Why I started to buy most products locally again

Martin Brinkmann
Jun 3, 2014

Much of what I have bought in the past couple of years, maybe even the last ten years, has been bought on Internet shopping sites and not local stores.

While I'm probably not an extreme example when it comes to that, as I prefer to buy select items such as clothing or groceries locally, I have bought most items online.

I bought computer hardware online, books and media on Amazon, games on sites such as Steam, select household items and even furniture online as well.

I sat down one day and analyzed the behavior. Buying online has many advantages:

  1. It is very convenient. Just a couple of mouse clicks and you can purchase nearly every item on sale online. I do not have to leave the house for that, and the items get delivered to my door step so no carrying around either.
  2. I can compare prices. Price comparison engines and extensions help me find the best price for an item. It is possible to save a lot of money by comparing prices as they can differ a lot.
  3. It is usually cheaper. While not always the case, it is usually true that items are cheaper online, especially when you use price comparison engines.
  4. Availability may be better. There are so many online shopping sites that it is easy to find one that has the item available that you want to purchase. Locally, it may be just one or few stores that offer the item and if it is not available, it needs to be ordered before it can be bought.

These are strong incentives to buy online. There are however reasons against buying (most) items online as well.

  1. You support the local economy. This is especially true if you buy from independent local stores and not national chains, but both employee people of the community you are living in. If those people get unemployed, it is a burden for the whole community.
  2. You build a relationship with a real human being. Online support may be good or terrible, but all forms of online support have in common that you communicate with different representatives. Locally, especially in independent stores, you can form relationships with the owner and staff that go a lot deeper.
  3. Support is often better. While not always the case, it has been my experience that dedicated local businesses are usually well informed about their products while it is usually left to you to find the right product online. This includes returns as well which are often handled in a better way.
  4. More money re-circulates locally. Studies have shown that money spend on local businesses re-circulates more locally than money spend on non-locally owned businesses.
  5. May reduce environmental impact. Depending on what you buy, transportation may impact the environment in a lesser way. This is especially true for produce and food that is made available by local farmers.
  6. Limits impulsive purchases. Since it is so easy to buy products online, it is much easier to buy something impulsively.
via xkcd

I made the decision to buy most products locally based on the advantages of buying locally. There are some products that cannot be bought locally, or that have such a great price divide between local prices and online prices that I cannot justify buying them locally. This is for instance true for computer hardware.

Would I pay $50 more for a 3TB hard drive because it is offered by a local computer shop? I would not, but it may make sense for others to do. This can for instance be the case if you need help setting it up correctly as you may be able to phone the owner or one of the employees of the store to get that help. That is of course if they are proficient enough to help you out.

I shop online when it comes to unavailable products as well. If something is not available locally anymore, I may still get it online either on retail shopping sites or marketplaces like eBay.

What about you? Have your shopping habits changed in the past couple of years?

Why I started to buy most products locally again
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Why I started to buy most products locally again
Online shopping has many advantages, but there are also disadvantages that need to be taken into account.

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  1. Dwight Stegall said on June 14, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    I refuse to buy anything online until Heartbleed is fixed.

  2. JRFERGY said on June 5, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    The times are certainly changing.
    1. Price match at most big chains.
    2. State sales tax for online purchases.
    3. Online- Better selection
    4. Online- Hassel free
    5. Shipping cost?
    Online vs local, is a toss up.
    Because of the internet, the consumer is the winner.

  3. kalmly said on June 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    I always bought some things online. When the economy went down the tubes, so did all the decent places to shop, and now I do most of my shopping online. The few problems I’ve had – a pair of shoes that didn’t fit, a laptop with a problem, a broken item – were all fixed with a phone call or an email, and I’ve never had to pay shipping for the return.

  4. Robert said on June 5, 2014 at 3:37 am

    I don’t buy online neither because I can’t usually find cheaper things online and in case I find something normally the postage expenses are very high and it costs more than buying it locally. Apart I avoid the risks of using a credit card online (many sites only allow this method of payment) and if I get the stuff damaged it looks complicated returning it.

  5. Trebuchette said on June 4, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Helps privacy too. Every ~damned~ time I buy from a new store online, even if I say “don’t send me offers”, I get offers, and I get crap in the mail, etc. Now I use one-time-use bank cards for online purchases (which really helps me STOP buying online). I don’t want ETSY sending me shit in the mail (and I love etsy, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the LEAST INTRUSIVE of the big guys besides Amazon. Amazon and iTunes already has my info so I’ll shop there if I have to buy something online).

  6. eric said on June 4, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Thanks for the commentary. I’m always skeptical when I see vague claims like “more money stays local,” but there’s actually quite a bit of solid research on this: http://amiba.net/resources/multiplier-effect

  7. p3t3r said on June 4, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I would never buy onine:
    Clothing, musical instruments, books, records and all other stuff which has individual features. I want to touch and feel those items before buying.

    Otherwise i don’t worry to buy online: Hardware and consumeables (Ink for printers, paper) and all stuff made my mass production.

    I purchased my PC at a shop just around the corner. If there’s a hardware-problem i’ll get it fixed within one day. Okay, i paid 50€ more than orering online, but it’s more convenient to have the reseller in the hood.

    1. Alex said on June 11, 2014 at 5:23 pm

      What if you could browse for clothing, instruments, books, records, etc. online locally before buying? Then you would know which stores had what products available. Maybe there could even be online checkout, but in store pick-up. Would make some purchasing more convenient and increase the visibility of the local shops that are struggling to compete…

  8. Andrew said on June 4, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    It depends on if I deem the local seller is respectable or not in his profit margin. I try to shop locally, but I dont see why I should lower my standard of living just so he can go on vacation to Europe twice a year, have a fancy car etc. Every merchant has a right to make money, but i got a right not to be fleeced too,

  9. InterestedBystander said on June 4, 2014 at 12:05 am

    I buy clothes and groceries locally. Since I’m lucky enough to have access to big-box retailers, I can buy some electronics locally as well. I have bought a few things online, though.

    One thing that concerns me is the potential for information compromise in online transactions. Events like the revelation of the Heartbleed SSL flaw are troubling. And we know that such vulnerabilities can go undetected for months or even years. Transactions we believe are safe may not turn out to be secure.

    So while buy-locally makes some economic sense, information security has me re-evaluating online shopping as well.

    1. Oxa said on June 4, 2014 at 2:37 am

      Off-line shopping is as risky as online. 1/3 of all U.S. credit cards were compromised in the Target hacking case last winter.

      1. Pants said on June 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        I use my newly developed BrinkCoin crypto currency – see Martin for details :)

      2. Martin Brinkmann said on June 4, 2014 at 7:01 am

        Not if you pay cash.

  10. wayfarer said on June 3, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    I always do my best to shop locally, even if it costs a little more (though it needs to be only a little.) However, not everyone has the choices available in big cities.

    I live in rural Scotland, where most local shops are a joke. Poor stocks, high (often outrageous) prices and bad attitudes from shopkeepers who regard themselves as entitled to your business, however poor their service. Not every local shop is like that – but it’s far too common. Just this last Bank Holiday in my small Scottish town, I walked past shop after shop with notices in their windows exhorting me to shop locally – “Use us or lose us!” Normally an argument I’d have some sympathy for – had it not been that most of those shops were shut for the day in an area teaming with holiday visitors. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it!

    I’d as soon walk into a local shop and walk out with what I want. And when I drive out to shop the drive is usually a pleasure compared with the stress of city streets. I’d love to shop no other way.

    But – when it comes to practical shopping I run out of options, with the best will in the world. I just can’t afford to shop locally. So it’s either a long drive to not-so-local supermarkets or the internet, where in both cases I can save up to 50% (no exaggeration) off my shopping bills. I love living in this area, but if it weren’t for the internet I think I’d probably move house tomorrow.

  11. Paul(us) said on June 3, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Acutely main habits has not changed ever I still try to bay locally (or as much as possible) because I always knew that I prefer the human link.
    Its simple like that and yes I know that I buy at not the sharpest possible price but for that next to the human contact I mostly getting great service and all the outer advantages you wrought about.

    1. Alex said on June 11, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      I don’t think you are alone with your feelings there. These days, I think people have realized that convenience and human interaction can often come before price when making a purchase. Now, the internet just needs to catch up and help local businesses offer their wares more conveniently before they all go out of business. All local inventory online would be an excellent first step…

  12. sades said on June 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Hmm I wonder if the nerds today is too many, if not then I’ll continue being the nerd and let the non-nerd buy the more expensive things locally.

  13. Gonzo said on June 3, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I purchased an SSD from an online store about 2 years ago. The return policy stated that any problems with the drive had to be handled by the manufacturer (I didn’t notice it at the time of purchase). Well, it took almost a month and 2 request forms before it all got sorted.

    Since then I buy most new tech locally. A couple big box stores in my area price match, ship for free and offer free WiFI. Returns and exchanges are much simpler and cheaper. I just bought an Intel CPU and the HSF was bad (fan didn’t spin). Easy to return, few questions asked, no forms to fill out, replacement in hand the same day, wonderful!

  14. Oxa said on June 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Buying “locally” is just a myth where I live. Except for dry cleaning, ice cream parlors, liquor stores, and a few restaurants, there are no stores that are not franchises of major national chains, where support is largely absent. In that context, none of your reasons for “buying locally” make any sense.

    1. Alex said on June 11, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      I think it still makes sense to buy there. You are supporting local jobs and those people support the local economy. So even the brick & mortar chains help communities more than online.

  15. Pants said on June 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    When it comes to electrical goods, hardware, appliances (i.e mass produced identical items, not widely variable things such as furniture or clothes), this is what I do …

    1. Decide what my purchase needs to do and what I would also like as extras – I list these in a spreadsheet and each column is a different make/model and I just tick or cross off (or enter a number). This gives me an quick comparison/overview to help me decide what I should check out further. (Eg – when i bought my first flatscreen TVs, I had a checklist including items such as built in codecs, number of usb ports, could the tv read various hhd formats such as NTFS, DLNA, built in wifi, number of hdmi ports, accessibility to connections and a ton of other things.)
    2. Research online, read feedback/comments/reviews, read benchmarking tests, consult tech-head hardware friends, and/or get consumer magazine articles (behind a paywall but I have a client who has access) and find the best product that suits my needs (including future-proofing). If there’s a fairly minimal difference, I may indeed have 2 or 3 makes/models in mind.
    3. Find the best price for the item(s) I want, online using price comparison sites (taking into account shipping costs)
    – note 1: read the comments from purchasers of that product (and use your common sense to spot fakes)
    – note 2: Check the online store’s reputation – I have come to know and use about 6 or 7 online stores that have never failed me or ripped me off.
    – note 3: Check availability
    3a. For some items, I buy at the end of life cycle, not bleeding edge – so I get end of line prices :) eg if i need a reasonable printer, I might snap up one that was $800 2 years ago but is now on a clearance sale at $250. (I’m not talking second hand here, it’s still brand new)
    4. Remember that local stores frequently have BIG SALES, BOXING DAY, XMAS SPECIALS, CLEARANC BONANZAS etc. I have often picked up exactly what I wanted cheaper than online just by waiting a month
    5. Go to each local retailer (where I am, I have 4 electronics/appliance stores within 200 feet of each other) and see if they have what you want, check the price, ask the assistant “I can buy this for $x online including shipping – can you match that or bring down the your shelf price?”. Ask at each store if they stock what you’re after. It is extremely rarely that I don’t get close to the online price, but end up buying locally.

    The main reason I prefer to buy locally, is that if there is a problem (and I only ever had the one problem in all these years – a new external HDD bricked itself within the first week) is that it is so much easier to take in to the store rather than pay for shipping back to base, and it is so much better to talk to someone in person.

    Hey .. who stole my pants?

  16. nonqu said on June 3, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    I can’t remember the last time I’ve bought something other than food and clothes locally. In my country the profit margins in local stores are insanely high.The funniest thing is that I usually collect the shipment in the local store for half the price it costs there – a delivery to such shop costs $2 and it’s plain to see that those shops also order products online for themselves and later resell them for insane prices to those that avoid online shops.

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