By Vanessa Moberg –
I guess by now you’ve heard that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is the richest man in modern history. It seems that online shopping is here to stay, and retail operations everywhere are struggling to survive. Whoever thought Sears would shut down? It’s ironic, really, considering it was the original mail-order company. Heck, I’m still mourning the loss of Blockbuster video. The act of going to the store, browsing the aisles genre by genre, and picking out your snack was all part of the Friday night experience.
A few years ago, it was thought that online shopping had a lower carbon footprint than brick and mortar stores. Studies have suggested that driving your car to the store to buy one item is far less efficient than having one truck delivering many packages to multiple households. However, I’ve been reading lately that it may not necessarily be that simple.
As Miguel Jaller wrote on December 21, 2017 in a vox.com article, the final stretch of the distribution chain – the one reaching our home – is nowadays being serviced by delivery trucks, which are larger than cars, less fuel-efficient, and contribute to heavier traffic congestion in residential areas, noise pollution, and air pollution. And even if delivery trucks did have a lower carbon footprint than driving to the store ourselves, any gains are completely negated when we choose the “rush” shipping option (which usually means multiple shipments) or opt to return a purchase.
Then there’s the practice of driving to a store to “shop” (ask questions, try things on) and then going home to order the product online anyway. I’ll exclaim a hearty “ouch!” on behalf of small retailers everywhere, which brings me to the socio-economic impacts of online shopping. Our local businesses are employers and taxpayers, and quite often support our town with charitable causes, volunteerism, and creating a sense of community through events and promotions. They may not have the same unlimited selection that can be found online, but many local businesses are happy to special order something for you if they don’t have it. This usually involves a more consolidated shipping option than having single packages delivered to the home.
As the retail world rapidly restructures before our eyes, we do see a silver lining—it’s known as the main street movement. People are growing weary of their gadgets and craving real-life experiences. At some point, the match.com emails have to evolve into a real-life café conversation. People are desperate to connect. They are happily visiting smaller shops to experience more personalized service. They feel good about shopping local and supporting the local economy. They embrace the culture that radiates from the carefully curated storefronts. Downtowns are a reflection of who we are as a community and, all across the world, main streets are enjoying a resurgence.
So, if you’d like to consume with a conscience this Christmas season, we recommend taking a whole day to do all your shopping at once. Park your car and walk from shop to shop. There are seven free City parking lots in the downtown: First Avenue South and Yorston, Second Avenue North and Proctor, Third Avenue North and Cameron, Third Avenue South by Paradise Cinemas, Yorston Street by Joey’s Grill, MacKenzie Avenue by Oliver’s Pub, and one in Spirit Square.
If you’d really like to reduce your impact, walk or bike to the downtown. There are bike racks on First Avenue, Third Avenue, and Oliver Street.
This Christmas, give the Earth – and your community – the gift of shopping local.
Vanessa Moberg is the marketing director at the Downtown Williams Lake Business Improvement Association. She is a conservationist who also happens to hold a business degree. Her two passions intersect in the shop local movement.