Clicking Locally

29 11 2011

If there is anything that is emerging this nascent holiday shopping season, it is that people are clicking away with almost reckless abandon. Folks may have made their way outside Thanksgiving night and Black Friday to fight for discounts, but this one item stands out: Online sales are up over last year.

Way up.

Apparently, people had no sooner gulped their last bite of gobbler than they had headed to the computer to start shopping. Online sales on Thanksgiving day were up 39% over last year. And the party continued into Black Friday with online sales up 20% over 2010. It’s still a little early to tally yesterday’s Cyber Monday sales, but I suspect they are equally impressive.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Simple. There’s a huge disconnect going on, especially right here in Amarillo. The City, Chamber and Amarillo Globe-News have all been championing their Shop Smart, Shop Local campaign for over a year now, but with zealous fervor of late. Editorials implore us to spend our money among local merchants, or run the risk of reduced city services. Mayor Paul Harpole even played the Scare card by saying that if sales tax revenues go down, and yet we expect city services to remain constant, there is only one alternative: higher property taxes.

Yikes.

But maybe all of this would make a little more sense if the Amarillo City Commission had not just approved the $571,000 purchase of new police cars…from Caldwell Country Ford of Caldwell. (Be sure to read the linked article…all the way down to the bottom.)

Gulp.

Now I realize that these types of purchases are put out to bid, and that governmental agencies are usually bound to accept the lowest of at least three bids. But what message does it send when the local police department makes such a significant purchase out of town? Are local car dealers (we have three Ford dealers) so high that they cannot compete? And what about all of our other retailers? And what effect does it have on “shop local” campaigns, especially in the era of one-click shopping?

A lot. A big stinking lot.

It is one thing to try to encourage us to all think before we click, but it is quite another to speak out of both sides of one’s mouth. We have been guilted and browbeaten into considering local sources, but then we see the City Commission marching to a different drummer. I can just imagine local retailers poetically crying, “Et tu, Brutus?”

The fact of the matter is, I actually applaud the City Commission for buying from the lowest bidder. It has a fiduciary responsibility to spend taxpayer monies efficiently. But guess what? We, too, have our own familial fiduciary responsibilities. This is not so much about the local economy as it is the personal economy…and this is something for which I am not only in control, but also responsible.

Which may help explain why so many people were busy clicking away the last few days. It’s all about perceived value. Value is in the eye of the purseholder, which means that price, convenience, service and a variety of other factors play a role. And if local vendors cannot provide the best value, then maybe they should reconsider why they are in business in the first place. Subsidizing inefficiently run local businesses for the ostensible purpose of avoiding future property tax increases is just not a good use of one’s finances. It’s also a fallacy. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, he says in his finest Latin.

And don’t get me started about Amarillo having the highest gas prices in the state.

It’s a strange collision of shady rhetoric, convenience, price, selection and value that have me thinking long and hard about where I will spend my money this holiday season. Nationally, the trend is pretty obvious (the forecast is for a 15% jump in online sales from last year), but locally I can see all the more reason to get clicking.

Or driving to Caldwell. I hear they have good deals on cars there.

Dr “Shop Free Or Die” Gerlich


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