Charla Huber: Turn shopping locally into an experience

When I am shopping, I value a good experience, and I always have. I like a bargain like the rest of us, but I do factor in customer service and overall experience over saving costs.

Recently, I was evaluating my decision-making process when I make a trip to purchase items. The experience weighs heavily on where I choose to go. I am willing to drive farther if I know my shopping experience is going to be better.

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I’ve planned local shopping trips with my daughter to drive to specific businesses and built a day around it. Lately, we’ve enjoyed going to downtown Victoria and like to make a list of specific businesses we wanted to go to.

It’s not just the products or services we are purchasing that draw us back to these businesses. It’s the staff who are friendly, cheerful and offer us some great conversation. After being isolated for so long, we really appreciate a nice conversation with new people.

A few weeks ago, some of the stores we were travelling to were not allowing customers in the store and could only serve us from the doorway. It takes some mighty customer service skills to offer us a memorable experience when we couldn’t even set foot in the door.

During quarantine, we did our fair share of online shopping, but good customer service can’t always be replaced by convenience.

Sometimes I find myself turning to online shopping initially and then realizing that we aren’t in lockdown anymore and it’s nice to get to see a product before purchasing it. It’s nice to ask questions and have an expert on hand who can offer some guidance to help steer me in the right direction for a happy purchase.

A few weeks ago, one store owner was telling me that he was not eligible for any of the government supports during the pandemic. That purchase was an item that had been in my Amazon cart, and I changed my mind and bought it in person. I am glad I did.

Nearly every trip we’ve taken to different areas of Greater Victoria have led us to discovering new businesses and experiences.

During quarantine, a beverage called “Dalgona coffee” went viral on social-media platforms. It’s a foam created from whipping sugar, instant coffee, and boiling water together that is served over cold milk with ice. It’s delicious and fun to make.

On one of our recent trips downtown, we passed by a shop that served this viral beverage. My daughter’s eyes lit up as she saw they had “real Dalgona coffee with boba.” The drinks looked and tasted fantastic, definitely an Instagram moment.

We never would have discovered the Dalgona coffee shop if we hadn’t ventured downtown and this leaves me wondering about all of the undiscovered experiences that are in our city and region. In a summer without travelling, this really is a good time to rediscover what we have right in our community.

After all, we are a tourist destination and people come from all over the world to experience this wonderful place that we all call home.

Local businesses need our support. Some local businesses have been hit really hard with the pandemic and some have already closed. This is a trying time for many businesses and, as a community, we can do what we can to support our local businesses.

Good customer service needs to be tailored to the audience and that may vary from business to business. I know of a maternity shop that used to be open six days a week and now offers only two drop-in days a week, so it can offer private shopping by appointment for its customers because pregnant women and newborn babies are part of a vulnerable population.

Our local businesses, like every other sector right now, need to be creative and find innovative ways of moving forward. We, as consumers, can be understanding and supportive to these businesses as they navigate their way through.

If you see someone going above and beyond when you are receiving a product or service, let them know, and the next time you plan to go visit your favourite shop, bring a friend.

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