[Debate] Embracing Our Local Economy
1. We are social animals.
Do you know that song Where Everybody Knows Your Name? There is a part of us which is just like a Cheers character, who likes to have their drink mixed where everybody knows their name! Most of our consumer behaviors are actually driven by peer pressure and a desire for social bonding.
I will not contest that sometimes we seek the comfort of a good brand (Nutella, Heinz ketchup) and volumes of toilet paper that our local business is not equipped to provide. That necessity and crisis made us go fill our primary needs first in a pent-up demand situation. That low-income households do not really have the pleasure of choosing between local or global. That online ordering was the only option at some point, when lockdown was in its more severe form as we sheltered-in-place.
But let us rise one step up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — from physiological and safety needs to “belonging”. The COVID-crisis reminded us that we are and remain social creatures. We realized that we crave in-person interaction — we missed our family, our colleagues, our gym, our hairdresser, our artisan bakery.
It takes a village to raise a child and the crisis has proven it over and over. We do not want a giant platform where all students attend the same class with a robotic teacher and standardized worksheets. We want for our children a personalized school, with a human eye to review homeworks, reinvented recess times over bingo and scavenger hunts, learning pods, and virtual playdates. Haven’t your kids told you how much they love their breakout rooms — where they definitely do not get work done, but hang out with their peers?
We love buying local for the same reasons. We want the interaction, we want the sharing, we want the personalized relationship! According to Accenture, 56% consumers have been shopping in neighborhood stores, with 80% planning to continue. Even more because the whole world shattered, we want to feel that we matter and go get comfort where everybody knows our name!
2. We are animals of habits.
We find reassurance in the realm of rituals. And for a while our habits were the Walmart next to our office, the Burger King takeout on the way back home, the Starbucks detour before an early morning meeting. Until the pandemic disrupted our routine and opened us up to new possibilities: Running down to the local grocery store, sharing recipes, kids activities or the latest deals with a resident around the corner. I never enjoyed that much chatting with my neighbors! When I peaked my head out of the door, I scanned around to search for a human face, ready to listen to any survival tips from my entourage!
Mass-production buying has historically been driven by economic choice (less expensive), trust in big brands (information available, traceability), and little knowledge of alternative options (less marketing and advertising). But trust in large corporations, famous brands, and even in our governance, has been challenged. We have developed mistrust towards mass production. And the COVID crisis has acted as a catalyst to adopt new habits.
As the pandemic started, we were limited in our choices (supply chain disruption, no more hot lunch programs, safety concerns towards packaged foods, budget reduction). This has pushed us to test new, more local-friendly options. Our horizon narrowed and we adopted new healthier habits, less driving, more cooking at home, and more sharing with our close ones. And according to Nextdoor, it should last: 72% believe they will frequent local businesses more often after the crisis.
At the peak of the pandemic, we also realized how much we crave fresh air! We looked for more outdoors time, more nature treks, more greens around and in our plates. Some even developed a claustrophobia topped by hypochondria — a pure fear of malls, stores, and further germ-filled attractions. A study relates that at the collective scale, individuals are now having nightmares of shaking hands of infected people or being stuck in an infested airport.
Local restaurants in California were good at opening their terrasse to accommodate customers. In many U.S. cities, the government encouraged local buying, promoted local heroes, and helped our local businesses survive. It takes a city to support local shopping!
3. We are moral animals.
If the coronavirus has highlighted our worst fears, it also made our better angels resurface. Essential workers were celebrated. Small acts of kindness popped up in the everyday chaos. According to CNBC, two thirds of people tipped more during the pandemic!
Most of us will continue buying following economic calculation, especially as the crisis has made personal situations more challenging, schedules more complex, employment more unstable. However, the portion of conscious buying has increased as a consequence of the pandemic. Our buying choices are not only about personal economic power anymore, but a solidarity choice as well.
According to Accenture, consumers attitudes, behaviors and purchasing habits have changed and many of these new ways will remain post-pandemic. Consumers have used this life pause to reflect on their own consumption. They are striving to shop locally, mindfully and cost-consciously. Two thirds of the consumers have been limiting food waste and making more sustainable or ethical purchases, with 90% likely to continue with these behaviors.
There is no denial that a part of us is thriving to go back to the existing, but a more profound part of us has been awakened for good and the fact that we shared this traumatic experience at a global scale actually made our local conscience even more acute. According to Small Business Trends, 55% of small business owners feel positive about the future. Let’s not disappoint them and continue buying local.
It takes a pandemic to revive our ethical mind.