1. Save a buck, at what cost?

    brian on 2006.11.12
    at 02:43 pm

    I read a pair of blog posts this weekend on the fact that you can buy eye glasses for enormous savings online. Apparently this is an epiphany to many people. One optometrist wrote in with a counter point which was replied to in another post. She did little to endear herself to the value-oriented public, by making her arguments based on quality. Perhaps more quality than the general public is looking for.

    I found myself replying to that at length, with a host of knowledge I’ve accumulated over my years of family involvement in small retail businesses. Below is the reply I posted…

    Let’s just remember, if you don’t want to shop at a retail store, that’s fine. Don’t. But don’t go into the store, use their inventory to make your buying decisions, talk to their employees, breathe their A/C, use their lighting… because that’s essentially stealing. It’s akin to going into a restaurant, sitting down, eating their breadsticks and water, then leaving without paying. Those things aren’t on your check at the end of your meal, but they cost money. Their costs are covered in the price of your meal. Small businesses have enough trouble surviving with the predatory practices of big box stores, the same ones you complain about their service, yet so many Americans shop at these stores and decry the death of their mainstreets…

    But who makes these beloved main streets? Small businesses.

    Without the scale of big box logistics and those economies of scale, it’s more expensive to operate per product carried. With the necessity of a retail store front, showroom, shelves, displays, lighting, carpeting, signage… things are going to be more expensive.

    I don’t wear glasses. My wife does. I know how expensive they are. I’m all for online shopping. I do it myself. But if my wife went shopping in a local eyeglass shop, picked out all her frames and styles, and then placed an order online. It would directly benefit my wallet. But it would also work towards the destruction of my local economy. It not only fails to recycle my paycheck into the community, where my paycheck comes from, but it actually removes money from the economy because your presence in these stores without the intent to buy costs these people money, the money they’re investing in all things I listed above, to help you make your purchases for services and goods you need. And make sure your school or church or other organization doesn’t turn to that store for a donation for your cause. When was the last time eyeglasses4less sent your PTA a donation?

    So remember, when you make the choice to buy online, it has real local effects on the economy and your quality of life directly. Unlike Wall Street, you need to see things in the long run.

    Now listen, I’m not saying that you may not have seen frames at a very large markup. You may have. But don’t lump everyone into that category. You might be wondering what horse I have in this race. My Mom and Pop operate a small town “Mom and Pop” hardware store. So I’ve seen all the things you advocate above and in the last post first hand. Here’s a secret: many things they sell are sold at Home Depot for higher prices. They sell a drill for less than my parents can buy it from the manufacturer, but they make it up by charging you a lot more for things like drill bits and fender washers that you don’t know the prices of.

    My parents work 70-80hr weeks, with only the help of a couple part timers, and it hurts me personally when people do as you advocate. Retail is hard. It hurts because, let’s be honest, most small businesses have two truths: a) most are started to help fill a need in the community, and b) most fail. C would be most people in the US are employed by small businesses. 90% of jobs are defined as such.

    Save a couple bucks? Do it. But at what cost?

    Posted in: Rant


    Comments (1)

    1. K Burton said on 2006.12.08 at 10:11 pm

      Checking multiple stores and doing online research to find what I want to buy, then buying from the place with the best value is STEALING?

      This is the silliest essay of this type since the CEO of TBS called it stealing to skip TV commercials.

      The world doesn’t owe you a living. If you can’t compete, then sell out while you can. Don’t like that option? Then change your business model so you are competitive with online retailers and big-box stores.

      Whining about how a customer browsed your inventory, then declined to spend 300% more than necessary on her purchase just to cover your overhead costs is sad. I’m a small business owner myself, and in direct competition with several multi-billion-dollar corporations. Plus several of my services can be found now online for free…yet I’m still here. Adapt or go under. That’s the way the system works.

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