Thursday, November 3, 2011

Online or Bricks and Mortar?

I recently read a blog post by Jan Heine the editor of Bicycle Quarterly, about the disappearance of Independent bookstores due in large part to He noted that an internet query for bicycle components may also lead to This got me thinking about my own experiences shopping online and at local stores. 

I am a big user of the internet, I like the convenience of looking up just about anything online and sometimes the savings that can be found when shopping online. I'm certainly not rich and must live within my means so saving money is an important factor when deciding where and what I buy. On the other hand there are some shopped for items that have to be looked at, touched and tried in the 3 dimensional world. 

When it comes to buying bicycle components and gear I try to use my local bike shop. I know they work hard in a business they love, but they're not getting rich while doing it. Sometimes they have what I want in stock, other times they have to order it. I work for a small business so I completely understand that you can't carry everything, and if your business is somewhat seasonal you have to keep an even closer eye on your overhead and cash flow. 

Some might use a local shop to try an item then go home and see where they can buy it the cheapest. Others just use the internet for the convenience of not having to physically make a trip to the store. Both methods put the individual shopper before their community. If we don't patronize local businesses, particularly independent ones they won't survive and the jobs and tax dollars that they provide will be gone.

For every $100 spent in a local independent brick and mortar business at least $68 goes back into the local economy. Spend $100 at a big box or chain store and only $43 returns to the local economy. Spend $100 online and the local community sees none of it unless they are located in your area.[1]

If I was wealthy I would just shop at my favorite independent stores without price shopping. I would consider it my civic duty to perhaps pay a little more knowing the benefits to the local economy as well as the individual business.

Here's how I manage my budget restraints and try to support my local independent businesses; I get an idea of how much an item costs via the internet then I go to the shop and see if they have the item in stock at a similar price. If the shops price is the same or just a few dollars more I happily buy it there. I weigh in the shipping cost and the instant gratification of having the item in my hands right then and there. Sometimes they don't have what I am looking for, but they are always willing to order it. In which case I use the same criteria to make my decision. Of course small items that are not that expensive I just purchase locally and when it comes to cycling specific clothing I always shop local because I need to check the fit. You don't save any money if you have to pay for return shipping. 

I hope this gives everyone some food for thought and perhaps the next time you need to shop for a bicycle related item or something else you will consider your local independent business. Without them our main streets will become homogenized with one chain store or franchise after another.

1. Civic Economics 2008 study, Chicago IL

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