Is ‘Buy Local’ fatigue setting in?

Sources: Instagram/@m2chicago; Instagram/@merryslongbeach
Jun 23, 2021

The “Save my business!” plea that helped many local stores and restaurants salvage sales in the early months of the pandemic is losing relevance as the economy and job market recovers, according to a survey of Canadians from the market research firm Leger Marketing.

“Recruiting is not easy right now,” said Leger EVP Christian Bourque in a webinar. “So, this argument of ‘Do it to save jobs, be a good citizen,’ I think it will disappear quite quickly.”

Moreover, the survey of just over 4,000 Canadians conducted from April found 30 percent admit to “getting fed up of hearing about buying local.” More worrisome, the support-local fatigue figure is “much higher” among 18-to-34 year olds, the coveted Gen Z and Millennial-age targets.

Local establishments need to provide more substantive reasons for shopping local, according to the study authors, including stocking fresher product and controlling the whole process to ensure maximum quality. Reducing your carbon footprint would also be a sustainable benefit.

“We need to provide the right reasons to buy local because just to save the local economy … will not suffice as we come out of the pandemic,” said Mr. Bourque.

The survey did find 73 percent indicate they make a conscious effort to choose a local option. Keith Barry, VP strategy at creative agency lg2, which collaborated on the study, said, “How we’re looking at it is that local will become less of a primary purchase decision and more something that, all things being equal, might sway consumers one way or the other.”

One hurdle facing buying local is that 77 percent claim it is sometimes difficult to find local products in stores.

A survey of 1,500 Americans taken last December commissioned by Intuit as the first vaccines began rolling out found the top reason to shop local was to keep money in the community, cited by 57 percent; followed by connecting with community and supporting local creators, each at 38 percent; having better service, 28 percent; and helping local non-profits, 19 percent.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Have local retailers begun to lose much of their pandemic-related support and goodwill? What messages should local retailers and restaurants be sending at this stage of the pandemic’s recovery?

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"Buy Local is a great slogan, but it’s meaningless unless those businesses are actually competitive in their own right."

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14 Comments on "Is ‘Buy Local’ fatigue setting in?"

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Jeff Weidauer

Local business has to provide a real and relevant point of difference in order to keep customers coming back. Buy Local is a great slogan, but it’s meaningless unless those businesses are actually competitive in their own right.

Dave Wendland

The return to “normal” will certainly put pressure on small, locally-owned retailers, however I don’t expect the momentum created during the pandemic to completely subside. Their strong community connection and thoughtfully-curated product assortment will continue to attract shoppers. I believe the key lies in three areas: 1.) effective storytelling, 2.) consistency of service, and 3.) the extras that are generally only available from small, local shops.

Gary Sankary

Local, organic, minority owned — all of these are noble reasons to make a product selection. Caveat: this is true *the first time* you purchase something. After that, the decision should go back to being based on value, quality and availability, etc. The goal of promoting these products is to give them a leg up in a market that in many cases is very difficult to break into, and where the playing field is somewhat less than level.

Once the products are out there and consumer are informed about the assortment, i.e. they tried the new beer from the local brewery, then these other attributes lose relevance, as they should, and hopefully they’re competing in a “fairer” marketplace.

Craft beers are a great example of this idea. The initial introduction of a new microbrewery may be a “new” and “local” message, keeping beer on tap and in stores is a quality and taste issue. That’s how I believe retailers and restaurants need to think of these products.

Lisa Goller

Lockdowns transformed “Buy Local” from niche community altruism to a pervasive retail necessity.

Now that more of us are double-vaxxed, we want to escape our overly-familiar neighborhoods. While we welcome the burst of color and energy of local outdoor patios and shops, we feverishly seek to move on.

To revive local love, businesses can accentuate their trusted relationships, unique experiences and assortments, and time savings of skipping a commute. Loyalty incentives are another gesture that could inspire locals to keep coming back.

Bob Phibbs

I’ve never liked this slogan. In many cases when I visit stores brandishing such posters on their front doors it is like, “Buy Local and put up with our rotten service and poor merchandising skills.” Customers want to shop local, but retailers have to meet us more than half way.

Georganne Bender

I don’t believe that local stores have lost the support and goodwill that grew during the pandemic. Indie retailers who work hard to fill the needs of their community, and who have earned that goodwill, will do well.

That being said, there are still local merchants who are coasting, demanding to be shopped solely because they are locally owned. Those retailers hung on through the pandemic but didn’t learn anything. They went right back to business as usual. That’s no longer acceptable because consumers expect more, particularly from independently-owned local businesses. The passes given to chains for poor service are not enjoyed by indies. It’s not fair but that’s the way it is.

Phil Rubin
Phil Rubin
Founder, Grey Space Matters
1 year 9 months ago

Buying local, like buying from chains, is a function of the customer experience and merchandise rather than local for simply the sake of local. I’ll shop local at a Sid Mashburn but not at a Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s for that very reason.

Scott Norris

Sliding the Twin Cities’ refrain of “I want my Dayton’s back!” right in here….

1 year 9 months ago
Locality, locality, locality. As such, buying local means different things in different places. If one lives in an actual neighborhood with a definable hub — and quite distinctive from, say, a CBD “downtown” where all the big stores are — then, yes, it is quite important to keep as many dollars spent within those confines. That is, if one really wants to keep that center going and defineably unique. However if you live in the ‘burbs and shopping is already about you driving for things, or if you transact mostly online, your motivation will automatically default to what is most convenient and cheapest. Human nature is as human nature does. Meanwhile, if you’re civic-minded and area-conscious, as opposed to not being so (is that bad? maybe so), you’ll hope for as many of your neighbors feeling the same. Otherwise, if not enough people feel it’s needed to secure the vitality and specialness of their enclaves, they will assuredly end up little satellites for smaller versions of chain stores. (And those will end up meaningless, as… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar

“Buy local” is a campaign geared to raise awareness of local and small business-owned retailers. Once the consumer is made aware, it’s up to those businesses to seal the deal and sell! That means they have to meet the same consumer expectations that larger, national brands are executing on. Those that do this well will continue to reap the benefits of “Buy Local.” This requires investing in both tech and people to deliver on those consumer expectations. Buy local is great at creating that initial awareness for the consumer, but local retailers need to add their own communications to the Buy Local theme to highlight what makes them special so consumers will keep coming back to them.

James Tenser
The intent of “buy local” is laudable, but its execution often leaves much to be desired. It’s not enough to appeal to the sympathies of shoppers and diners to drive sales. Independent operators must stay competitive and differentiate with relevant merchandising and personal service. Not to mention competitive prices. None of this is easy, of course. Simply hiring trustworthy sales associates can be a frustrating challenge, as we have addressed here several times. The other facet of “buy local” is the purchase of products that are sourced from the local economy. These may be stocked in chain stores that allow area managers some merchandising discretion, or by locally owned merchants. Some of these products may command sweeter margins compared with “national” brands, but boutique producers can struggle to maintain reliable levels of supply. I believe shoppers with a degree of discretion in their household budgets are still likely to look favorably upon local products and independent shops where they are available and of good quality. This has only a little to do with the COVID… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom

How much did they really have in the first place? And what is “local” anyway … does the local franchisee count?

I think as the economy returns to “normal,” so will the rules … one of which was “local is nice, but its just one of many things people look at when they shop/buy” and while it’s long been an issue, the strain the pandemic placed on those with limited resources — which is frequently a description of local businesses — has probably made the situation worse than ever.

So for those who place a high priority on this issue, now is not the time to relax!

Kenneth Leung

Shopping local means different things to different people. Amazon and delivery services have desensitized in person shopping experiences and going out to shop in the past year. The ability to shop in local stores within walking distance for those who lived near them I think is more valued, but only if the customer service and assortment is there.

I think shoppers are willing to pay a little more for local small retail, but the local shops need to step their game up in terms of in person service and unique assortment to hold on the shoppers, cause Amazon and delivery services is still there.

Brandon Rael

It was encouraging and heartwarming to see the Buy Local momentum and support during the heart of the pandemic. While many communities were in quarantine mode, the safety and comfort of shopping local came at the right time. This also helped to sustain and enable these local stores through all the financial challenges of the pandemic.

However with the economy and our way of life opening up again, customers could choose from plenty of other options. Now is not the time for local stores to lower their levels of customer service, merchandising strategies, unique product offerings, and retain that crucial connection to the local communities.

The shop local model and indie retail sector are built on trust, relationships, and a sense of community. These, along with competitive pricing, intriguing assortments, and outstanding services, will keep the customers coming back for more.

"Buy Local is a great slogan, but it’s meaningless unless those businesses are actually competitive in their own right."

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