Right now I live in rural South Dakota in town of about 7,000 people. I don’t exactly have the choice of choosing between Wal-Mart or a local grocery store, but many people do. I’m stuck buying groceries at a smaller grocery store called Jubilee. The prices aren’t fantastically cheap, but there are a lot worse places I could be buying food. There’s always the question of where we should buy food. Do we go for the ultra-low prices of a discount super-center, or do we stand by our guns and keep shopping at the local mom n pop grocery store?
Our individual decision as to where we buy our food at really has no bearing on the outcome of the long term success of the small town grocer or the furthering expansion of major big box stores, but it does make for an interesting discussion.
The smaller local grocer does have plenty of advantages that one might not think of. With the local grocery store, you have a more personal shopping experience. If you need help with selecting a product, usually there’s someone there and available who can and will help you. It’s a lot harder to get good advice at the major box stores. If you frequent a small town grocer and want something that’s not available, there’s a pretty good chance you can get the owner to order you that item. The mom and pop store is probably a lot closer to your home. Most big box stores build at the edge of town where real estate is less expensive.
The local grocery store does have its disadvantages as well. First, there’s a smaller selection than their big box store competitors, and prices are a bit higher because they cannot afford to buy in the quantities that the major box stores do. Their hours might not be as expansive as the larger retailers, and you might have to make multiple trips if the store that you go to doesn’t have the items that you’re looking for.
There are some benefits to shopping at places such as Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart and Costco as well. There’s always a giant selection of products and you don’t have to go to multiple stores to get everything you want. Generally these stores have extended hours as opposed to the smaller grocery, and usually you can get products for quite a bit cheaper. If you have to buy any embarrassing personal items, the big box store is definitely the place to go since the experience is very impersonal.
The Wal-Mart’s and Costco’s of the world do have their drawbacks as well. Quite often these stores are very crowded compared to the smaller stores. On a side note, if you think our Wal-Mart’s are full, watch CNBC’s documentary about Wal-Mart that shows how busy Chinese Wal-Mart’s are! In these stores it’s quite often very hard to get any help or customer service, but it can be done if you try hard enough. There’s also the moral implication that you are taking away business from smaller grocery stores that could go out of business if you don’t support them.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to each person to decide whether they feel good about buying from big box stores, or if they think they need to support the small town grocer.