OPINION: Shopping Local vs. Shopping Online – Where Local Retailers Should Look

Sears at the Cape Cod Mall. Sears has announced they will shut this store on 12/9/18. CapeCod.com Photo. Click to enlarge.

Sears will close permanently on the Cape in December, ending its run in the Cape Cod Mall that has lasted decades. It can hardly be a surprise, based on how the Sears Holding Corp. has performed over the last five to seven years.
Regardless, it is always a sad day when any brick and mortar shuts its doors.

Toys R’ Us before it shut its doors earlier this year. CapeCod.com photo. Click to Enlarge.

Unfortunately, like many other parts of the country, store closings are not just happening to us here on the Cape. Big box stores are failing nationwide. First, it was Sports Authority, followed by Toys R’ Us/Babies R’ Us and, now, Sears – all behemoths that have failed within the last three or so years.

Sports Authority before it closed it’s doors. CapeCod.com Photo. Click to Enlarge.

We’ve seen many local businesses give it a run, only to find out that it won’t work, while others are here to stay. (Of course, the news isn’t all bad for large brick and mortars, as a small-format Target will open up in the place of Sears sometime in the coming years.)

Why are these stores failing? Why are people no longer shopping at retailers as much as they once did? Why are people supporting the Amazon’s of the world versus the mom and pops? Are retailers just not adapting?

This is all Amazon’s fault, right? Two-day shipping, movies streamed, photo storage, Alexa devices – what else am I missing?

The answer is not as clear as many people may think. Is Amazon having a huge impact? Sure. Are they the only factor? No.

After reading countless articles at both the local level here on the Cape and beyond, my perspective is that it comes down to three key areas here:

  • Affordable Housing
  • Price
  • Convenience

Here on the Cape, we know there is a lack of affordable housing. It’s a serious problem that doesn’t seem to get any better as the years pass. Earlier this month, we’ve seen the average median sale value of a Cape home reach $387,000. Let’s break that down and assume that you buy a home without a down payment. You’re looking at a nearly $2,000 mortgage payment that doesn’t include PMI, real estate insurance and tax. If you couple that with low average salaries on the Cape, it’s a recipe for a tough retail environment. It doesn’t leave much discretionary income to spend at your local retail stores.

This then rolls over into the cost of the products themselves. Generally speaking, items online are less expensive, as the overhead costs and bulk pricing that the online giants receive are much better than what local stores end up with. Why would you spend $10 on an item when you get it for $5 online? When you are on a tight budget, it is evident which one you’re going to choose.

This is the most common stance I’ve seen about Amazon and others. However, I know that it isn’t always the case. It’s not always cheaper to shop on Amazon.

I recently put this to the test, shopping around for, of all things, garbage bags and paper towels – items that everyone uses.

The garbage bags I was looking at cost $22 locally, whereas online from the big giants they were $12 to $14. Conversely, the paper towels online were $28 versus $18 to 20 locally.

For those people that make the assumption that buying online is always less expensive, always do your homework and know that your local source might actually be your cheaper source. (It may not only cheaper, but you’ll also be keeping more of your money circulating in the Cape’s economy, versus Jeff Bezos’ pocket!)

The third, and most crucial area from my perspective is convenience. This, to me, is exactly where Amazon, Wal-Mart and other large e-commerce sources really make it difficult on local mom and pops. After a long day of work, do you really want to head back out to the store and buy that air filter you needed? What about that box of Clorox wipes that your kitchen desperately needs?

Instead, you click your mouse twice and it’s at your house within 48 hours. It’s tough to compete with that.

If local retailers are to thrive, this is an area that needs to be explored: online ordering at the local level with local delivery. If prices can be comparable to slightly higher to larger e-commerce stores and local can become convenient, I firmly believe that local businesses can actually have the upper hand, versus the likes of Amazon and others. This is a challenge too, of course, as finding employees in this economy is tough on Cape employers.

One thing is clear – it’s not easy being a retailer these days.

By Brian Barth

737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
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