Is it enough to say just shop local?
With retailers in many regional centres and country towns feeling the pinch, the finger is often pointed at online shopping. There is no denying that more and more of us are choosing to search online for a bargain or just for the convenience, but what can be done about it?
At Wednesday’s funding announcement for the CBD rejuvenation project, Orange City Council Deputy Mayor Joanne McRae put out a challenge to the community to help make our city a vibrant shopping centre by choosing to shop local.
“Online shopping is a big challenge to our traditional retail process, we need to think as locals, we need to shop local first,” said Cr McRae.
“If we want to have a fantastic CBD filled with shops, filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, we need to make sure we use them — so shop local first.”
But will simply pushing the message to ‘shop local’ really stop people reaching for their phones and credit cards when they want to make a purchase?
Orange Business Chamber President Ash Brown said technology is changing how we shop and businesses are simply going to have to adapt if they are to survive.
“In any industry there are always disruptions and you can either ignore them or try and adjust the way you do things to make your business a better or more competitive business in the environment that you are in,” said Mr. Brown.
“We know that more and more people are shopping online, and we can't stop that, it is like stopping the tide coming in, what we've got to do is try and find better ways and smarter ways to adjust to those retail conditions.”
Mr. Brown said there are great examples of businesses that have adjusted to compete with online retailers, either by moving online themselves or by offering products and experiences that are unique.
“Each business and each industry have their own challenges, and some will succeed, some will try and probably not succeed, but everyone has to face the challenges of change,” Mr. Brown said.
“It is important for people to shop local, but they've also got to think of the convenience for the shopper and the experience of the shopper… as I said, the tide is coming in and there's got to be other ways to think about how you can make your business better.”
Clearly, and in my experience, both Joanne and Ash are only focusing on the minor ends of the problem. There’s only one way to bolster sales for local businesses, and that is to generate more customers to replace those who have drifted to shop online or in some other place. You’ll never change those people’s habits, but you can replace them from a different pool of potential customers. Identify where that pool is to be found and then “market” them by giving them reasons and incentive to do business or shop in Orange and you’ll go a long way to keeping our local businesses in business, and providing jobs etc. Let’s get a conversation going among people who genuinely know what they’re doing, and we might discover the solution is different to what is generally being touted.