‘Add to Cart’

I’m a big fan of online shopping. I was well-versed in Paypal and credit card verification numbers back when my next-door neighbor, my hairdresser, my mother-in-law, and everyone else’s mother-in-law were still shaking their heads in disapproval, telling me it couldn’t possibly be safe, and that my bank account, identity, and quite possibly my firstborn child were being lifted by some shadowy web-hacker every time I typed in my Visa number.

I also pride myself on finding the best bargain. I actually enjoy comparison shopping, and will flit back and forth between various websites like a cat toying with a mouse for days or even weeks before finally parting with my cash. My proudest triumph? A Maclaren Quest stroller for 40% off retail…before the sale price kicked in. And yes…free shipping with a hard-to-come-by coupon code. Yeah, baby.

You can see why I find it so hard to shop locally.

There is debate over whether online shopping or local shopping better reduces one’s carbon footprint. I believe it depends on both the consumer’s shopping habits (do they drive all over town like I might?) and the company’s shipping and packaging habits. Either way, don’t get me wrong: I understand the philosophy behind buying locally. Conceptually-speaking, I know that coupon code or no, my sought-after, heavily discounted items have to be shipped from their warehouses in China or Mexico or Trenton or wherever they make Baby Bjorns these days (that‘d probably be Oslo, wouldn‘t it?). And I know in my heart of hearts that I’d much rather my dollar stay right here in my beautiful valley than zip electronically to goodness knows where.

But they’ve gone and taken all the fun out of it! When I set foot in a local store (and I don‘t mean a local big box store, of course…that would be an oxymoron), what I see is what I get (or WYSIWYG for you anti-html people). The price is the price, and the selection is half (at best) of what it’d be online. And I’ll be honest: that just seems wrong to my deal-loving heart.

But as I’ve forced myself to try this new way of thinking, I’ve learned there’s a certain level of buyer satisfaction I can only find in a local store. A great example is my local winter sports shop. Granted, skis are a little harder to shop for online, but trust me, it can be done. So the temptation is still there when I walk in and check their prices. But something else happens when I enter that shop: they know me. They answer my questions and make suggestions, because they‘re experts in what they sell. They let me put things on layaway and they look the other way when my kids hide under the racks of powder pants. (They really are very accommodating.) And yeah, the price on their Under Armor is slightly higher, and they don’t carry every color in the rainbow, but I get to take it with me that day (instant gratification is always a plus) and a semi truck doesn’t have to haul it even further than it’s already come.

One of my favorite local storefronts

Of course, the bargain hunter (and newly awakened local shopper) in me knows that finding said Under Armor in my local Goodwill or consignment shop would be even better yet. It’s a long shot, but surely it’s possible?

Maybe that should be my next holy grail.

How about you? How much do you buy locally? If you buy online, what online businesses do you patronize? Do they (as a noteworthy few are doing) take extra measures to package and ship their items as environmentally as possible?

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Amy Whitley is excited to be writing bi-weekly for the 5 Minutes for Going Green team! You can read more about her attempts at eco-living at her blog The Never-True Tales and find great places to travel with children at her review site Pitstops for Kids!.

9 Responses to ‘Add to Cart’
  1. Bill
    November 11, 2009 | 7:18 am

    I’m not really thinking about carbon footprints when I shop. Some things, like computers, I only get online. Other stuff, like books and computer accessories, I’ll get either online or locally depending on how badly I want it NOW, and if I want the chance to return it if it’s not right.

    But I get all my running stuff at the local running store, even though it’s MUCH more expensive than online. Like with your winter sports, I want to ask the salespeople questions. I want them to make sure it fits me right. And if I get it home and it doesn’t fit, returning it isn’t so hard.

  2. Rob O.
    November 11, 2009 | 10:34 am

    Like Bill, my focus when I shop is less about carbon footprint and more about supporting local economy – and NOT supporting companies whose policies & practices are less than honorable. (Cough… :::Wal-Mart::: Cough…)

    I’ll admit tho, my patronage of local businesses is often more centered around services than goods. The exception being food items. As much as possible – and for a variety of reasons – I like to buy locally- or regionally-produced foods. We almost exclusively buy meat from a little Mom & Pop meat market that’s in our neighborhood. When we dine out, we prefer to give our business to non-chain restaurants.

    All that said, I hafta admit that I just recently ventured into the world of online eyeglasses shopping. For a fraction of what I would’ve spent at EyeMasters, LensCrafters, or some other “brick & mortar” eyeglass store, I got a great pair of fully-loaded glasses. I had to wait nearly 2 weeks instead of 2-3 days, but the savings was anything but trivial!

  3. Amy Whitley
    November 11, 2009 | 11:01 am

    Yes, it’s important to utilize the exerptise of shop owners, especially for technical clothing and equipment. And like you, my decision of whether to buy locally or online often has to do with how badly I want it NOW. :)

  4. Amy Whitley
    November 11, 2009 | 11:02 am

    Thanks for commenting! I try to eat locally more than anything else as well. And I know how appealing those online deals are! Sometimes it just makes more sense.

  5. Marizela (Potspoon!)
    November 11, 2009 | 11:53 am

    Living on a small island in the Caribbean makes it so that everything has traveled a ridiculous distance anyway and is overpriced. Online shopping seems a bit more “green” to me because a lot of the time I shop for others and it just ships direct to them. It didn’t have to come here first, etc. Books I always buy online because the mark-up at the local bookstore is absurd and they don’t really carry the types of books that I want. They charge for special orders, too. Lame. Everything else here is pretty much jewelery stores. Unfortunately, I shop online a bit more. I don’t shop much anyway, but when I do, it’s on “teh internets.”

  6. Amber
    November 11, 2009 | 2:00 pm

    I like to shop locally, but in my mind locally has more to do with where the product is produced than where I bought it. So, the person who lives 3 hours drive from me and hand-makes wooden sewing machines? I consider that a local product, even though I would likely buy it online. I’m supporting my larger geographic area and the people who live here, and stepping outside the culture of mass production.

    If I’m going to buy baby shoes that were manufactured overseas by an international company, I’ll take the online deal and improved selection over the local store. In my mind, those shoes were never local to begin with, and having them shipped to the local retailer is not much different than having them shipped to me. Plus, a lot of online shops are also small family-run businesses, just like my local retailer, and so both ways I am supporting an ethic I agree with.

  7. Amy Whitley
    November 12, 2009 | 1:53 am

    Marizela, for you, online shopping as exclusively as you can makes perfect sense!

    Amber, great point. What helps most is for the product to be locally made, not for the buyer to be locally present, if that makes sense!

  8. Shannon
    November 12, 2009 | 1:28 pm

    I do a little of both- my favorite store for kids clothes is the local consignment store owned by my friend that’s 10 minutes away.

    I always buy second hand stuff for myself- it’s warn in and there are more options at a consigment store then online (I can try it on!)

    I like to buy books online or at the used book store, when buying from amazon, I get used stuff and look for the sellers that are closest to me.

    I do love to get my son one special thing from Hanna Anderson every year (when it’s on sale).

    Occationally I shop at Marshalls, but the poor quality of the materials is a turn off.

    I don’t buy electronics, and tend to like to talk to someone with these kids of products.

    Great post! Got me thinking!

  9. Amy Whitley
    November 12, 2009 | 2:40 pm

    Shannon, we love to buy special clothes at Hanna Andersson when we can too! I used to shop at consignment stores a lot, but lately haven’t had the time (it seems to take me more time in stores where there’s lots to dig through). I need to go back!