I’m not sure why I’m writing this blog, but with the Christmas season beginning in earnest and the Black Friday sales already being touted, I thought it a good time to offer my opinion on a subject that is getting a lot of press recently. This won’t be a long blog, but it will be a pointed one.
Retail brick-and-mortar has taken a big hit recently. Iconic retailer Macy’s reported disappointing sales for the quarter, setting off a trend of similar reports from other retailers like Nordstrom’s. That likely means as other giant retailers report their sales, the trend will continue. Experts say it’s mostly because of all the on-line purchases taking place these days. Yes, the smart phone and computer have changed the way we make purchases…even at Christmas, and it’s showing up in cash registers in brick-and-mortar stores. And I, for one, think that’s sad.
I grew up in retail. My grandparents owned a general mercantile (that’s Wal-Mart before there was a Wal-Mart) in the small town where I grew up. It was a community gathering place that was filled with people, especially on weekends. More importantly, it provided jobs and a healthy tax base for the community. That’s why I have a huge place in my heart for local retailing, and why I believe the move to more on-line shopping will ultimately impact our communities in a negative way.
Local shopping supports the local economy. The best way to support the local economy is to shop with local store owners. Even when we shop in the big stores (think Wal-Mart, Target, JC Penny, et. al.) we’re still supporting the local economy. That’s important. Supporting local retail keeps sales tax dollars local. Keeping sales tax dollars locally helps fund education, police and fire protection and infrastructure. We all demand our government provide those things, but every time we click on Amazon.com, or eBay.com, or some other on-line site, we are making a practical statement that we want those things, but to save a dollar (or two) we’re unwilling to pay for them. Every time we click, we’re also diminishing the ability of local and national retailers to retain local jobs, which keeps more money in the local economy.
Yes, I know, there are places on our tax returns now where the law says we’re supposed to report on-line purchases and pay the taxes on those purchases. Seriously? How many of us track our on-line purchases throughout the year and actually fill in the blank appropriately? Not that many, I’m betting. Besides, that’s only for the 4% state sales tax, and that does nothing for the local municipalities and parishes (counties) that depend on sales taxes collections to fund local government.
Yes, I know, even shopping the big box retailers sends capital to corporate headquarters away from the local community. Still, there are local people employed in those big box retailers who depend desperately on those jobs, and their jobs pump money back into the local economy (unless, of course, they go home and order those new shoes from Amazon.com).
There are only two reasons I can think of that people order on-line: cost and convenience. It’s easy to click a few icons, and in a matter of a few minutes have all my Christmas shopping done. What’s more, it’ll be delivered right to my door, or I can even have it delivered (already gift wrapped) to the person for whom it was purchased. And, I’ll save money (most of the time) in the process. Cost and convenience are great incentives for me to shop on-line.
But, I think there’s a greater reason to not, and that’s really what this blog is about. That greater reason is sacrifice. For me, shopping locally is a discipleship issue. A core principle in being a disciple of Jesus Christ is self-sacrifice. Yes, it’s a sacrifice to shop locally. Yes, it generally (though not always) costs us a little more money. Yes, it generally costs us a little more time, but we’re called (as disciples of Jesus Christ) to live in community, and that’s not only the community of faith, but the community in which we make our residence. We’re to be salt and light in those communities, and being salt and light also includes supporting local businesses and business owners with whom we go to school and church, with whom we play softball and soccer, with whom we share life. If we simply must shop on-line, let’s at least seek out local retail web-sites that sell the items for which we’re shopping.
Maybe I’m making more of the issue than I should, and yes, there have been times I’ve caught myself clicking the mouse for that on-line purchase (I’m not-the-perfect-pastor, remember?), but I really believe we can be an example of faithful disciples by supporting our local communities in every way possible–including with our retail shopping. Sure, there will be times when we can’t find that perfect gift locally, and for those times, I say “click away.” But, for all those other times, please…let’s go spend our dollars locally. Make the sacrifice.
Until next time, keep looking up…