What ‘Buying Local’ Means?

I participate in a study about our towns and cities, looking at the year 2050 when population growth suppose to hit 9 billion people. How does it impact our towns, cities and communities. What can we do about it? So we have all kinds of discussion going, which among others, at one time there was discussion surrounding how do we support local businesses. Is buying local the right thing to do? 

Still remember the conversation we had, when a participant said that sometime there’s this question, even though – yes! he knows that buying local is good for the local economy, tax dollars are collected, support local jobs, etc. – but often times he had to go against his own beliefs because of price. Price is still a driver for some people. Unless they figure it out the cost/ benefit analysis.

Interestingly, this morning I came across this article on Marketing Daily about the very same thing that we’ve talked about in our meetings. Communispace did a study collected from 1,000 consumers across 10 different countries on how consumers view buy local. Buying local is a big business. McDonalds’ in it. Triscuit riding on the wave also. 

What does buy local mean?

Based on the survey, when it comes to purchasing decision “buying local is not a top priority for most consumers”. Instead, buying local falls close to the bottom, below the traditional attributes like safety, quality, dependability and price. However, buying local does become attractive when it provides additional value. When consumers buy local across product categories, they do it because of personal and contextual choice. Buying local gives consumers a sense of pride and civic responsibility in addition to the traditional attributes such as trustworthy vendors, quality and safety.

Despite differences in geographical location, people are using the same language, making the same connections.

Here are the four buying local themes:

#1. The definition of ‘Local’ is personal, contextual.

The first word that come to people’s mind when asked what buy local means: FOOD. It’s associated with fresh, produce, vegetables. Fresh is the main selling point for food. If you go to your local grocery, sometimes they do have food comes with that label “home grown locally.” But local here doesn’t mean it is close to your location. Instead it can be geographically close. Sweet potato sold in our local Harris Teeter have that label, but the potatoes come from somewhere in North Carolina, yeah neighboring state.. some 326 (something) miles away. Not that close, close!

#2. Consumers are increasingly tuned-in to ‘Global Concerns.’

Consumers are concerned about the social, economical and political factors. This have impacted their buying decision. When they do buy local, some of the added benefits of buying local comes weigh into the equation, i.e. great customer service, a transparent experience, and superior quality. So when they don’t buy local, it is an informed and intentional decision. 

#3. Consumers are looking for reasons to do good. 

Here’s where the money equation comes in. “Most consumers want to spend money locally, but the cost/benefit equation needs to balance out.” They’re not locked in to buying local, it has to come with additional benefits, i.e. fresh for food, personalized service, etc.

Local business owners take note of this: your products/ services MUST stand out. 

#4. Local has a personal face; it’s about connection.

Local is about being connected to your community. Translate that to local vendors, is about personal service. Consumers want to experience that special attention that they can’t get from large corporations.

This is where people can make the connection between locality and sustainability, through product life cycle.

Consumers are more aware with ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘fair trade.’ When asked which factors were most important in defining a product as local, 46.5 percent of respondents said it was important where an item is sold, while 57.3 percent define ‘local’ as where the raw materials come fromand 64.6 percent think it means where it’s made

Product life cycle starts at the extraction of raw material all the way to the purchase and end of life cycle of a product. The example below is a life-cycle for a egg that goes from extraction, to processing, manufacturing, assembly, transportation, distribution, purchase, use, and disposal.

In other words, what is the carbon footprint for the production of an egg? 


image: Communispace

Know that transparency matters. This is where business can lead via education. Educate your consumers. They’re your biggest fans!

THE TAKEAWAYS, and this is good for any business:

Highlight the value proposition of why consumers should buy your products, services locally. At the end of the day, consumers still looking for value, safety and quality.

Differentiate your business. Consumers prefer face-to-face interaction with their local merchants versus some faceless interactions via phone or internet. They want to know that someone will be there for them, in case something happened. Friendly, efficient, and knowledgeable service experience is what makes consumers keep coming back to your store/ business.

Act like a local by investing into your local community – schools, libraries, sponsoring community events, working with local charities, etc. – pretty much act locally. 

For big brands: engage your consumers, invest in your people, educate your consumers, adjust your ‘corporate’ message, corporate giving, and even manufacturing and distribution strategies.

For more details on “Local Eyes,” check out here.

Let’s turn the page on you, what does buying local mean to you?


Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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