Better Banking Blog

Four Tips to Make it Easier to Shop Locally

Dec 11, 2023

Merlin and Marcia, owners of Dogeared Do Good Bus, stand in front of a bus outside

The ‘buy local’ dilemma

As the holiday season comes into full swing, you’re probably preparing your holiday shopping list and thinking about where you’ll purchase your holiday gifts for loved ones. If shopping ethically is on your mind, you might be wondering how you can build better shopping habits that don’t harm your community or the planet. Maybe you find it difficult to shop locally because buying from large, online retailers is faster and easier. And maybe you’re wondering if the extra effort of buying locally even makes an impact.

While nearly all products have some carbon footprint, by making small adjustments to how and where we shop, we can support our local communities and lessen our impact on the planet. And that collective impact can be bigger than you might expect.

Why we stopped shopping locally

Humans have a long history of buying and selling goods. From exchanging cows and sheep in 3000 BC, to the first retail stores popping up in Greece in 800 BC, to “mom and pop” stores spreading in the 18th century, we have an extensive track record of relying on each other in this way for survival, comfort, and growth as a species.

Woman holding shopping bags and looking her phone

With the invention of shopping malls came an engaging shopping experience and a chance to socialize with friends and family. In the 1960s, big box stores brought convenience, efficiency, and good prices to busy families.

And in the 1990s, the boom of online shopping took “convenience” to a whole new level. It became harder for local businesses to compete with the ability to read online reviews, easily compare prices, and shop any hour of the day. Convenience became king. In the second quarter of 2023, 15.4% of total U.S. sales were through e-commerce. In 2022, Walmart brought in $573 billion in revenue while the average small business averages between $1 million (or less) and $41.5 million in annual revenue.

But recently, “buying local” has re-entered the conversation and is especially popular with younger generations who are likely to support like-minded brands, and for good reason.

What is the impact of local shopping?

Local businesses not only create vibrant, appealing places to live and visit, they also have an impact on individuals. Small businesses create 1.5 million jobs every year which accounts for 64% of new jobs created in the U.S. Jobs within small businesses can sometimes provide more flexibility with schedules, creating inclusive work environments for mothers, those taking care of their families, and people with busy schedules.

Latina woman in a greenhouse holding flowers

They can also be an important wealth-building tool, particularly for BIPOC and immigrant communities. According to a study, Black business owners have twelve times more wealth than Black wage earners.

Latine entrepreneurs are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. and a Stanford study found that Latine-owned businesses contributed around $500 billion to the U.S. economy in annual sales.

Buying locally is also better for the planet. Local businesses tend to make more local purchases, which requires less transportation. They are also typically located in areas with less sprawl and congestion and so require less driving from shoppers who live in that area.

Eco-friendly products and tote bag
GD.STWRD (or Good Steward) is a low-impact lifestyle brand that encourages purposeful and sustainable living.

But with fewer resources, it can be difficult for small, local businesses to compete with large corporations, and this can sometimes lead to the failure of small businesses. While rising rent costs are a huge hurdle for small business owners, lower sales are also a factor. When shoppers travel outside of their local market to purchase goods, income can exit a local community, known as “retail leakage.” And when a community loses its diversity in small businesses to large corporations, more risk is invited into that local community. If a large corporation fails, the loss of jobs and economic distress can have a big impact on that local economy.

Collectively, through our daily purchases, we can help marginalized communities build wealth, lower our carbon footprint, and keep money in our local communities.

How to get better at supporting small businesses in your community

Supporting local businesses is a great way to strengthen our communities, but how can we get better at it, especially when shopping online or purchasing from large retailers is so quick and easy?

1) Start small. Begin by switching where you buy one type of product.

Woman holds a tennis shoe in a shoe store

It takes time to build new habits, and we tend to be more successful when we change one thing at a time. Instead of trying to convert all your purchase sources at once, start with one specific item, such as shoes.

Spend some time researching local options that align with your values, such as eco-friendly or BIPOC-owned businesses. And make sure it’s a convenient option for you, including an accessible location and hours of operation that fit with your schedule. After you’ve established how to shop for that product locally, then you can work on the next type of product.

2) Give yourself a longer window of time for holiday shopping.

Person typing on a laptop computer and holding a credit card

Waiting until the last minute to start our holiday shopping can lead us to order online from mega-retailers for uber-fast delivery times.

By beginning to think about shopping for the holidays or other special occasions earlier, we can take the time we need to find local, ethical gifts.

3) Use the B Corp Directory.

B Corp window decal outside a Beneficial State Bank branch

B Corps are a great option if you are looking for places to shop that are socially and environmentally responsible. Businesses must complete a rigorous certification process to become a certified B Corp.

Search the B Corp Directory to find the type of product or service in your location that you’re looking for. While B Corps aren’t your only option for shopping locally, they're a good one.

4) Bank locally.

Just as important as shopping locally, banking locally is a great way to support our local small business owners. Local or regional community banks often make loans to small businesses, supporting them with the capital needed to start, grow, or sustain their business.

Hand on a Beneficial State Bank debit card

Banks make loans by lending out the idle cash sitting in our bank accounts. By switching to an ethical community bank, you can ensure your deposited dollars are supporting local business owners instead of harmful industries such as fossil fuels.

When looking for an ethical bank, we recommend looking for certifications including B Corps and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), and membership of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). You can also research what percentage of your bank’s lending portfolio they put towards restorative industries (i.e., affordable housing, renewable energy) as well as harmful industries.

You can also make an impact by doing your holiday shopping on an ethical credit card, such as our Climate Card, which allows you to donate your points to local environmental nonprofits.

Join the Collective ‘Buy Local’ Movement

Shopping locally is a powerful way to vote with our dollars. Like banking, shopping locally has the biggest impact when we do it together. Encourage others to join you. When you find a great local shop, share it with your family and friends or on social media. Right now, there are 33 million small businesses in the U.S. that employ 61.7 million Americans, ready to do business with us. Let's each do our part to help them thrive.

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