Advice for Retailers

Why Do Customers Buy Local?

Written by Chris Martin for Gaebler Ventures

The "buy local" movement encourages consumers to support the local businesses in their communities instead of patronizing national chain establishments. How can an entrepreneur leverage the buy-local sentiment and convert it into new customers for his or her business?

We've all heard about the "buy local" movement.

It basically urges consumers to support their communities by patronizing businesses that are based where they live – instead of giving their money to a national conglomerate or chain. If you're a small business owner, then the "buy local" concept may be music to your ears.

But are customers really putting their money where their mouths are?

Studies seem to suggest that they are. Synovate eNation, a market research firm, partnered with Webvisible to survey one thousand people about their buying habits. One of the questions posed was, "What makes you choose to patronize a small, local, independent business over a larger chain?"

Some of the peripheral results:

  • Only about 1 in 6 said they don't frequent smaller businesses instead of larger chain establishments.
  • About a quarter said they preferred the lower prices offered at smaller businesses.
  • Almost one third said that the quality they receive at smaller businesses is higher than that found at the bigger chains.

None of these statements represents any groundbreaking assertions. After all, if you offer higher quality and/or lower prices than your competition, you're liable to win more customers – whether you're big or small.

However, the most popular responses did shed some light on the buy-local phenomenon. The top three answers to the above question were:

  • Community Support 
  • Convenience
  • Personal Service

So as a local business owner who is trying to compete with national or global rivals (and their huge budgets and vast resources), how can you leverage the buy-local tendencies of the customers in your area?

Let's start with answer #1: Community Support. It's great that you are based in the community – but do your patrons know that? Just because you aren't a nationwide retailer doesn't mean that people will view you as a community member.

So you have to be proactive in touting your community ties. Don't just put a one-sentence mention on your business card ("serving the X community for over Y years!"). Talk up exactly what makes you an integral part of the neighborhood. You can also partner with other local businesses and launch some buy-local promotions. Or arrange a public gathering or town hall meeting to discuss how buying local helps everyone in your area.

How about #2: Convenience? Sure, you may have a storefront in the center of town or right on the main drag. But is your place of business truly convenient?

Does it only have a few parking spaces nearby? Are you in a constant battle for shared spaces with a larger retailer? Is it almost impossible to get to at certain times of the day from a certain direction because of traffic? Are the hours of operation suited to when customers actually frequent your business? Do you keep your doors open on weekends?

These are all factors which influence whether a customer thinks that patronizing your business is actually convenient. So it may be worth contacting your municipality or landlord and trying to figure out how to boost access to your storefront. And don't be afraid to do some research into consumer buying habits to see if you need to adjust the hours when you open and close.

Finally, we get to #3: Personal service. Note that this is not the same thing as "good customer service." Knowing patrons by name, remembering their favorite products, or sharing common interests are what portray the idea of personal service. Also, just because your service is personal doesn't necessarily mean that you're meeting customers' needs. You may have to delve into online forums and review sites to see if your service is as good as you think it is.

There's certainly an undercurrent of buy-local thinking in much of the nation today. But it takes a savvy business owner to tap into that sentiment and transform the buy-local attitude into increased revenues.

Chris Martin has been a professional writer for the last seven years. He is interested in franchises and equity acquisition.

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