemic and the adverse effects on businesses forced to close, the public has been repeatedly urged to adopt a more considered approach. The concept of shopping locally to pool money into the economy is something that has been spoken about in detail recently. People are being encouraged to shift their support from larger, non-domestic companies to smaller, local enterprises, who are often in greater need of said support. That such ideas have become common discourse is undoubtedly positive. However, the conversation surrounding 'shop local' often devolves into an antagonization of the larger corporations, inadvertently taking the focus away from the aim at hand. A more pragmatic approach to encourage supporting smaller businesses should be to highlight the multitude of positive impacts that shopping locally can have on the economy, environment, and for the consumer themselves.
The creation of local businesses and, in turn, local employment opportunities play a key role in the maintenance of an established system of economic dynamism. This relies on the inherent innovation and competition brought on by newer businesses finding their feet. A growing local economy both incentivises and encourages the establishment of companies by presenting a feasible means for them to thrive in. A cycle begins where competition, and, as a by-product, quality, sees a sharp incline on a local level, meaning a potential for more jobs to be created, and the balance shifting in favour of local producers and manufacturers of goods. The circulation of money on a local level would result in the creation of a plethora of smaller companies in the area. The effect that this would have to sustain Irish jobs cannot be understated. A study showed that in the United States, during the recession of the mid-2000s, younger companies played a huge role in maintaining a source of net employment growth nationwide. During this time, companies younger than five years old, with twenty employees or less, maintained a net employment growth of approximately 8.6%. Comparatively, older, more established companies saw more jobs being lost than generated during the same period. The report emphasises the significance of small businesses on a country-wide basis, as it states that companies less than a year old have accounted for the creation of an average 1.5 million jobs per year in the U.S. over the past three decades. Given the current estimate for how badly jobs will be affected by the current pandemic, a surge in focusing money on a more local scale would inevitably provide security for a significant number of jobs throughout the country.
The visible impact that a thriving local economy has for towns and villages cements its importance. Local establishments are pivotal in building a unique sense of character to an area. You need only see how stores like Lucy’s Lounge and the Jam Art Factory in Temple Bar help preserve an artistic flair prevalent in this vibrant nook of Dublin City. Such individuality helps build the foundations of a locality, which can result in boosts like touristic incentive to the pricing of houses in the area. A 2013 study in the UK found that residential prices in areas near high-streets with burgeoning independent businesses rose an average of £40,000 higher in the previous decade than areas with proportionately fewer independent traders. Implications of a higher cost of housing aside, this demonstrates the massive impacts that stem from a more conscious attempt to shop locally.
Businesses thriving on a more localised level also carries a significant environmental impact. Shopping online from international companies is something of a juggernaut in current times, and global online retail is projected to reach an immense £3.65 trillion in 2021. The environmental implication of this is grim, particularly when faced with how returns and waste are often handled during such transactions. Optoro estimates that nearly £250 million worth of goods are returned in the US on a yearly basis, with roughly 2 billion kilograms of this ending up in a landfill. Approximately 13 tonnes of Co2 are released into the atmosphere as part of the returns process. Fashion outlets are particularly culpable; many companies find it cheaper to simply dispose of returned goods rather than sort the damaged merchandise from the re-salable ones. A local fashion retailer where the consumer can try on clothes negates the need for these returns. As an additional bonus, businesses sorting goods locally would see a decline in the air miles otherwise necessary to create goods.
For the consumer, there is a great quality to be found in local businesses. Shopping in small establishments is a vastly more personal experience. An independent business, ergo one operating free of a chain system, has less need to mass produce as many goods as a reseller operating a multitude of stores nationwide. With a more focused and dedicated demand, this allows for meticulous work to go into each piece of merchandise. This isn’t to say that purchasing from chains inherently means lesser quality, but producing goods on such a scale grants a much larger margin for error when looking at the quantities involved. By shopping locally (economic and other such considerations aside) the potential for satisfaction is rather high, given the importance of each sale to the business. According to smallbiztrends.com, roughly 85% of small businesses get customers through word of mouth. Given the sheer value hanging on providing good service, many of these companies prioritise customer satisfaction above much else.
There is a vast benefit to be found in taking a more focused approach to where we shop for our goods as consumers. Making the effort to shop on a local basis reaps a plethora of positives for the local economy, environment, and ourselves as shoppers -something to consider in the coming weeks when thinking of what to get for that Secret Santa you signed up for.