Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Biggest Bang for Your Local Buck

If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume you know all of the economic benefits of shopping with locally owned businesses. (If you don’t here’s a post I did for the bookstore with lots of data.) Executive summary: Karma wheel, it all comes back to you. Or to put this a different way; profitable locally owned businesses are good for the locales in which they are owned and operated. The more profitable they are, the more they can donate, the more taxes they pay, and the higher the employees salary, all of which is good for you. I'm also going to assume that you're not an eccentric millionaire and that you want to do as much as you can, within your means, to contribute to your community. Here are some ways to amplify the economic benefits of your local spending, without actually spending any more money.

Pay in Cash: Credit cards are convenient, but that convenience comes at a cost. Some of it is interest payments and customer fees, but much of that cost is paid by the stores themselves in the form of merchant or vendor fees. (This is not a knock on it, but if you've ever wondered what's in it for American Express with the whole Small Business Saturday thing, this is it.) In the long term, these fees lead to more expensive stuff, as the fees are built into the cost of goods, and in the short term they can be a major burden on small businesses. After staffing, credit card processing fees tend to be the next biggest single non-discretionary expense. There are no fees for cash, of course. Cash, though, takes some planning ahead. At PSB at least, if you place an order online and choose the “Pay in Store” option, not only will the books be set aside for you, you’ll also see the exact total and will only have to take out what you need. This is a little trickier if you're shopping at a store without e-commerce, but, if you've got one of those fancy computers that also make phone calls in your pocket, you can calculate your cost. You spend the same amount, but the store makes more profit.

Take a Half Day During the Week: Things tend to be a little slower at stores in the mid-afternoon and mid-morning during the week. If you can arrange to shop during those times, not only will you have a relatively quiet, relatively stress-free shopping experience (and all the bookseller help you can stand if you're at PSB), you’ll lessen the rush on the weekends making it easier for other shoppers to shop. Spreading out the sales also makes it easier for employees to do the kind of maintenance (like re-shelving books and bringing down overstock) that make it easier for everyone to find what they're looking for. A store in good working order, with enough staff time to give the personalized service that makes shopping local such a pleasant experience, and a generally less Hunger Games atmosphere, all lead to more sales and more profits. (And just take a minute to dream with me here, and imagine your weekend, when you've done all the shopping on Wednesday.)

Bring Your Own Bag: Dude. Seriously. Are you still getting a bag whenever you go shopping? Sure, taking a bag isn't the most evil thing you can do, but it's probably the easiest evil thing to not do. Just put a collapsible bag in every single satchel, handbag, purse, carry-all, you've got (and maybe one in every coat). I mean, seriously, last I counted, we still only have one planet and last I checked, we're still punching it in the taint. Yes, there are a lot of things we're doing that are far worse (Hi there, mountain top coal mining and deep water oil drilling. Also, fuck you.) but these little daily habits add up when everybody does them all the time and they don't require a miracle of science to fix. At the store, I will give you a bag if you want one and I'll do it with a smile, because I don't know what is in your life that has brought you to this particular decision. I know there are times when a bag is totally justifiable and so when I'm behind the counter, in the moment, I always assume a customer takes a bag because it is one of those times. But, fuckin' seriously, dude, you have hands, you probably want Boston to not be underwater when your grandkids are adults, so fuckin' carry that shit out. Phew. OK. More to the point, bags are one of those little costs (like replacing all those pens that disappear) that chip away at profits. Most stores accept bags, pens, etc, as part of their operating costs, but that doesn't mean you need to use them. (Seriously, did you just “forget” I handed you that pen, like 3 seconds ago?) If you don't, the store makes more profits on the sale, the more profits they make, the more taxes they pay, the more inventory they buy, the more their employees make, the bigger the impact your dollar has on your community.

So to summarize: see you on Wednesday when you bring your own bag and pay in cash.

One more point to wrap this up. Shopping local is not a nostalgic pity party. It is not about preserving the good old days of ye olde maine ftreet fhop. This is rational self-interest. Yes, there is an emotional content to shopping locally (and given that humans are pretty emotional entities, it seems like that argument does belong in the whole “rational self-interest” thing but I don't want to make any economists cry right before the holidays) but there is also significant monetary value as well. Given all the data, even Ayn Rand would shop locally, except when she owned stock in national and international corporations. And that's really how you should think of shopping locally. (Swish.) You are simply buying from a company in which you own stock. The dividends aren't paid out the same way, but they are undeniable. And these three strategies will help increase your return on investment.

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