I’m going to be a little controversial here and say that so-called “buy local” campaigns are, well… they’re conceited.

The conceit behind these campaigns is that, you, the consumer, have some kind of moral obligation to spend your hard-earned with a particular business by virtue of geography.

Never mind the fact that you could potentially source the same product or service elsewhere for a fraction of the cost and with a far greater level of service.

I need to point out here that nobody is more passionate about southwest Victoria than me. I choose to live and raise my family here. I choose to do business here. And as a business operator, my fortunes are inextricably linked with yours.

For the most part, I do think our local business operators provide a great experience for local shoppers.

But I look around at the increasing numbers of empty shopfronts in our regional towns with despair.

I read angry letters to the editor from indignant retailers threatening locals that they will be responsible for the loss of local jobs and I shake my head at their stubborn conceit.

Just because we share the same post card does not mean I am obligated to buy from you!

What are YOU doing to earn custom? What are you doing to create a great customer experience that sets you apart from the plethora of cheap online retailers?

Here’s what you are up against:

  • Online retailers have vast economies of scale – you probably won’t ever be able to compete with them on price.
  • Online retailers have a global marketplace. That equals many, many more potential customers than your bricks and mortar presence.
  • Online shopping is convenient for those of us who are too busy to get in the car and visit an actual shop.

But, here’s just some of what you have going for you:

  • You are an actual person. Lots of people prefer to deal with real people.
  • You have opportunity to create a fantastic experience for your customers – the kind of experience they will tell their friends about. That experience needs could involve the senses, including sight, smell, touch and perhaps even taste!
  • You offer something the big mass produced outfits don’t – you have personality. People love the quirky, the different, the unusual.
  • You have a physical presence, so you can be highly visible in your community.
  • You know your customers, because you’ve personally met them! You know what they like, what they don’t like, what the local trends and customs are. So you can tailor your offerings to suit.
  • You care. You genuinely care about your customers. You’re not a faceless, nameless computer.
  • You can make people feel good not only about their purchases, but about themselves.
  • And there’s nothing stopping you from entering the online world yourself, you know!

So here are just a few ideas to inspire our retailers to win back the love of locals.

  • Fashion retailers – what if you offered a personal shopping service? The kind of service where I could come in with my wallet and ask you to select the outfits that will best suit me!
  • If it doesn’t fit, let me get a refund or exchange the garment, no questions asked.
  •  Package my purchases beautifully – the smallest flourish will make me feel special.
  • If I’m a regular at your store, slip a small gift in with my purchase. It doesn’t need to be expensive. I’ll tell all my friends about your magnanimousness!
  • If I’m undecided, or don’t have the right credit card with me, hold the item for me. Don’t, as a local computer retailer recently did, tell me you can’t hold the item because it’s almost Christmas and you could probably sell it a dozen times by the time I return. True story!! (Can you guess where I bought my computer in the end?)
  • Start to pre-empt my purchases. Remember how I like my coffee. Know that I love that particular brand.
  • Develop a loyalty program for me and for all your other customers. If it’s a good program that offers me genuine value, I’ll keep coming back.
  • Ensure your store is visually appealing. No messy piles of boxes, or paperwork strewn across the counter.
  • Concentrate on creating a wonderful experience for me – the kind of experience that begins the moment I first come into contact with your business. And the kind of experience that I’ll want to tell my friends about.
  • Value add wherever you can. If you’re a hairdresser, give me a gorgeous neck and shoulder massage. If I’m buying my kids’ shoes from you, throw in a free pair of socks! If you’re a cheese-maker, give me a free sample. Because I do love cheese!
  • Call me after the sale to check that I’m happy with my purchase. If I’m not, be ready with a solution that will leave me smiling.
  • Tell me your story – as a person, I love to know I’m dealing with people. And I also would love to have confidence in your skills and capabilities in your particular profession. (Your website is a great place to do this.)
  • Contact me to tell me about sales or other special offers that you have.
  • Provide me with information or advice that I genuinely value. If you’re a jeweller, tell me about different stones and how I can recognise quality. If you’re a fashion retailer, tell me about current trends and how to wear certain garments. If you’re an accountant, tell me about changes to taxation law that might affect me. If you’re a restaurant, tell me what’s in season right now. You get the gist!
  • Make me feel a part of something. As a human being, I want to belong to a tribe.
  • Be prompt. I live in a fast-paced world where delayed gratification isn’t likely to be my strong suit.
  • Remember my name.

It’s a changing world and online shopping isn’t about to go away. The way I see it, we all need to adapt and move with the changing times.

And I don’t support ‘buy local’ campaigns because, if we do it right, there won’t be any need for them.