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OPINION: Think local when it comes to holiday shopping

By Ryan Mallough, Muriel Protzer and Taylor Matchett

Published in the Toronto Sun on November 29, 2019.

It’s just about that time of year again. The air is a little bit colder, pumpkin spice smells have given way to ginger and peppermint and odds are your inbox is full of e-flyers and ads about the latest and greatest in holiday super-sales.

The holiday season is big business for, well, big business. But it is also often make-or-break for small retailers, who are increasingly contending with the big guys right inside their shops thanks to an all-too-prevalent consumer phenomenon: showrooming.

Showrooming is when customers visit a local business to try out an item, or spend time gaining knowledge about how it works, only to turn around and purchase it from a big box store or online competitor.

A recent Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) survey found that 60% of independent retailers have experienced showrooming in their stores, with a third of those saying it’s having a significant impact on their business.

A separate survey CFIB conducted among members of the Angus Reid forum found that 55% of consumers admit to having showroomed, with those aged 18-34 being the most likely culprits.

According to small business owners across Canada, customers are not being subtle about it either.

A home décor retailer in Quebec told us that she regularly sees customers snapping photos of brand names, barcodes and model numbers so they can look them up online later. Some have even asked her directly for the company’s website so they can compare her in-store prices.

In Ontario, several store-owners told us customers go even further; they purchase a product the independent retailers sell from Amazon, and attempt to return it to their stores after finding out it was the wrong size or fit.

You wouldn’t go into a restaurant, get a table, browse the menu, pop into the kitchen for some cooking tips from the chef and then get head over to the grocery store or ring up a personal cook to make the meal for you at home. So why are we doing it at our local stores? 

Small retailers pride themselves on the personal attention, service and experience they provide. It’s what separates them from their corporate competition. When you take advantage of a business’s expertise or try on items only to purchase them online, you’re not just robbing the store of a sale. You’re taking money out of your own community.

Small retailers contribute locally in big ways. Four out of five live in the communities they operate in. They provide young people with their first jobs, employ people in the community, sponsor the local hockey leagues and give their time and money to local charities and causes.

When there’s a park that needs a new bench or a school trip that needs fundraising, small business owners are among the first with their hands up. Every dollar you spend at a local business helps them do that.

Everybody price shops. In fact, 83% of consumers indicated cost was most important when shopping, beating out product quality (76%) and customer service (57%); but showrooming takes it a step further, and a step too far.

It’s hard to think of “main street” without the shops that line it. Choosing to shop local helps keep small businesses in our neighbourhoods.

This holiday shopping season, ditch digital, stay local and shop your neighbourhood.

Ryan Mallough is a director of provincial affairs for Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Muriel Protzer is a policy analyst at CFIB. Taylor Matchett is a research analyst at CFIB.

November 29, 2019

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