Back to the village – why consumers want to buy local

Back to the village - why consumers want to buy local

Barrett’s sales trend No.9 for 2015 is ‘Back to the village’.

As globalisation became more and more prominent, Australian consumers in turn, became excited about being able to purchase items from all over the world. Suddenly they were exposed to a wider variety and range of products than ever before, and could boast about owning items from across the globe. As the novelty of “worldly” products began to wane, and the economic impact of the import/export markets were felt more locally, people started to shift back to purchasing Australian-made products.

In recognition of this, the Australian government launched the Australian Made logo in 1986 to help inform consumers about Australian products, and companies such as Dick Smith’s (founded in 1999) began vigorously promoting and advocating for consumers to purchase Australian-made products from Australian owned companies. More recently, this movement is narrowing even more to a focus on the local community, with consumers wanting to purchase locally grown or locally made products from locally owned businesses; in other words, to “buy local”.

There are many reasons why consumers are deciding to buy local. A simple internet search will reveal countless sites offering the top [insert favourite number here] reasons for buying local. These reasons usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Economic reasons—e.g. supporting local businesses (farmers, tradespeople, designers, etc), stabilising taxes, keeping money inside the country, having a positive impact on local economies, creating local jobs;
  • Environmental reasons—e.g. preserving genetic diversity, promoting energy conservation, using less packaging, using organic products, shopping and eating seasonally;
  • Community reasons—e.g. allowing you to know your neighbours, helping sustain the future, making community unique, encountering good customer service, allowing consumers to buy ethically;
  • Health reasons—e.g. judging local food to be more nutritious, finding fresh produce tastes better, enforcing regulatory standards, supporting companies that treat animals humanely; and
  • Aesthetic reasons—e.g. believing local products look better, finding products that are unique, arranging for products that can be tailored to your needs, allowing for ‘try before you buy’ offers.

These reasons tap into consumers’ motivations on a number of levels. Consumers want to feel like they are supporting their local communities, they want products that are sourced and made locally and ethically, they want to reduce their impact on the environment, they want to be healthy, and they want something unique that is made for them rather than a generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ style product.

Thinking locally and wanting people to shop locally is not limited to consumer desires. Many local councils and businesses also recognise the benefits of shopping locally –boost local economies, grow communities–, and are actively encouraging this behaviour through different initiatives.

Local small and independent businesses are also working to attract consumers through markets, festivals, and promotions. These events have the added bonus of attracting local sellers as well, and bringing people who want to purchase locally together with local producers, growers, artists and artisans, craftsmen, chefs, etc.

Even outside of Australia, this shift in consumer trends and desire to purchase items locally has not gone unnoticed by big businesses. Companies such as Starbucks are ‘unbranding’ some of their stores, to make them appear more like locally run businesses. These ‘unbranded’ stores boast a different name, logo, brand, and feel to Starbucks, and aim to attract those segments of the market who prefer to frequent locally owned cafes.

Large supermarket chains are either specially branding locally sourced produce (to show a commitment to sourcing locally) or specifically branding some of the produce that is sourced internationally (which can lead to incorrect assumptions that all other produce is sourced locally). In both instances, these ‘origin-branding’ exercises are designed to either encourage consumers to purchase from them, and/or help those consumers who do purchase from them feel that they are still ‘purchasing locally’ at some level.

Other larger companies try to show a commitment to the local community by ‘giving back’ in some way. This is done by supporting a local initiative, giving to a local charity, supporting other local businesses in some way, or sponsoring members of the local community. Some examples of these include:

  • Bendigo Bank and Adelaide Bank—these two banks work together to support Lead On Australia, a community development organisation which aims to strengthen relationships between young people and the broader community.
  • Grill’d—Australian burger chain Grill’d has set up a community donation program called Local Matters.[1]
  • Bunnings—Along with the well-loved ‘Bunnings sausage sizzles’ (which is half the fun of going to a Bunnings store on a Saturday afternoon), Bunnings offers a range of free D.I.Y. workshops tailored to meet the needs of their local communities, as well as providing hands-on help to local communities and schools.

What does all of this mean? Whilst there is a trend amongst consumers to shop locally, this does not mean that larger businesses are necessarily being totally ignored.

Consumers are happy to shop at a ‘larger’ (i.e. national or international) store, as long as that store is giving back to the community or supporting their local area in some meaningful way.

If you are currently working in a small local business, you can take comfort in the knowledge that consumers are seeking you out. If you are working for a larger firm, think about the communities your business works in, and look at how you can support those communities.

This doesn’t have to be in the form of monetary donations; it could be as pro bono work, advocacy, community volunteering, helping to showcase local talent, sponsorship, product donations, and many more. No company works in isolation. Even branches of larger companies become a part of the communities they serve. To stay current and meet the needs of their clients, businesses will need to learn how to understand and address the needs of their local communities in an appropriate manner.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward-thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platform




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