By Alex Gladu, IWS Content team
National chains entice customers with their big names and low prices, but the big box shopping experience comes at a high cost. Before you pay the price, find out what national chains really bring to the community – and what they take away.
1. They Import Products … and Export Prices
To stock their endless shelves while improving their bottom line, big box stores often turn to foreign-made products, sometimes even supporting sweatshop-working conditions. Once they sell these products, they send their profits back to a corporate headquarters in some distant location. Consumers may leave the store satisfied with their savings, but they’ll surely never see those hard-earned dollars in their community again.
Local businesses can change that. Because they are locally owned and operated, their profits stay in the community, where they’re used to hire local workers, pay for local services and give to local causes. Because they don’t follow nationwide purchasing plans, local businesses often source products from regional manufacturers and distributors. Consumers can walk out of a local business knowing that they supported American industry and their community with their purchases.
2. They Create Cookie-Cutter Communities
There’s nothing unique about a big box store. By now, just about every town or city across the country has a Walmart, a Barnes and Noble, and an Applebees. These chains may seem convenient, but they take away from the individual charm and character that our otherwise vibrant communities have to offer. In an increasingly homogenized world, small businesses keep our towns and cities unique. In turn, our unique communities not only please loyal residents, but they also drive tourism by giving visitors interesting and memorable experiences during their stay.
3. They Bring (and Leave) Unattractive Infrastructure
They’re called big boxes for a reason. Chain stores seem clean, shiny and convenient when they first open, but their oversized buildings and sprawling parking lots don’t make for a charming, walkable city center. Years later, these stores move on or go out of business, leaving their big boxes to fall into disarray and become eyesores for a town’s residents and visitors. Small businesses, however, create aesthetically pleasing and eco-friendly town centers. Their unique storefronts and smaller infrastructure are more easily maintained, both now and for years to come.
4. Local Workers Lose Out
National chains pay hundreds of thousands of employees, but they don’t pay these workers very much. In some cases, big box employees don’t even make enough to live on. Walmart, for example, has previously opposed paying workers a sufficient “living wage” in Washington, D.C. In 2013, the Washington D.C. City Council passed legislation that required big box retailers to pay employees at least $12.50 an hour, a fair wage compared with the high cost of living in the nation’s capital. Walmart strongly opposed the bill, threatening to move out of the region entirely to avoid paying the fair wage. More recently, Walmart made the news again when some employees organized a food drive benefitting other employees. While these big box employees struggle to make ends meet, local businesses remain dedicated to supporting their employees whenever possible. Small businesses create more jobs locally, and in some cases offer better wages and benefits.
5. They Drive Prices Up
Despite the attractively low prices they offer on a day-to-day basis, national chains will drive prices up over time as they control more of the market. The key to long-lasting low prices is competition; a competitive marketplace encourages businesses to offer lower prices in order to attract customers. Big box corporations offer low prices now for this reason, but as the competition dwindles, the prices will rise. To maintain competition and ensure a future of low prices, we must invest in small businesses and help them take on the big box giants.
Before you visit another chain store, ask yourself what you’re willing to give up for that experience. Would you risk your customer service experience? Your charming downtown city center? Your neighbor’s job? Instead, visit a locally owned, independent business where the values of customer service, sustainable infrastructure and local employment come first.
About the Author
Alex is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double-majoring in Public Relations and Spanish. Since becoming a writer for Independent We Stand, she has fully adopted the ‘buy local’ lifestyle. Her favorite indie business is Sugarland, a bakery in Chapel Hill, N.C, where she has been known to go a little cupcake crazy. She hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit or political communication.