Mises Wire

Stop Telling Me to “Shop Locally”

If guilt is the best you have to offer a customer, you probably don’t have that much to offer a customer.

When I walk into Walmart I know I will be able to get a wide selection of products, I will be able to get them cheap, and I will be able to get them with very little customer support or hassle. When I want that, it feels great. Fast, simple, cheap. 

There is no guilt campaign from Walmart. There is no appeal to me about how bad of a person I am if I don’t shop at Walmart. There are no protestors outside my houses or outside other stores convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Walmart. When I step foot in a Walmart, I go there because that is exactly what I want. I go there because they are better than anyone else at providing for me as a consumer in the ways that Walmart is so proficient in providing for me. 

When I shop at Amazon.com, I get a wide selection of goods, at a cheap price with both the ease and occasional difficulty that comes with shopping online. They do that better than anyone else. When I want that, it feels great to turn to Amazon and get that, and to get it exactly as I expected, and to, often enough, be surprised by an experience that is even better than what I expected. 

There is no guilt campaign from Amazon, there are no protestors outside my house convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Amazon. There are no online ads pointing out how immoral it is of me to shop anywhere that isn’t Amazon. I use Amazon because Amazon is exactly what I want at that moment. 

This is in sharp contrast with the average “mom and pop” shops. 

When I step foot into a local shop, all too often, I find nothing remotely of value to me. It is an unpleasant experience with an unhelpful, or sometimes even rude and unknowledgeable salesperson. 

I don’t feel like I’m contributing to my community by shopping in such places. To the contrary, I hope most low value shops like that go out of business. The sooner they go out of business the better. By even being in existence they take up valuable real estate that can be used by others seeking to innovate the local space, to provide a better consumer experience, and to develop a better use for that local space. 

Not only do I not feel guilty for not patronizing these mediocre local businesses, it makes me sad that they even exist. They are partially propped up by the guilt movement that encourages consumers to disregard all other benefits in favor of having the opportunity to shop locally, a movement I find misguided at best, more often ill-informed, and often enough willfully ignorant and therefore blatantly deceitful. The moral thing is to help bad local businesses go under by not patronizing them, and therefore helping to clean out that detritus that takes up valuable local brick and mortar space. 

Confusing charity with shopping, confusing philanthropic activity with consumer activity benefits no one but the mediocre shop owner. 

Shopping locally generally offers me only one added value — immediacy. I like shopping locally because it is nice to have an item that I want in my hand before I buy it so that I can look it over. It feels nice to have it in my hand ten minutes after I decide that I want it. Soon that will barely be an added value. With Amazon’s same day delivery, it is already barely more immediate to shop for most things locally. If one can restrain oneself for an hour or two and not have truly immediate gratification, then Amazon, all things considered provides a far more valuable shopping experience to me than a local mom and pop on virtually all products. Also, while a minor added value, it is visually appealing to have an active business district. I am sure I can rather quickly adapt to a business district concept that looks different than what I am used to. 

When I happen to sit down at a friend’s or relative’s home where the television is on, especially at this holiday time of year, I hear public service announcements about how important it is to shop locally. I sometimes hear as many as one or two segments on each news broadcast that interject how important it is to shop locally. 

This is practically mindless — this “shop locally” pronouncement. Guilt about not shopping locally and feeling good about the idea of shopping locally is practically the only value proposition offered by local stores. Instead the pronouncement should be “shop at good shops,” or “shop at shops that give you what you want and how you want it.”

In some places — and the places are thankfully becoming more common — walking into a local store truly is brilliant. The reason some locales have such high quality stores, is precisely because some people were so unwilling to shop locally. 

Because competition has upped the level of difficulty required to run a store, and driven so many bad stores out of business, we are left with increasingly better stores that are increasingly customer focused. For a consumer, that is a great shift in local businesses. Businesses that don’t provide more local value than the guilt of “shop local” are becoming less common. 

This is sadly not happening as quickly as it could. People stuck in an ideology, as thoughtless as any other ideology, profess that “buy local” is some sort of unchallengeable axiom, a fundamental, impossible to further elucidate truth that all people must profess and live by or otherwise are subject to moral condemnation. 

Even in places like the bougie neighborhoods here in Brooklyn, that ideological attitude proliferates, along with its accompanying misguided moralism. This is substituted for a far-preferable constant pursuit of higher quality and higher customer satisfaction that pervades the free market and has led to so much development in quality of life over the past several hundred years since the Industrial Revolution.  

I’d prefer that society start saying “stop shopping locally.” The competition is good for local stores — they have to be the best possible thing, the most desired thing to even survive in such an environment.

The Walmart and the Amazons of the world came into the bush leagues and upped the competition to major league level. Of this, I am entirely grateful, and though I really like these companies and companies like them, I also look forward to the next generation of companies that squeeze the Walmarts and the Amazons of the world and perhaps even put them out of business. Of course, the established entities in a place had the new destabilizing competition. It’s great for the consumer.

I will feel no guilt at such a moment. Guilt does not bring me value as a consumer and it is of limited value to me as a person. I will focus on feeling good about the benefits of what life offers. 

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Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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