If Guilt Is The Best You Have To Offer A Customer, You Probably Don’t Have That Much To Offer A Customer

December 5, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at Mises Institute on December 4, 2017.”

When I walk into Walmart I know I will be able to get a wide selection of products, I will be able to get them cheap, and I will be able to get them with very little customer support or hassle. When I want that, it feels great.. Fast, simple, cheap.

There is no guilt campaign from Walmart. There is no appeal to me about how bad of a person I am if I don’t shop at Walmart. There are no protestors outside my houses or outside other stores convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Walmart. When I step foot in a Walmart, I go there because that is exactly what I want. I go there because they are better than anyone else at providing for me as a consumer in the ways that Walmart is so proficient in providing for me.

When I shop at Amazon.com, I get a wide selection of goods, at a cheap price with both the ease and occasional difficulty that comes with shopping online. They do that better than anyone else. When I want that, it feels great to turn to Amazon and get that, and to get it exactly as I expected, and to, often enough, be surprised by an experience that is even better than what I expected..

There is no guilt campaign from Amazon, there are no protestors outside my houses convincing me it is bad to shop anywhere but Amazon. There are no online ads pointing out how immoral it is of me to shop anywhere that isn’t Amazon. I use Amazon because Amazon is exactly what I want at that moment.

This is in sharp contrast with the average “mom and pop” shops.

When I step foot into a local shop, all too often, I find nothing remotely of value to me. It is an unpleasant experience with an unhelpful, or sometimes even rude and unknowledgeable salesperson.

I don’t feel like I’m contributing to my community by shopping in such places. To the contrary, I hope most low value shops like that go out of business. The sooner they go out of business the better. By even being in existence they take up valuable real estate that can be used by others seeking to innovate the local space, to provide a better consumer experience, and to develop a better use for that local space.

Not only do I not feel guilty for not patronizing these mediocre local businesses, it makes me sad that they even exist. They are partially propped up by the guilt movement that encourages consumers to disregard all other benefits in favor of having the opportunity to shop locally, a movement I find misguided at best, more often ill-informed, and often enough willfully ignorant and therefore blatantly deceitful. The moral thing is to help bad local businesses go under by not patronizing them, and therefore helping to clean out that detritus that takes up valuable local brick and mortar space.

Confusing charity with shopping, confusing philanthropic activity with consumer activity benefits no one but the mediocre shop owner.

Shopping locally generally offers me only one added value – immediacy. I like shopping locally because it is nice to have an item that I want in my hand before I buy it so that I can look it over. It feels nice to have it in my hand ten minutes after I decide that I want it. Soon that will barely be an added value. With Amazon’s same day delivery, it is already barely more immediate to shop for most things locally. If one can restrain oneself for an hour or two and not have truly immediate gratification, then Amazon, all things considered provides a far more valuable shopping experience to me than a local mom and pop on virtually all products. Also, while a minor added value, it is visually appealing to have an active business district. I am sure I can rather quickly adapt to a business district concept that looks different than what I am used to.

When I happen to sit down at a friend’s or relative’s home where the television is on, especially at this holiday time of year, I hear public service announcements about how important it is to shop locally. I sometimes hear as many as one or two segments on each news broadcast that interject how important it is to shop locally.

This is practically mindless – this “shop locally” pronouncement. Guilt about not shopping locally and feeling good about the idea of shopping locally is practically the only value proposition offered by local stores. Instead the pronouncement should be “shop at good shops,” or “shop at shops that give you what you want and how you want it.”

In some places – and the places are thankfully becoming more common – walking into a local store truly is brilliant. The reason some locales have such high quality stores, is precisely because some people were so unwilling to shop locally.

Because competition has upped the level of difficulty required to run a store, and driven so many bad stores out of business, we are left with increasingly better stores that are increasingly customer focused. For a consumer, that is a great shift in local businesses. Businesses that don’t provide more local value than the guilt of “shop local” are becoming less common.

This is sadly not happening as quickly as it could. People stuck in an ideology, as thoughtless as any other ideology, profess that “buy local” is some sort of unchallengeable axiom, a fundamental, impossible to further elucidate truth that all people must profess and live by or otherwise are subject to moral condemnation.

Even in places like the bougie neighborhoods of Brooklyn that ideological attitude proliferates, along with its accompanying misguided moralism, rather than a constant pursuit of higher quality and higher customer satisfaction that pervades the free market and has led to so much development in quality of life over the past several hundred years of the industrial revolution.

In bougie neighborhoods of Brooklyn, how often I find myself noticing that every little boutique has 80% of the same crap as every other little boutique and with a 100% markup of what I could buy it for online, direct from the manufacturer, with free two day shipping. There is no value added in such a situation. It’s annoying to be a consumer in the midst of such mindlessness.. It’s annoying to see so many intelligent people willingly turn over their thought process to an ideology, even if it is something so seemingly insignificant as “buy local.”

While it may seem insignificant, since I care so much about where I live, it can be quite the impactful ideology to be surrounded by and with detrimental results.

I’d prefer that society start saying “stop shopping locally.” The competition is good for local stores – they have to be the best possible thing, the most desired thing to even survive in such an environment. I hate shopping locally most of the time, because most of the time shopping locally is a low value experience at a higher cost and less convenient.

When they are what I am looking for, I really like Amazon and big box stores like Walmart, and I resent that city governments across the US refuse to allow big box stores to exist within their city limits, making them all the harder to get to. That, in itself, is another “tax” on life in some big cities in America – you don’t get the savings of big box stores because you can’t shop at them and you don’t get the competitive environment they create among all businesses by you being able to shop at them when you desire.

Walmart has made the world a better place for consumers, as has Amazon. My money is better used by their existence in the world, my time is better used, and I’m more of a valued customer because of their existence in the world. Because I have more money, I can do more of what I most care about with my money.

The Walmart and the Amazons of the world came into the bush leagues and upped the competition to major league level. Of this, I am entirely grateful, and though I really like these companies and companies like them, I also look forward to the next generation of companies that squeeze the Walmarts and the Amazons of the world and perhaps even put them out of business. Of course the established entities in a place had the new destabilizing competition.. It’s great for the consumer.

I will feel no guilt at such a moment. Guilt does not bring me value as a consumer and it is of limited value to me as a person. I will focus on feeling good about the benefits of what life offers.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: Mises.org

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