Editorial; My generation was raised on bargain shops and Amazon; Local will need to evolve & compete
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Let's address the local vs big box shopping elephant in the room and specifically in small communities such as Muskoka. I will be honest from the start of this piece and admit that I have shopped more on Amazon these past two months than ever before. There were many reasons for this; health, finances, the start of a homestead, as well as simple and unadulterated convenience also began to play a role as "waiting my turn" in aisles began to extend my grocery trips much longer than I had time for. My generation (the old millennial lol) has grown up in the dot.com boom era of the internet and shopping online has been second nature for almost two decades for us. On the other hand we were also bred in the drag us to Sears and The Bay for back to school shopping era. Bargain shopping as interest rates ballooned began with 80s mothers everywhere, don't forget that some of us were never raised on "local" stores. Neighbourhood malls in the mid-90's were packed with Clueless teens raining their disposal incomes on brick and mortar like Drake supported his local strip clubs in the early 2000's. The millennial is the unicorn of the consumer market because we were simultaneously raised on brick and mortar as well as dot.coms, we enjoy both. We are also the largest generation after the boomers with a big chunk of buying and market power. Being an older millennial I fully comprehend that my younger cohort of this generation has already been shopping online since they were able to upload Amazon and Wish on their cell phones. This is also true of my daughters generation - the Z generation, she has been ordering online since obtaining her first job. She has purchased more online than in actual brick and mortar stores. The pattern of this evolution is clear.
It has become clearer with the birth of Covid-19 and the subsequent paralyzation of the world economy. As a consumer it's actually frustrating to watch the struggle some stores and businesses are experiencing as they scramble to the online gates. Over the past decade it has become abundantly obvious that an online presence, including social media should be one of the first check marks within a business plan. In the year 2020 any business which does not have an online purchase option will be hard pressed to survive Covid. Those businesses which are millennia ahead and have established an online presence will have a chance of succeeding and moving forward into a new world of commerce. This virus has forced us to expand on the usage of programming computer technology which we have had for over two decades now. The master user of this technology has been Amazon. Yes Amazon is a giant in 2020 but most people seem to forget that Amazon began as an online book store in 1994 out of Bezos' garage. Jeff Bezos was really good at computer science, marketing and subsequently branding, the rest was the pure work of capitalism which catapulted him to multi-billionaire status. You can't blame Bezos for being successful during the birth of online commerce and expanding his growing business. Supply and demand right? Someone had to fill that void and he did. Here is a newsflash; Some of us have been using this technology for over 20 years, which is why Amazon grew. So while I do like to shop local to support the local economy I also support the online economy because I've been doing this for 20 years.
During these past two months as regular retail closed and essential stores were experiencing shortages and line ups online shopping took centre stage. With this shift, however, also came a pricing difference. Living in Muskoka I have noticed that I can purchase some items online cheaper than in local stores. Price points and cost can not be dismissed during what some predict will be a tsunami recession. The argument about not shopping at big box chain stores comes up often in the world of social media memes but that's simply not a luxury afforded to some parts of the population. Millions have lost income, millions will no longer have the disposal or extra money previously afforded. So shaming society for shopping at certain retailers because of budgetary limits is not the answer either. I have interviewed businesses in the past which have been open about the fact that they charge more because they don't have the buying power of the big chains. That is a sad reality. As I discussed this topic with a friend today I noted that local businesses will need to evolve and adapt to competing with price points. Perhaps more will need to offer incentives such as resident discount cards which could aid in boosting and creating a local community economy. Short of a complete commerce system revamp the big chains will continue to dominate the space due to household economics.
Getting online, reducing overhead, and being agile to change and technology evolution will be the mark of a thriving business post Covid-19. There is no reason that can not include local merchants. We live in a world in which you can market to literally billions of people if you so choose to, that's a powerful reach. Local businesses will need to tap into that online world locally and start competing with that same convenience - this includes shipping and or delivery. A friend of mine who is a lawyer and is advising business clients through this pandemic recently said; Bold CEO's in times like this, don't sit back in fear." If you are a local business owner take that advice and be boldly innovative. Start preparing for what will without a doubt be a "new normal." What time better than right now as we are currently crossing this bridge as we re-open the economy.