Is online a bigger threat to independent merchants than big boxes?
For years, the big box was derided as the major threat to the survival of the local independent store. More recently, however, the online giants have become an equal or more ominous menace.
While also targeting the national chains, Michigan Retailers Association’s “Buy Nearby” program aims at out-of-state online stores.
“We launched this campaign to get people to buy in their community rather than online,” Thomas Scott, the association’s SVP of communications and marketing, told MLive.
Like many “buy local” efforts, the program includes signage for stores to hang that details how supporting local stores increases local jobs and brings more money into local economies. The association organizes a “Buy Nearby” campaign on the first weekend of October as well as other events throughout the year. Social media outreach encourages shoppers to post stories and photos online of their favorite local shops and restaurants. The program even has a “Buy Nearby Guy” mascot symbolized by a blue, open hand.
The program was launched in early 2013 when the practice of showrooming started gaining attention. Consumers have since become even more accustomed to the generally lower prices and convenience offered by online shopping. Online sellers’ emphasis on same-day or two-day delivery has also undermined the instant gratification advantage promised by physical stores.
Heightened online competition has particularly affected merchants of premium brands and labels available at independent specialty shops. Executing e-commerce sites at the levels of the online giants has also been a challenge for many local merchants.
Local stores can try to be more competitive on price. But it sometimes comes down to educating customers around the importance of “buy local” and the value of knowledgeable associates and the in-store experience.
- Buy Nearby – Michigan Retailers Association
- Buy downtown, not online, say Detroit retailers – MLive
- Retailers count on service to win over Web shoppers – USA Today
- Don’t Let Online Retailers Put You Out of Business – INC
- Local Outdoor Gear Stores Compete Against Online Giants – Boise Weekly
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Has online become a bigger threat to the prosperity of local independents than big box competition? How does the response to the online challenge need to differ from strategies to compete with big boxes?