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Recently I have heard movements from the local stores (say clothes, electronics, foods, etc) and some politicians (of a particular wing) that argue that you should buy in local, small stores. Appealing to a feeling of nostalgia, they say those stores have been there for a long time and now running away from them is not the best thing to do.

A quick search for the keywords compra en la tienda de barrio which roughly means "buy in local stores" cite some reasons like helping the local and familiar economy, less pollution, customized attention (taken from here, in Spanish). Beside the fact that these reasons are at best questionable, the purpose of every buyer is to maximize savings, one way or another.

Say for example, Amazon usually offers you a better deal on a home appliance or a phone, way better technical support and extended warranty than a local store, or a supermarket chain that can deliver your fresh meat and groceries within two hours or in an allocated time slot, instead of going all the way to the local store to buy the goods. These, amongst other reasons, are crucial for buyers. Then, my question arises: from a buyer's economic point of view, what would be a good reason to keep buying local?

If location is needed, I'm in Spain but the answer could be related to other locations.

EDIT: Both answers received so far are pretty good and they make a good point. However, I can't help but notice that they are pretty related to small towns, rural areas or to some extent, a remote place where the vicinity of the local store poses an advantage to the big companies. My question was more aimed towards a medium-to-big city, where this vicinity is not much of an advantage. Please keep it in mind when answering.

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    I question your premise that the purpose of every buyer is to maximize savings. – Harper Mar 18 at 2:22
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    I'm curious: what particular wing of politics are you referring to? I've never seen "buy locally" as a politically controversial campaign. It's both conservative (preserve the good that we know), progressive (reduce travel, opposition to major corporations), liberal (support business), green (potentially more sustainable), pro-labour (supports local jobs); I've never heard of anyone in opposition to buying locally, so I wonder what wing you are referring to. – gerrit Mar 18 at 8:52
  • @gerrit mostly green (sustainability is the argument). A plain economically thinking party (conservative or liberal) may not be interested in persuing local market, because they usually assume that the liberal market regulates itself. – rexkogitans Mar 18 at 9:09
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    Big nitpick: a buyer's goal isn't to maximize their money. It's to maximize their personal preferences. That may be "maximum money", but definitely not always. – Kevin Mar 18 at 16:53
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    pretty related to small towns, rural areas or to some extent, a remote place Houston, the 4th largest city in the US has many small (as in company) or family owned businesses that sell hardware, lighting, flooring, hats, boots etc. – AbraCadaver Mar 18 at 19:57

13 Answers 13

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When I spend $1.00 at a local store, some of that money goes as salary to a local person, and some as taxes (property, income, sales etc) to my local government. When I buy the same item for 10% less online, as little as none of the 90 cents goes to those things. (There may be sales tax collected for my country or province/state.) For some people, the total benefit (keeping local people employed, providing revenue to the government that would otherwise come from higher personal income or property taxes on me) of the local purchase exceeds its cost, more than the same arithmetic on the online purchase.

Some people may also add a sort of "insurance" value to the local purchase of knowing the local store will continue to be there on the sorts of occasions when online purchases are not a good solution, or to serve as a return/repair point. For example, I make a point of buying whatever I can at my local pharmacy in my very small village, even though they may charge $3.50 for something that is only $3.00 in a city an hour away. I do this because I need that pharmacy to be there when I have a prescription to fill and I don't want to go all the way to the city when I am sick. I also buy gas in the village from time to time to be sure there will continue to be a gas station in the village, especially when I am filling jerry cans for outdoor equipment: I am only buying 5 or 10 litres, so I don't care if it's even 10 cents a litre more than on the highway, and I don't want a long drive with gas fumes in the car as I take them home, so I value the gas station being close to home more than when I'm just filling my car's gas tank.

On the particular matter of food, only by being hyperlocal (eg joining a Community Supported Agriculture program, or buying at the farm gate) can you be completely sure of provenance.

These three reasons along with habit and a sort of neighbourly attachment explain most of it. BTW, where I live, the prescriptions in the village pharmacy are cheaper than in the big city (he waives the dispensing fee) and the eggs on the farm are cheaper than in the supermarket. But the logic holds even for things that are more expensive.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 18 at 15:50
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    One thing this overlooks is that it is significantly easier to form a long-term relationship with small retailers. For me personally, I generally don't worry about many of the factors you mention (though they are valid for others!). Before I had kids, I personally knew the owners of the local gaming and comic stores I visited and made a point of frequenting those stores even when I could get the same thing cheaper and more conveniently by ordering online. – TimothyAWiseman Mar 18 at 16:38
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    The salary that the local person receives could also be spent in the community, and some studies show that every dollar spent locally will mean the local area receives over $1 in benefits because of this re-spending. – JPhi1618 Mar 18 at 19:05
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    That "insurance" value is very location specific though. In Germany, you may return any online purchase within 14 days without providing a reason for doing so - since you were unable to check the goods before purchasing. This does not apply to "local" stores, and can be especially annoying when considering whether to buy electronics from Amazon (etc.) or local electronics stores (Saturn, Mediamarkt) - you have a much better chance of getting your money back even if you buy from China. – Tobias Weiß Mar 19 at 10:08
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    I realize you are sort of joking, but the store is selling you "item x plus y dollars paid into the local economy and keeping the neighbor youth occupied instead of running in a gang, plus z dollars paid in local taxes so you pay less" for $1, while the online store is only selling you item x for 90 cents. There is no logic to suggest the local store thus needs to or can lower its price. – Kate Gregory Mar 19 at 15:41
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There are several reasons, but in my view they all basically boil down to this: the "purpose" of each buyer is not, as you say, "to maximize savings". Rather, each person's goal is to have a good life. When viewed narrowly, buying from large stores offers the best savings on the individual purchase; however, when viewed more broadly, the lower price may have hidden costs, or the higher price may have hidden benefits, which are not directly tied to the immediate transaction. In many cases, these benefits are diffuse, and often they are uncertain because they involve potential repercussions in the future. Thus, buying local is in some sense a hedge.

Here are two examples:

  1. The large store offers lower prices in order to compete with other stores, large and small. However, if everyone always buys from the same large company, and all other stores go out of business, the large company will have a monopoly. It may then raise prices with impunity. Thus, by buying local you pay a small premium in the present as a sort of insurance against monopolistic price-gouging in the future.

  2. Often, local businesses are supporters of local charitable causes and civic organizations. For instance, in my area, local businesses buy ads to support things like local theater companies, concert series, and festivals. Although large companies may do this to some extent, they are typically less likely to do so because they are not as in tune with the calendar of such events in the local community. This kind of community support does not appear on the bill when you buy a toaster or an onion, so its importance and its relationship to local business may not be immediately obvious, but you might well miss it if it were to disappear.

The overall idea of small, "non-local" effects of individual buying choices is well analyzed in an old paper by economist Alfred Kahn called The Tyranny of Small Decisions. (I've linked to the Wikipedia article about it, but you can find the paper itself online if you poke around.) Kahn's primary example involves people choosing whether to travel a certain route by train, bus, or plane. The train was the only option which provided reliable, timely service regardless of weather conditions or time of year, but people tended to use bus or plane when possible, and only use the train when the other services were not available (e.g., due to bad weather). The result was that the train service was stopped, leaving people with no transportation option during the difficult conditions that the train used to handle.

The basic idea there is the same: by focusing solely on the direct costs of a single purchase, you are making a very small decision. In so doing, you may gradually and unwittingly make a large decision (e.g., "this local store goes out of business") which you don't want to make. In particular, you may not realize the consequences of making that large decision until it's already happened (e.g., you may not think you would care if the local store went out of business, but it might have negative effects that you're not foreseeing).

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    @mrbolichi the two points should be exactly the same in a large city ? A city has local districts and the districts contain small local businesses, which support local communities and in many cases make up charming streets, local jobs and attract tourism. If these local businesses have to close, there may be no real shopping-streets for walking anymore and tourism may go down... – Falco Mar 18 at 11:48
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    I don't think 1. is an especially likely scenario, but your main point is completely unrelated to it. When I buy from a local shop to strengthen it, it's not to maximize my future savings by preventing monopoly. It's to live in a city where people can run small shops with a profit without going out of business, for no other reason than that I like small businesses. – sgf Mar 18 at 16:48
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    @mrbolichi I live in a large suburb, near a large city, and while it's unlikely that the local gas station, grocery store, or pharmacy (all of which are actually part of large chains) will go out of business...it's a very valid concern for smaller specialty shops. I try to buy board games from our local board game shop just to keep them in business, even though I could get exactly the same game from Amazon for the same price or cheaper... but our local game shop will run game nights allowing us to socialize and play games before we buy them, etc., which Amazon obviously does not do. – user3067860 Mar 18 at 17:09
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    More examples: You can feel yarn in person at your local yarn store (and usually get good advice!), so it's worthwhile to support them by also buying tools and books there, even when you could buy those items online. The local fabric store did close, which means there's no longer a super convenient place to take sewing classes. The local Italian ice store also closed, there's another one but it is 20 minutes away by car--which is much less fun to do in the summer than a 20 minute walk for a sweet treat. – user3067860 Mar 18 at 17:13
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    @mrbolichi You cannot ask from people to update their answers because you have moved the goal posts. – Jan Doggen Mar 20 at 11:25
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One aspect of a buyer's concern is knowing what they are buying.

Eggs are a pain point for me. I can afford a premium egg price to satiate my morality. I don't like the idea of chickens in battery cages; I don't want to eat eggs from chickens in battery cages. I don't want to eat eggs from chickens in "furnished/enhanced housing" (large battery cages). I can tolerate eating eggs from chickens who only ever lived in barns. As long as the barns weren’t crowded. My preference is fenced-in, open-air uncrowded chickens.

Let's go back to your question. "What would be a good reason to keep buying local?" When I go to a supermarket, I see "free run", "free range", "enhanced housing", "cage free", "'organic'" and more labels on the eggs. Few of these tell me anything. The few that do require a special understanding of the vernacular. This is only for eggs, every other food has its own tricky marketing buzzwords. When I go to the producers' sites, the information is as vague and unspecific as the packaging. Some eggs carry a hefty premium because they have the right buzzword but are simply battery cage eggs.

At the local store or farmer's market, I can ask the person "how are the chickens raised?" I can go to the farmer's Facebook page or their farm. For local stores that carry smaller brands, the producers' sites are informative.

(This is out of necessity; they need to differentiate since the supermarket is often cheaper, quicker, and has a wider selection. The farmer's markets compete by claiming quality and transparency. My local grocer is actually 50% cheaper than the supermarket. They do this by being a building with four walls, fruits & vegatables, a cashier, and no backroom inventory. They carry two dozen different items. Little selection, albeit the selection changes each week.)

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    I'm not convinced that small stores will not lie about the origins of their eggs just as readily. In fact, it's very unlikely someone will sue a small store over this, compared to a supermarket chain. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 18 at 10:16
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    As a counter point the opposite is an issue in canada: CBC exposes homegrown lies at farmers markets Some Ontario vendors caught misleading consumers about the food for sale on their tables – akozi Mar 18 at 11:37
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    @DmitryGrigoryev yes, anyone can lie, but (1) you can actually visit the local hens, and (2) small stores are much more responsive to community pressure. If you and the people in your neighborhood are upset at the vendor in the local farmers market who lied to you about the conditions of their hens, they go out of business immediately (as happened to a vendor at my local farmers market). You would need a large investigative reporting effort and a much larger number of people to cause a problem for a global corporation. – De Novo Mar 18 at 20:13
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First of all, let me say that for me "local store" is no value in itself. That is, I've met local vegetable stores that had lower quality produce than the LIDL around the corner and then the decision is clear for me.

Summary: while I can name a number of situations where I prefer the local store (which btw. then often isn't that local), I'd also like to question the implicit premise that local stores are overall dying. I do think they have better chances now with online markets than, say, 20 years ago when they had to compete offline against big chains/stores.


Say for example, Amazon usually offers you a better deal in a home appliance or a phone, way better technical support and extended warranty than a local store,

Better Amazon support is not my experience.

  • Particularly with foreign Amazon sellers, I've had considerable trouble getting proper bills (I'm freelancer, so I need formal bills for tax reasons).

  • I've bought (and would go on to do so) expensive electronics in local stores that did give very good advise (questions that were not answered about reading up online).

  • I could handle, test, try out a variety of devices there in order to arrive at a decision.
    Sure, I could buy the same range of devices online and send back all but the one I decide. In the case I'm thinking about, I did compare devices for > 10 k€ in the store.
    (BTW: for that order of magnitude, the "local" store may mean me taking half a day or a day and going to a specialized store in the big city - although one of the fun facts about Germany is that many specialized businesses are actually located outside the big cities).

  • As for the better deal: in my experience that depends very much. With the local store, I can say "If I place this (large) order with you today and pay cash to take the stuff with me right now, what price can you give me?" - the resulting discount for the example above was a better deal than online price plus (insured) shipping back any tested devices I'd not buy in the end.

  • If anything goes wrong with the device (warranty), I know where to physically find the dealer. Depending on what is wrong and whether I'm still in the warranty period, they may have the possibility to do some repairs in their workshop or immediately give/sell me a replacement.
    There are lots of foreign Amazon (or ebay) sellers (even with domestic VAT registration) - if anything goes wrong, that can mean a whole lot more hassle.

  • So: if the local store has what I need, I can get it there faster (think e.g. bike repair parts).

or a supermarket chain that can deliver your fresh meat and groceries within two hours or in an allocated time slot, instead of going all the way to the local store to buy the goods.

  • That possibility I do not yet have here (rural Germany): such delivery services so far operate only in the big cities. I do find this somewhat ironic, as that's where a supermarket or at least a smaller local store is available usually within a km or so, and where there are traffic jams all the time.

  • For groceries that are either highly standardized (e.g. UHT milk 3,5 %) where I don't really expect any difference that I cannot read on the package/online description or that I anyways cannot try them previous to a buyng decision I don't see much of a difference in offline vs. online buying.

  • But groceries like fresh vegetables and fruits or meat I'd like to see (or even smell or taste) before buying. Also, the buying decision is going to be faster for a piece of "loose" meat where a look and a quick question/description with the butcher gives a much faster overview of what they currently offer than reading this online. (See also @Lan's egg discussion.) And it's not unheard off to get a tiny piece of sausage to taste before buying at the butcher's or at the cheese counter if you are after something special.


  • I'd expect a larger variation with small independent stores compared to bigger chains. I don't propose to artificially keep bad (quality) stores alive. But good quality stores: of course.

  • Chains are good at standardizing, i.e. making sure the store brand bread will taste the same whether you buy it in Munich or Hamburg. So they help avoiding what many/almost all people agree is bad quality.

  • But there are types of variation that are equally high quality. E.g. local butchers may use different spices for their sausages, or bakeries for their bread. They can be equally good, but I still may prefer one flavor over the other - and someone else may prefer the other flavor.
    In that case, everyone should buy where they like it best, and delivering that variety of tastes is not what big chains are very good at.

  • Small local stores that too few people think deliver good value: IMHO it's totally fine if they close. The other ones, btw, may become local/regional chains. Which IMHO is fine: there's nothing inherently good or bad with chain stores as long as we're not ending up with an oligopoly.

  • Oligopolies become a problem where you have large effects of scale (i.e. 10 small bakeries are per bread much less profitable than one bakery of the 10-fold size) and where you have big market entrance hurdles.
    I don't know that much about the perishable groceries market, but for things like cosmetics production costs are very much in favor of large producers because product safety testing/certificates cost about the same whether you produce hand-made soap as a tiny ebay side business or as a big factory making soap for half of Germany - and those costs are non-negligible for a tiny side business.


Some further thoughts:

I do see that the structure of local/small stores changes, but I'm not so sure about them dying in general.

  • When I was a kid, my village had 2 grocery stores and there was a supermarket and further stores in the next town (few minutes by car, 1/2 - 1 h by foot or bus). Both of them closed when the owners retired. The larger/later one did try to rent out the store, but several attempts failed after a while.
    This is what people refer to as local stores dying. I'd like to add a few more observations, though.

  • As I recall those stores, they neither distinguished themselves in the variety of goods they had (less than supermarket), nor in the quality (same or older). Their only point was that if you had forgotten something you didn't have to go all the way to the supermarket in town. (And selling sweets to school kids who were too small to go to town)

  • My guesstimate is that those small stores probably always were economic only under their peculiar circumstances: they were run by their owners who also lived above the store. When there were no customers, they'd do some other work (e.g. gardening for vegetables, go upstairs to do some housework or repairs etc.). But they are not economic if you have to pay someone for standing around idle when no customers are there (same concept btw. for small bakeries or butchers).

  • On the other hand,

    • we now have a fish store's van coming along I think once per week (something that hasn't ever been available before - we're 500 km from the sea)
      Other villages also have baker/butcher/cheese store/egg & chicken farm vans calling, or the butcher selling eggs or cheese now in addition to meat.
    • A local medium-sized supermarket some 10 km away has a pilot project where they have a minibus collecting (old) people from the surrounding villages, get them to the store and take them together with their groceries back home.
      I put this in because I don't see that much of a difference between carrying people to the goods vs. carrying the goods to the people for offline sales.
    • Many organic farms (or organic farm cooperatives) sell "veggie boxes" that are delivered e.g. weekly or twice a week.
    • One organic farmer has a farm sale and half ways to the next village you get organic eggs, then comes the next organic veggie farm
    • At least one conventional farmer has a "potato box": this is a sales form we have quite a lot now. Something between wooden box and garden house with shelves and sometimes even fridge/freezer where the currently available produce are together with a price list, a drawer with some change and a piggy-bank style cash box into which you put the bigger money. While there is noone to directly keep you honest, everyone knows that this super-convenient form of "store" is stopped immediately if there's too few money there at the end of the day. Egg and milk automats are a recent addition in this line.
    • We do see a slowly increasing number of stores doing deliveries. The first one I was aware of is the pharmacy next village.

    • While they don't have online shops, I'd expect all of them take orders/"reservations" by phone or email - the self-service ones probably by putting what you want into a bag or box with a paper with your name on it.

If you ask yourself why I list all those more-or-less new economy type sales: Note that all these (at least over here) including the ones doing deliveries of online or off-line orders are small stores.

  • In general, many local/small stores here actually do sell online as well - so there isn't that much of a distinction. Without having checked, I expect that the spice and herbs store coming by van to the town market once a week will take online orders juse as they take "offline" orders for stuff they don't currently have with them. All either to be picked up at a given town market or sent by post.

  • Actually, many of the stores where I buy, say, small electronic or bike parts online are local stores somewhere (and I think many of them use the same type of flexibility the old village store used - but they are working other niches than flour and pasta).
    I think what see here is at least partially that even big stores (supermarket or electronic) can have only a selection and even for big supermarkets that selection isn't that wide. But having many (big or small) stores across the country that do sell on online marketplaces each having some specialty allows in total a much wider selection. And my personal impression is that in this actually small stores can do better compared to big ones than they did before: the local small store really didn't have a point above a larger supermarket in the last so many decades. But with the online sales, a small store can specialize on a narrow field or even a few products (and be located somewhere where rent is low - which is good for rural economics) and does have a chance in competing in that narrow selection with big stores that have a wider selection.

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Surprising, nobody has explicitly stated this yet, but the local store is local, therefore closer, so buying local saves the buyer time. It takes much less time to go to the shop around the corner to pick up some milk that I ran out off, than to travel to the other end of town where it's cheaper. If I buy a book in the local village bookshop, I have it right away (if they have it); it may be cheaper in the city or online, but then I need to travel and/or wait. This applies both in cities and small towns.

Buying local saves the buyer time and effort. This is certainly not the only reason and perhaps not the most important reason, many other reasons apply as well, but other reasons have been well covered in other answers.

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    I think that's the point of the previous answers. Please see my edit where I want to focus the answer to the medium-to-big city. – mrbolichi Mar 18 at 8:50
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    But the answer is not limited to small or medium towns at all. When I lived in Toronto I could go to the local shop in a 5 minute walk or take bike or transit for half an hour to a huge shopping area, where things were cheaper. Many modern cities concentrate large shopping areas (in particular for things like hardware) in near-motorway areas far from residential areas. My answer applies on all scales, from villages just large enough to have a shop to the biggest cities in the world. – gerrit Mar 18 at 8:53
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    I assumed OP meant "local" as perhaps locally owned, but more importantly physically local as opposed to "online", hence his reference to Amazon. – Glen Yates Mar 18 at 16:18
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    It doesn't always save time. To do my groceries I have to drive 45 minutes. I do that once a week or so, less often in the summer when I get vegetables and eggs locally. For some nonperishable groceries it's quicker to order online and have them delivered in 2 days than to wait until the next time I can go to the city. Despite this, I rarely order nonperishable groceries online, saving that for items my city doesn't carry. – Kate Gregory Mar 20 at 14:05
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    @KateGregory Of course, when planned well, making one big trip to the grocery store takes less time than many small trips to the local store, but if you realise on Saturday afternoon that you ran out of milk you might be happy to pay the premium if a local shop still exists and you don't need to drive 45 minutes for one item. – gerrit Mar 20 at 14:25
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"Use them or lose them". I will happily pay a premium to get something now, all other factors not considered. It comforts me to know they are there. If I do not support the deli, or the convenience store, and enough other people shun them, they do not remain viable. Not having to get into the car, or be available at a set time for delivery.

Now, on the other side of the coin is delayed gratification. I live in Australia. Australia has recently decided to tax mail order purchases from outside our borders. It's a small tax for now, 10%.

I also pay the same consumption tax if I buy locally.

I can buy "item A" for $1 from Shenzen, and have it shipped free in about a week. Depending upon how I was introduced to the seller, and how I pay, I will likely be charged $0.10 in GST. It will cost the Australian Government a dollar or two to collect it, and it will likely cost an aggregator such as eBay or Amazon a dollar or two to collect it as well. No biggie for me, it is still $1.10.

If I buy "item A", retail locally. It costs $20.00 - the same item. That is before I pay $15 in petrol to drive there, $8 to park, and take a hour out of my day only to find out it is not in stock.

So my need would have to be pretty urgent to buy locally, as it is going to cost me.

But, in a large city with serious infrastructure issues, there are so many things I cannot buy locally. Fresh flavoured milk is rare in Sydney (all UHT), as it goes bad when turnover is low. Fresh food can be fresher from interstate. Outside of fast food, iceberg lettuce is not used, arugula (rocket) keeps up to a week and is now a cancer on the face of Australian cuisine.

In summary, these factors appeal to me.

  1. Products available on demand.
  2. Can pay cash (of diverse origin) which can be hard to get rid of.
  3. Can see what is on offer, hold it in the hand.
  4. Need not expend effort traveling, receiving goods, dealing with damage.
  5. Supporting the proprietor, a neighbour.
  6. Minimising storage space used, and wastage due to spoiling.
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    Here (Germany or rather EU) item A would cost 20 € locally because the local importer made sure the part complies with EU safety regulations - so they do add value also in another way than "just" bringing and storing it closeby in case someone needs it. – cbeleites Mar 17 at 23:59
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    "$15 in petrol" is about 10 liters. What kind of vehicle do you drive when going shopping? – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 18 at 10:13
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    I'm confused by your example. What product costs 20 times as much locally? I could see "$1 online vs $2 locally + $18 gas and parking = $20 total locally," but your phrasing suggests that $20 is just for the product itself. – Jon of All Trades Mar 18 at 13:58
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    An additional counterpoint to your example: even at the (hyperbolic?) inflated rates you've posted, that really only applies if you make a separate, special trip into town for every single item. However, particularly if the gas/parking is a concern, you're more likely to form a list of items you need, and shop for all of them in one go. Which reduces the per-item opportunity cost. – GalacticCowboy Mar 18 at 15:36
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    @schadjo That's pretty much inline with our state/local sales tax in the USA (Indiana). The state tax is 7% and then municipalities may add 1-2% on top of that. Different states will vary, sometimes significantly. (Some have no sales tax at all, but may have higher income taxes in exchange.) – GalacticCowboy Mar 18 at 15:38
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There's a great scene in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy where Rocket asks Quill why he should care about saving the stupid galaxy anyway, and Quill responds, "because I'm one of the idiots who lives in it!"

Buyers who can look beyond price tags see value in promoting the health of their community, and understand that they should support it because it's supporting them. The idea of keeping your money local is based mostly on recognizing this, and it's not a new idea by any means. Adam Smith's famous "invisible hand" quote from The Wealth of Nations was actually written in this context:

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is ... led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.

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    A good answer turned great with an Adam Smith quote. A hat tip on this one. – JoeTaxpayer Mar 19 at 23:55
  • @JoeTaxpayer Thanks! I do like that quote, and it's important to understand where it came from, given how depressingly common it is to hear the "Invisible Hand" invoked in favor of letting people whose business is making economies less local, rather than more, have their way! – Mason Wheeler Mar 20 at 14:57
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The Human at the other end

For a lot of items I don't care much about the person on the other side of the counter (Let me buy the gas and move on). For many other items / reasons I want a human on the other end.

I'm just starting out (ie electronics) I want the person to guide me through the maze of products for general help explaining some differences. Google search can replace this but someone knowing what you don't know will/should help greatly.

I want something custom and unique. A local store where you can see the artisan working with their trade has increased value over non brick and mortar stores. You might be able to ask for an alteration and you might be able to bring your purchase for maintenance / repairs.

As long as I can see repeat service the person running the store is very important to me. This goes for any service I work with.

If this store supplies your profession then it is also a source of networking.

A normal store that offers you simply a product more expensive than online WILL NOT SURVIVE long.

Big box stores did this to small Mom and Pop stores and the ones that knew how to stay relevant are still around. The ones that tried to match prices, complained and then went out of business.

A product that a GOOD and successful small store has is not the reason why I'm going there. I'm going there because I like the person, they know more than I do (most times), I can get special treatment.

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If the local store sells exactly the same product as a supermarket or Amazon, the only valid economic reason to buy from a local store is a lower total cost of purchase. If a supermarket sells a loaf of bread for 2€ and a local store sell is for 3€, it's reasonable to get it from the store if going to the supermarket costs more than 1€ in expenses and time.

Many people will go to the supermarket anyway, and pay 50€ for additional stuff they don't need just to justify the driving costs. That's exactly how marketing works: believing something is a good deal is what sells the product, not necessarily the facts.

In practice, many successful local stores often sell products which have no direct substitutes in a supermarket. Be it a great bakery produce, fresh meat from a local butcher or eggs from chicken held in a barn - the buyer gets (or at least believes to get: the same marketing strategies apply) a superior product, so it's absolutely reasonable to pay a premium for it.

As pointed out in the comments, another reason to buy from a local shop is immediate product availability. If the local store sells you a loaf of bread on a Sunday morning, you may choose to pay an extra to get it right away instead of waiting for a supermarket to open on Monday when you could get the same loaf cheaper.

  • 8
    -1: "... the only valid economic reason ... is a lower total cost of purchase." Just not true; supporting your local economy is a valid economic reason, and supports your own economic interests. Furthermore other reasons (i.e. immediacy of need) can override economic needs; I'm not going to order a drug online and wait a few days for it to arrive if my kid is sick, if I can buy it now locally. Also that last paragraph needs some grammatical help; I've read it three times and it is only starting to make sense (and it seems to be repeating the 2nd paragraph). – GreenMatt Mar 18 at 13:56
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    In a rural environment ... it surprises me how some people price in neither the cost of extra vehicle miles, nor the cost of their time, when considering the supermarket in town compared to the small village shop. When you do, the "expensive" local shop can actually be cheaper. – nigel222 Mar 19 at 10:52
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Local business owner here, I will add on to other answers, but also add some information.

When you buy from a real locally-owned business (see below), the people who receive any profit from you will typically be shopping and dining and investing in the community they share with you. This even extends to our contributions to things like schools through our property tax or local initiatives through sales and income taxes, depending on your location. We are responsive and sensitive to local issues, naturally, and open our doors to volunteer groups, etc. when they need meeting space on off-days or whatnot.

NOW. Something to point out:

'What is a locally owned business?' In Portland where my wine bar is located, the city is also saturated with what appears to be a locally-owned business, but in many cases is one of hundreds with unique branding owned by someone far, far away. If you want to support truly locally-owned, do a little digging to see what is legit.

(Aside: use cash when you can, instead of cards!)

  • Reminds me of some stickers the local chamber of crafts had: "crafts - the econonmic power next doors" ("Handwerk - die Wirtschaftsmacht von nebenan") – cbeleites Mar 21 at 0:09
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I skimmed most of the answers looking for someone mentioning this point -

Many large companies, some like Target and Wal-Mart exist online and in physical locations, have a measurable business and community impact and evident goal. Some acquire, like Amazon. Some are run by CEOs who constantly display behavior that rubs people the wrong way. Some appear to be trying to make a difference in the world. And many are a mixture of all.

When you choose to forego a local shop in favor of price and convenience, you are choosing to add further monetary power to the companies you are buying from, enabling them to continue on their courses outlined by the measurable business and community impact. In many cases, this is not a good thing.

Ask yourself, do you want everything run by Amazon? Or Wal-Mart, or McDonald's? If you're OK with everything being discounted for card holders of their special club you have to pay for, then proceed. Buy online or at the big box stores. When those stores gain so much power they can effectively decide the prices of goods and services are determined not by economic standing, but their arbitrary rules (the pharmaceutical industry does this notoriously), you will see the value of choosing to support your community over the abstraction of a corporation who values only the numbers in their quarterly reports to the share holders.

Now, granted, not every large company is completely corrupt. Many do their diligence to support charitable or humanitarian efforts, or just don't run a shady business. You won't have a hard time looking into the history of any major retailer for yourself and coming to your own conclusions. Reading it from an internet post sounds a lot like a conspiracy theory rant, so I encourage you to research your own options and see how you feel about supporting the merchants you choose to support.

Buying local not only helps the locals who own those companies (who can be just as corrupt as the big corporations, mind you), but it also reduces the revenue flow to the would be world rulers like Amazon, who now owns Whole Foods and a number of other companies they decided to acquire. The local merchants prosper and keep things personal and friendly... generally I mean. And web interfaces maintain a dictation of advised copy designed to minimize the levels of discomfort to their user base, and avoid legalities by adhering to the laws of compliance - which really is designed to avoid lawsuits so next time you hear of a website being all politically correct, it's not because they believe the socio-political stance of the objections, but that they don't want to be sued.

The problem with the approach that says - I will not support some whack corporation - is that it's really just a drop in the bucket to not participate. You're not choosing local to change the world. You're doing to because you are aware of the impact you contribute to. If you have goals to overthrow Wal-Mart or Amazon just by not buying from them, you'll be disappointed. But if your goal is to keep your local comic store open because you went there as a kid, then you'll be doing your part fine by shopping there instead of some online retailer.

  • +1 For that final paragraph. – Jan Doggen Mar 20 at 11:34
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We'd be remiss not to consider some of the practical physical benefits of buying from a small local store.

  • Quality Inspection - Compared to buying online, you can physically inspect the item you're buying for quality before making the purchase.
  • Shipping - There is no shipping cost. While Amazon offers free shipping, it is either Prime-exclusive(a subscription fee) or on orders of $25 or more (a minimum purchase requirement), plus the latter has a significant shipping delay. For a small item that you need relatively soon, local stores are a superior choice.
  • Uniqueness - Compared to the choices offered at a larger store, smaller stores tend to have more unique items, especially if the store is a craft store. For a gift purchase, this can greatly improve the quality of your purchase.
  • Personal Service - Some local stores will offer to gift-wrap your item for free, or offer other additional services on top of the purchase, which online stores simply aren't equipped to offer.

There are also of course moralistic reasons people would prefer to buy from local stores, as well as long-term strategic reasons for keeping local stores competitive with online and big retail marketers.

But if you're looking for practical reasons, the small retail store is a superior choice for small gift purchases, especially if you want the purchase gift-wrapped.

  • @GreenMatt That may be true, but you get a greater variety of a specific type of item at local stores - which is what I meant. – Zibbobz Mar 18 at 14:10
  • Yeah, I think 'Specialization' is the wrong word for what you're trying to say. You can find a much wider selection of items on Amazon/eBay/etc than you could hope to find at a local store - so online has the 'Specialization' category nailed down. What you're looking for is something like 'Sentimentality' or 'Homemade' or such. – Kevin Mar 18 at 17:00
  • @Kevin Considering I describe the trait as 'unique', I think I'll try "Uniqueness" instead. Though I feel like this definition of "specialization" isn't entirely accurate. Specialization implies a focus on one particular category, not a wide variety of different things. I think "variety" is the better way to describe an online store. – Zibbobz Mar 18 at 17:09
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Another point that I may not have been clearly spelled out - when you're shopping from a big conglomerate like Amazon there's a high likelihood that there are hidden costs in that savings you're getting. It's pretty well known by now that many of Amazon employees receive government assistance. They also employ armies of lawyers and accountants to make sure their tax bill is as low as possible.

If you buy in a local store it's unlikely that this is the case.

Of course, their employees may also still be on welfare, or the company too small to be legally required to offer benefits for their employees. So it all depends on what you want to support.

If your goal is simply to minimize the direct cost to yourself, then you should always shop where you can get the cheapest price.

But if you have alternate goals, such as minimizing the impact of shipping, buying locally sourced goods, etc. then you may want to consider shopping local - though you still have to make sure that your local stores are actually locally owned.


Side note - I once visited a farmers market in Little Rock, Arkansas, which had a truck from Ohio. That's uh... not very local produce.

protected by Ganesh Sittampalam Mar 17 at 20:46

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