By Simon Rose
Ever since large chain stores began to appear decades ago, there’s always been talk of how these locations harm and eventually destroy small local businesses. We first saw this with the launch of department stores. Then came the advent of large grocery stores or supermarkets. People used to have to visit the butcher, the bakery, the greengrocer, and other individual stores that sold specific goods, but then things changed. Suddenly, people could buy most items all in one place, and all at the same time.
At first, the big grocery stores only sold food and a selection of things for the home, such as cleaning supplies or personal care products, but in recent decades they’ve branched into everything from electronics, clothing, pharmacy services, and so on. As a result, it’s been very challenging for the small local stores to compete, to match the larger store’s pricing, and to ultimately even survive, for a long time now.
This trend has accelerated with the growth of the pandemic and the growth of online shopping. Online shopping and home delivery is no longer just within the realm of companies like Amazon, which sells and delivers such a large variety of products. It’s now the norm for large chain stores of all kinds, to offer online shopping and delivery. Even grocery stores have had to get in on the act to keep up. Most restaurants remain the same with their offerings of delivery menu selections, whether they’re small independent operations or large companies with multiple locations.
During lockdowns and faced with restrictions placed onto our daily lives, the trend isn’t surprising. With so many of us confined to our homes, the trend isn’t surprising. Staff shortages have also often led to a decline in customer service, which encouraged people to exercise the option to deal with others less frequently, as in-person shopping became a less pleasant experience. Sure, online shopping and all that it entails has a lot of advantages and is very appealing. Yet we still hear people saying we should support local business, especially as so many have gone under as a result of the challenges and economic turmoil faced throughout the pandemic.
And yet, the same people that are so vocal about the need to keep local firms afloat are the same ones that are have perhaps become addicted, or at least overly dependent on the online world. We can’t spend so much time supporting its expansion and still bemoan the fact that small local companies, the ones who are trying to compete with the larger chains, are vanishing, and will never come back.
Restrictions remain in place and things have a tendency to change with little warning, depending on the healthcare situation. Whatever happens this month, it seems likely that more and more people are going to take advantage of online options in December, the busiest time of the year. It’s convenient, easy, and avoids us having to be in busy shopping malls or similar places.
However, the fact remains that those people declaring that small local companies deserve our help are also often the very ones driving the ever-increasing growth of online shopping. And that’s destroying local businesses, which have always struggled to compete with larger stores anyway. Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways. If we want our local stores and service providers to survive, it really is a case of use it or lose it.