Have you ever been doing some shopping online and thought to yourself “there are just too many options?” You’re not alone. Online megastores like Amazon have so many products to look at, they basically have an ‘endless selection.’
Endless selection can be a good thing. For instance, if you are looking for a very specific part or accessory for a discontinued product, you have the best shot at finding it online. The massive downside of endless selection is that the curation is non-existent.
Endless selection exists because online retailers are able to drop-ship products. Drop-shipping is getting an order from a customer and having the manufacturer of that product send it directly to the customer. This is easy for the seller, but if the customer has a problem, who do they talk to? The seller or the manufacturer?
Online retailers, to some extent, need to have endless selection. If Seller A doesn’t have a certain product, seller B certainly will. A lack of curation—just listing every product available with no thoughtful organization—scatters product litter across the pages of many major online retailers. This leads to endless selection, which overwhelms many people looking to get a quality product at a reasonable price.
Small businesses have always thrived while practicing extraordinary curation. When a buyer selects a few specific products to sell at a small business, they choose items that stand out from the rest of the pack. Even the best product information page on the internet can’t compete with a call or in-person visit to a seller who believes in their products.
Great Curation Locally
My brother, Alex Anderson, is the store manager here at Oswald’s Pharmacy. He recently told me about shopping at locally owned pet store Dog Patch for cat food. The brand Alex and his wife were used to was not carried. Not only did the employee tell Alex why they didn’t carry that brand; she happily showed him a brand Dog Patch preferred from a nutritional perspective. Dog Patch even comp’d the item for him!
When was the last time the internet offered you that kind of service?! Not only did Alex and his wife’s cats enjoy the food, the cats now have their own ‘preferred brand’ – thanks to a business that knows how to curate their products.
Knowing the products you sell is slowly going the way of the buffalo in our society. Many consumers do research on the internet, find the exact product they want and purchase this item based solely on price. If you know exactly what you want, why would you pay 10% more for it at a local business? Well, there are quite a few answers to this question.
Accountability is my go-to answer for the ‘why buy local’ question. If you buy a $500 Bluetooth speaker on Amazon, who do you contact if something goes wrong? Usually, Amazon is listing another business’s item; a business who may or may not have bought direct from the manufacturer. That’s already 3 levels of customer service to sort through… if you are lucky!
If you buy a product or service from a local small business, chances are you can get ahold of someone in-house with one phone call. You can usually find the information you are looking for with one transfer. As an added bonus, you won’t have to listen to horrible ‘hold music’ for 15 minutes (another article for another day).
More complex products (technology, medical etc.) often come with warranties for parts that break. This is a nice feature until you remember that someone needs to know how to swap the part out. Getting help on the phone for repair information can be a part-time job for a day or two. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just make one phone call?
Knowing Your Products
At Oswald’s we pride ourselves on the curation of our medical equipment department. From its inception almost 4 years ago to the present day, the medical equipment section has been carefully put together to give the customer quality options. These quality options are selected by team members who have put in time with the medical equipment industry.
Our current medical equipment buyer, Jerry Anderson, has been learning all he can from industry insiders, equipment sales representatives, and warehouse managers since we opened. His unique knowledge allows him to purchase products and product lines that are versatile and affordable.
Jerry has trained most of our current medical equipment staff on how to help each customer. Every single person that walks into the medical equipment department has different needs. Even 2 people with the same condition can have checklists that do not match the other. Our staff will make sure to ask questions and show you all the options we have in-store. Employees are even trained on specialty products we have to order.
We are not above drop-shipping ourselves here, but there is one major difference between drop-shipping from a purchase here versus online. If we have an item drop-shipped to you, it is an item we have seen or have a variation of in stock. 95% of the dropships we have done are products that are very similar to ones we have in stock—the only difference is usually the size or a few quality of life add-ons.
Being able to contact a person who is in-the-know about a certain transaction is something that can’t be overlooked. If you purchase a product from an endless selection online store, there is an extremely high chance (I always hesitate to say 100%) that you will talk to someone who has no idea what your situation is. Looking at a transaction and a sale are two different things.
Most call centers for online superstores are located outside of the US. These call centers are crowded and loud, which can make it very difficult to know if the correct information is being looked at. On top of translation issues, the call center techs are only looking at transaction information—they have no idea what the product you are calling about even is.
Shopping at curated local business gives you direct access to the salesmen and technicians who deal with some of these complex products on a daily basis. These salesmen and technicians are not contract workers (like call center help), they are paid employees of the local business, and are in it to help you and the business—they are invested.
Endless selection-style online stores seemingly all sell the same products. The dollars and cents may differ slightly, but the top-listed manufacturers and brands are all the same. Even digging pages into an Amazon or Walmart search can give you results no different from a competitor. Reviews online are harder than ever to trust—many of the top Google results are paid advertisements to a review site. Parsing through 4500 reviews on a big box website doesn’t sound fun either. Where can you find exactly what you’re looking for?
You may not realize it, as it’s not a front-of-mind issue in today’s world, but most local stores have department or category managers. These managers are trained on specific products and know the differences between features of one product versus another. Seeing a physical product in action can make all the difference—even the best YouTube video doesn’t let you know how an item feels. A product that your online research said ‘maybe’ to could jump to ‘must-buy’ when you try the item in person, with an expert telling you about the features.
Many local businesses specialize in certain categories—the best way to avoid customers embarking on an endless selection endeavor is with careful curation. Here at Oswald’s, we have been buying unique gift items for almost 150 years. Our current gift buyer (and manager), Alecia, is an expert at selecting gift items and decorations our customers love.
When you get to know a community as we have with Naperville, you learn what people like and don’t like. Our in-store gift selection is tailored to our everyday customers. This unique gift selection features items new customers might not be familiar with—items they wouldn’t find online without walking a few miles down an endless selection aisle.
Supporting the Community
According to the American Independent Business Alliance, 48% of each purchase at a local business was recirculated in the community. That number drops to 14% recirculation rates when spent at a big box chain. Online purchases? Less than 1%.
Big box, chain stores are usually the recipients of large tax breaks and deals with the local governments. A 2013 government finance review showed communities earn an average of around $7.11 in property tax per acre from big box stores. The average from a main street-style block of local businesses per acre? $287.55. If you have complaints about your city and money issues, local business are a fantastic way to help with cash flow.
Not every community is the same and tax rates and policies will differ, but supporting local businesses benefits everyone in the community. Creating local jobs, paying taxes directly to the community, donating to local charities and causes, and more—local businesses are so important to your community.