Successive lockdowns have significantly increased how much we shop online, but this has undoubtedly had a knock-on effect for many local businesses. As you can imagine, the proponents of shopping local have only gotten louder lately. So should you make the shift? myLIFE looks at both sides of the argument so you can make your own decision.
Although the consensus on shopping local seems pretty unanimous, the actual behaviour observed is not as straightforward. All you need to do is look at the net sales for online retail giant Amazon: up 38% for 2020. And whenever you enter a supermarket, it’s easy to see that the majority of the products available have crossed several countries (sometimes even several continents) to get there. Even local shops can offer products from across the world. In the end, we need to ask ourselves whether we really want to shop local and what this means in practice.
What does it mean to shop local?
There are very different notions of what “shopping local” means. How does buying products from Asia from a little shop down the street compare with driving 15 minutes to buy locally produced food?
Shopping local means first and foremost favouring products grown or manufactured in the region where you live.
Shopping local means first and foremost favouring products grown or manufactured in the region where you live. However, it can also mean visiting local shops rather than large chains, or prioritising services offered by local entrepreneurs rather than going through multinational corporations.
Why shop local?
In general, advocates of shopping local mainly argue in favour of the economic, social, quality and environmental benefits.
From an economic standpoint, shopping local strengthens the economy by pumping cash into local networks and promoting employment. This is particularly welcome in times of crisis for many small businesses and traders who have suffered greatly from the restrictions and lockdowns associated with the pandemic. On the other hand, consuming only local products can strangle competition and innovation, two important elements of a healthy economy.
In terms of price, some argue that local products are cheaper due to fewer intermediaries and lower transportation or packaging costs. This may be true in some cases, but not always. In fact, the opposite is true for many goods and services because there are many other factors involved in determining the price of a good, such as production costs (which themselves include labour costs). This brings us to the social arguments.
From a social point of view, what has been produced locally has necessarily been produced in compliance with local legislation, in terms of workers’ pay and working conditions, for example. Shopping local therefore ensures that you are not indirectly supporting child labour, social dumping or deplorable working conditions. It’s not the only way to make a fair purchase, but it is one way. Visiting small local shops also strengthens social ties within the community. In an age of hyper-individualism where some people no longer chat with their neighbours, local shops are a great meeting place for those who are still interested in community life and who seek to improve the way people live together.
In general, advocates of shopping local mainly argue on the basis of economic, social, quality and environmental benefits.
In addition to the socio-economic arguments, there are also quality and environmental benefits. Are local products better and made from higher-quality raw materials? After all, paying a little more for a product that lasts longer is a good trade-off! Unfortunately, the reality is not quite as black and white. There is no clear correlation between a product’s quality and it being produced locally. For food, however, it seems reasonable to say that local produce is fresher and of better quality than that which has travelled thousands of kilometres. This is true if production and storage conditions comply with health regulations. The only drawback is that the choice of food available is dependent on the season, and certain products need a specific climate in order to flourish. You would have to adapt to a more limited choice of products and learn to eat seasonally.
The final argument is environmental. Local products require less transportation, less packaging, fewer refrigerated storage areas and often produce less waste. While the environmental benefits may seem obvious, the reality is more complex than it appears, and once again we should avoid sweeping generalisations. The energy balance of smaller networks is not always better. As a rule, production factors more heavily in the energy balance than distribution. And even if we only consider the issue of transportation, some networks are so well organised (in the food industry, for example), that energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product may even be lower. This is even more true if we factor in the consumer, who has to make several trips to local shops instead of just one to a superstore.
What are the key takeaways from all this?
There are strong arguments for shopping local, but as we have shown, behind the slogans and buzzwords the reality is much more complex and we must qualify certain benefits and recognise that they are not always valid. So what should you do? It is not for us to answer this question for you. It all depends on your preferences and how much you agree with the various arguments for shopping local.
We would like to remind you that, regardless of your choice, supporting our economy helps sustain a model that many other countries would love to have. Luxembourg is full of high-quality products, delicious food, talented craftsmen and competent and friendly shopkeepers. Our only advice would be to try things first and shop around! You will probably come to the conclusion that buying local is more than justified in many situations, but not in all cases.
Are you looking for a local business and not sure where to search? Visit letzshop.lu, a platform where you can order products from local retailers online quickly and easily.