major online retailers Alluring, with perks like 2-day shipping, the option to try at home before paying, and the convenience of shopping for your own pajamas. The problem is that these amenities come at the expense of individuals, communities, and the environment. But there’s good news: There’s something you can do about it, and you have more control than you think.
Traditional voting – with your own ballot – is as important as ever, but there is tremendous power in deciding where and how to spend your money. Conscientious shopping is one way to make small choices that add up to big changes.
Stay close to home
Shopping locally is the best way to support your community. The US Small Business Administration started National Small Business Week in 1963 and has been co-sponsoring Small Business Saturdays with American Express since 2011. AmEx launched the Shop Small Program, which includes Small Business Saturdays, in 2010 to help retailers through the recession and spent $200 million to support small businesses during the pandemic.
Bill Brunel is co-founder of Independent We Stand, which was developed to celebrate local brands and provide small businesses with marketing toolkits that provide infrastructure and support. Members receive everything from graphics with slogans like “Buy good things from real people” and social media tips to advice on point-of-sale systems. IWS is now a network of more than 10,000 mom and pop stores, and has a mobile app to help consumers locate stores.
There is an emotional component to shopping close to home, Brunel says, and since the pandemic, people are more excited than ever. “Keeping more money in the community means better roads, better schools, better parks, and higher paying teachers,” he says, “your hard-earned dollar goes even further when it is kept locally.” For added motivation, IWS offers a list of 10 things that happen when you shop locally.
The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, published in 2004, determined that for every $100 spent locally, $68 remained in the community. When the same $100 is spent in a national chain, only $43 is left in the community. Brunelle warns consumers about “local laundry,” when supermarkets use the word “local” in their marketing but are ambiguous about how they define it.
“You know that local power is real when national and international chains like Walmart and Target use the word Sweetened in their marketing because they understand that people want to shop local,” says Brunel. It encourages shoppers to think critically to avoid falling victim to local laundry. A supermarket might advertise a product “We buy locally,” Brunel says, “but their local definition might be 500 miles away. You simply can’t buy locally grown pineapple in Minnesota in January.”
Shopping at locally owned stores is a start, though, with a caveat, and these are a pill that many Americans find difficult to swallow: Wants New things, not necessarily Need New things. Shopping at garage sales, thrift stores, estate sales, second hand stores, and antique stores use already traded merchandise and is also a great way to get to know your neighbors.
In Missoula, Montana, where I’ve lived most of my adult life, we have stores like The Cellar Door, which uses the hashtag #nothingnewforyou and its mission to “organize ѕspaces and placeѕ with what’s already there” and Piece, which refinishes wood, leather, cut cords and updates upholstered furniture with a fun fabric Unconventional. Chances are there are used charity or similar stores in your area, and you don’t always have to run straight to Goodwill or Salvation Army, although these are also options.