Is Convenience Really Worth It?

About 15 years ago, I was on a leisurely drive with my father. Driving was something that we both liked to do. We valued the fact that an aimless drive can clear your head just as well as any form of meditation.

This particular day was different, though. Once I saw them, saw the patterns of locations, the drive was ruined for me. Drugstores: they were everywhere. On one particular drive we passed at least ten different drug stores.

A few years later, this sudden growth of drugstores dried up long enough for big box superstores to establish their dominance.

It can easily be argued that big box superstores have ruined any semblance of free enterprise. Instead of giving us the variety and individuality of local enterprises, we are instead handed a lukewarm imitation of the same services dolloped with horrible customer service that we settle for because it’s readily available to us.

Conversely it can be said that these local enterprises are just as inconvenient. They never have what you immediately need, most of them are hard to find and the prices for some of the things that they offer are completely ludicrous.

According to a report prepared for the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Economic Development for Eugene, Oregon, a big box store is defined as:

“A stand-alone building typically significantly larger in size than traditional stores, often uniform in appearance and housing one or two retail businesses, designed with its own parking lot or lots, oriented to the major thoroughfare to be accessed primarily by automobile, with a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) typically less than .25, and drawing from a regional level marketplace (with a 2-5mile radius trade area or larger) to draw profits from sales volume vs. high price mark-ups. A big box site can include associated smaller retail stores (often restaurants) on the periphery of the parking lot. Store ownership can be either franchise or an outlet of a chain business” (Big Box Stores, 2004).

Sadly, this sounds like the composition of most suburban areas today.

Home Depot, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and on a lesser level, most grocery stores are starting to follow this same path. Some grocery stores offer food courts, Starbucks, dry-cleaning services as well as day-care services for the parents seeking quiet consumerism.

How can you not shop at any of these places?

As we continue to evolve as a society, we tend to put further emphasis on the need to feel accomplished, to do “things” as opposed to enjoying life fully. (The easy example would be the daily operations of the average family: some days the to-do list is never ending). Because of this, shopping at big box superstores appears to be a necessity in this day and age. I do it and I am sure that anyone who will read this does it too.

So what about the other side of the coin, the local enterprises? It is undeniably difficult to say anything bad about them. If there is one thing that the big box superstores consistently do while they grow in number, it’s that they have completely galvanized the local Mom and Pop shops as the underdog. In the end, who really has the gall to say anything bad about the underdog? Consider this:

• In a 2009 study of 15 locally owned businesses, 32% of the businesses returned their revenue to the local economy. Whereas an average SuperTarget Store only returned 16% (New Rules Project, 2011)
• “Overall, Walmart hourly workers earn 12.4% less than retail workers, as a whole. This study finds raising their pay to a minimum of $12 an hour would lift many out of poverty, reduce their reliance on public assistance, and cost the average consumer, at most, $12.49 a year” (New Rules Project, 2011).
• In a 2006 study, the opening of a Chicago-based Walmart resulted in the closure of one-quarter of the businesses within a four-mile radius. Roughly 82 businesses closed, in all (New Rules Project, 2011).

With data like this, can you blame the Mom and Pop shop for raising prices in order to compete with the big box store opening up for business a few blocks away?

The data found above, I happened upon only after a couple of keystrokes. While it is not my place to displace the legitimacy of a study that someone threw their back into, it should be noted, “Persuaders (people who have created these studies) frequently use cause-to-effect reasoning to identify events, trends, or facts that have resulted in certain effects. They tell us that if a cause is present we can expect certain effects to follow” (Larson, 2010).

In short: you should take these findings with a grain of salt.

Go to these places and exercise some deductive reasoning . Go to Walmart. Go to SuperTarget (if there’s one available near you). Go to CostCo. Go to these places and ask yourself these questions:
1. Do the employees look like they are enjoying their jobs?
2. Is the community benefitting from the presence of this retailer in the long run?

While there is something to be said for convenience given the society that we currently live in, there is also something that could be said for goods and services that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Mom and Pop shops will never truly go the way of the do-do in the same respect that there are just some areas of this beautiful planet that retail monopolies will never be allowed to exist.

Regardless of your answer to these questions, make up your own mind. Don’t follow someone else’s opinion and a stream of data blindly into the future.

Sources Consulted

Larson, Charles U. (2010). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility, 12th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Big Box Stores. (2004). Retrieved from
http://www.jwj.org/campaigns/econdevt/tools/ESSNBigBoxReport.pdf

New Rules Project. (2011). Designing rules as if a community matters. Retrieved from http://www.newrules.org/retail/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail#4

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