Seduced by online bargains

Hello, internet shopping, you sexy thing. You’re so seductively cheap. You tantalize me with your low slung prices. Then you strip down your shipping fees and I’m hooked.

I’m going to click on your bargains. First though, I’ll head into town. I don’t like buying blind so I’ll try some stuff on for size, browse around, ask questions, get advice from the retailers.

It’s handy of the local businesses to pay their overheads just so I can make sure my internet shoes fit.

I needed a new backpack, one of those fancy light weight ones for this off road run I was planning. It took me a few weeks to make up my mind. I visited different stores, talked to a lot of helpful people, played around with the competing brands.

Eventually I figured out which backpack I wanted. Then I went home and looked it up on the web. Helloooo bargain!

But something didn’t feel quite right, almost like I was cheating. Which is weird, because I’m not obliged to buy from any particular store. Am I? This was an important purchase. It’s not rude or wrong to shop around. It’s expected. Bargain hunting is the way of the world.

Online shopping changes the playing field. How can the local guy compete against those mighty storehouses of the world wide web? It must be tough. The bad breath of a recession still fouls the air and we can now buy anything we want sitting in our pyjamas.

My wife came home from Auckland with a book she’d bought at my favourite little bookshop in Mount Eden. On their paper bag packaging it reads, “Here’s what you just did: You kept money in the local economy; You embraced what makes us unique; You created local jobs.”

I’m entitled to hunt down that killer deal, but plugging in to the web doesn’t divorce me from the community. My behaviour contributes to the wellbeing – or otherwise – of this place I choose to live.

I’ve decided that I want to achieve three things as a consumer. One is to get the best price. Obviously. Another is that I want to support the local economy whenever I can. The third thing is integrity – my own. I want to be able to look retailers in the eye without being devious about my secret shopping plans.

Am I a naïve sucker to think those aspirations all fit in the same shopping cart?

I went back to the outdoors shop and said, “This is the backpack I’ve chosen; I want to buy it from your store because you’ve been really helpful. My problem is that I can get it so much cheaper online.”

They were very gracious and made me a deal. In the end I spent a little bit more than I would have online, but it felt like a win for everyone.

More gratitude as expressed on the back of a bookshop paper bag: “You took advantage of our expertise. You invested in entrepreneurship. You made us a destination.”

You’ll never get the kind of personal service from a website that you can get at a down town shoe shop or toy store. We shouldn’t take our locals for granted. At the very least, it’s pretty rude to use them as free consultants for stuff you plan to buy online.

The world is changing. The challenge for shops is how to land most of that change in their tills. I don’t know how they do that. I’m not a business guru; I’m just a guy who wants to live in a vibrant community.

For my part, I’m willing to buy the retailers a bit more time by buying their shoes now and then.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 24 May 2013. Reproduced with permission.