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Bates: Online shopping has downside for local businesses

Published: Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 5:37 p.m. CDT

A CNN commentator recently led a discussion regarding the new direction consumers are taking in shopping. Apparently, a growing trend finds purchasers visiting local retailers, such as a woman venturing into a ladies fashion shop, to find a perfect outfit. This is good, but the lady has no intention of buying. She is secretly doing research for an outfit she intends to buy online. She utilizes store time and staff to gather information regarding designer, fit and style, then leaves the brick-and-mortar store to find an online retailer who will sell it cheaper.

Of course, the online retailer does not have the overhead costs of a local shop owner, and the online retailer often buys in bulk so the outfit can be sold cheaper. I took this information to two shop owners. One affirmed this trend is happening and hurting her business. Another shop owner said his business has changed from thriving to a business closing because of folks researching at his store, then choosing to buy online.

I found this new direction in shopping so disturbing I went a little deeper into why good people would consider it OK to take retailer time doing research for an item needed and then buy it online. I pondered, realizing that despite much good regarding the Internet, it can lead to isolation and a certain lack of interest in our neighbor.

Forgotten is the fact the owners of these local stores often live in our area and have to put food on their tables, just like us. They are part of our community. Online retailers are not. We seem to have forgotten local businesses are involved in our schools, pay taxes to our community, support needed services with sales tax dollars, employ our community’s people and donate to area nonprofits. Most importantly, local businesses arriving in McHenry fill our empty stores, bringing in a varied shopping experience.

The online retailer works against all of the above. In addition, buying online is done with someone unknown who is not accountable to us. The chamber gets complaints weekly by a disappointed online shopper. Is the practice of buying online really worth saving a few dollars? What does Internet shopping really cost us? Think about it.

• • •

All who participated in the Men of Monday Night Football raffle should have received an invitation to attend an end of football party tonight. Complimentary hors d’ oeuvres will be served along with a cash bar. The hit of the evening is the drawing for a three-night stay, airfare included, at Riviera Maya compliments of Worldwide Traveler. You must be in attendance to win this trip worth $2,500. The next mixer is Feb. 11 at Eckel’s Flea Market.

Save the date for the McHenry Chamber’s March 15 Expo. The Coupon Queen will be there, plus entertainment to delight the whole family.  For information, visit www.mchenrychamber.com. 

Community and chamber members are invited Feb. 6 to the next Shop In at Adams Memorials on Riverside Drive. Think local, shop local and visit a small business.

Are you concerned about what social media has the potential to do to your well-earned good name? Attend the chamber’s next Brown Bag Lunch Feb. 12 to learn how to manage your online reputation. The presenter is Think Big Go Local. 

• Kay Bates is executive director of the McHenry Area Chamber of Commerce. 

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