The next time you decide to save a few bucks on a purchase by buying online, take a moment to remember the people — perhaps your neighbours — who used to work at the Best Buy stores on the Island.
Last Thursday morning, staff at the three Best Buy locations, along with 900 workers at 12 other Best Buy and Future Shop stores across the country, came to work to find the doors papered over and managers waiting to hand out severance packages.
The electronics retailer, like many others, is suffering from the competition of online shopping. It is revamping its operations to meet the challenge, but it will be tough for any store that relies on large staffs and showrooms to compete with an outfit that just needs a few computer servers and a warehouse. The competitive landscape is made tougher by the growth of Walmart and the imminent appearance of Target stores.
To make matters worse, the brick-and-mortar stores suffer from “showrooming,” where shoppers check out the products in the store, pick the brains of the staff and then go home to buy the goods online. It hurts to be the showroom for your competitors.
Part of the transformation of Best Buy and Future Shop includes replacing big stores with smaller ones that will focus more on smartphones and tablets, and will be more like Internet portals.
A study last year by Boston Consulting Group said Canadian online shopping reached $27 billion in 2010 and could rise to $51 billion by 2016. Although that is only a fraction of the country’s $454 billion in retail sales in 2011, its growth is dramatic.
The Internet has wrought changes in our society and economy that seemed almost inconceivable 15 or 20 years ago, and the transformation of industries such as music, television, book publishing and newspapers is probably unstoppable. But when it comes to online shopping, it is worth taking a moment to think about the cost to local business, local communities and local people.
When you shop at a locally owned store, much of your dollar stays here. Even at a local outlet of a national chain like Best Buy, wages, maintenance costs, taxes and other expenditures stay in your community.
An American initiative called the 3/50 Project estimates that for every $100 spent at locally owned, independent stores, about $68 comes back to the community in wages, taxes and other expenditures. The same $100 spent at a national chain puts $43 into the local economy. Shopping online puts back nothing.
Less-tangible benefits also flow from shopping at a local store. Community connections are stronger because you deal in person with local people. Young people who are beginning in the job market often start out in retail, so Victoria’s 21,000 sales jobs give them a chance to stay here. If you have a complaint or a suggestion, you can look a real person in the eye when you make it. And you don’t have to wait for your purchase to arrive from far away.
There’s no denying the attraction of lower prices, especially when times are hard. However, when you spend money here, you’re not only making a purchase, you’re investing in your community.
© Copyright 2013