I've forgotten how to shop
October 18, 2020 3:14 PM   Subscribe

I want to start supporting small local businesses, preferably in person, but I've gotten too used to buying things off of Amazon just at the moment I need them. How do I break out of this nasty habit?

I live in a city full of wonderful, one-of-a-kind shops that are currently struggling for obvious reasons. I want to start giving them my business as exclusively as possible but I'm finding it hard to break out the online shopping convenience trap. Things that are tripping me up:

-I work a regular 9-5 and some brick and mortar shops here seem to limit their hours to my work hours and then maybe a half day on Saturday so the times when I could go shopping at them are limited.

-Not being able to know whether or not a store has exactly what I want before I venture out. Sure I could call beforehand but that doesn't work too well with things like clothes. It seems like more often than not if you're looking for something particular the store you go to won't have it and it's better to go shopping with no aim in mind and rely on serendipity, but then you run the danger of shopping become an expensive hobby.

-The idea of getting showered, makeup'ed, coiffed and dressed to go buy something is often a big enough deterrent to keep me in my jammies ordering stuff off Amazon.

Indie shoppers of Metafilter how do you make it work for you? I'm interested in strategies for purchasing all kinds of goods from groceries and toiletries to clothes and hardware.
posted by Jess the Mess to Shopping (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Start following local businesses on social media. You'll get a feel as to their inventory, items on sale, and updated hours. I keep running shopping lists on my phone for groceries, beauty supplies, and hardware items and then venture out once every 3 weeks or so to buy everything at once.

Also, find out if any local stores also sell online, either through their own websites or eBay/Etsy. It's possible that you can still shop online and support local businesses.
posted by mezzanayne at 4:01 PM on October 18, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Approach it as you would a formal change of strategy in the workplace, right? Which means allowing yourself time to develop optimal processes and implement the new plan in phases, not just jump into the deep end without a life raft.

First, set aside time for your new shopping routine. What works for you? 45 minutes at lunchtime a couple of times a week? A couple of hours every Saturday morning? Mark it on your calendar as shopping time.

Next, designate the next two weeks of whatever time you have carved out to conduct initial research. Devote your lunch hour or your Saturday mornings to walking around the shops, seeing what they have and what they don't. Go with a friend so that you have external motivation to make you get up and leave the house.

Based on what's there and what looks attractive, you can make a partial transition off of Amazon. You'll arm yourself with two lists: stuff you have found local vendors for and everything else. And your new shopping routine looks like this:

- Ah I need something!

- Check list to see whether to purchase from Amazon or whether to put it on the Saturday/lunch hour shopping list.

- Make purchase as appropriate.

- Ask around your local stores and be on the lookout for moving more list items off of Amazon.

You might start with just a 10% transition, build to 50%, and stall. That's okay. It may not be possible to move entirely away from Amazon. I would advise you not to beat yourself up over that: remember that capitalist monopolies are impossible to opt out of. It is impossible to live a perfectly ethical life within these systems simply by making "better choices" - frankly the idea that making "better choices" is the way to combat Amazon is so deeply flawed as to be capitalist propaganda in my opinion - but that is neither here nor there. What I want to convey is, at a certain point, you might well be better off devoting all the extra hours you spend unsuccessfully trying to source your items locally, into political or community efforts to overhaul aspects of the system that allow Amazon to exploit people and plunder the earth.
posted by MiraK at 4:02 PM on October 18, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Could you ease into supporting non-Amazon businesses? I cut off Amazon prime 1.5 years ago and have not looked back. I found myself defaulting to Amazon too much. Now, I think about what it is I want in much more intentional ways.

Depending on your goals, could you give yourself "tiers" of good vs. less good examples? E.g., best tier is your one-of-a-kind local business, but a 2nd tier could be an independent/non-local business with a good online presence and country-wide delivery OR a 2nd tier could be a major business that is still a local employer/supporter of a community, and 3rd tier could be just a large non-Amazon business that aligns with your values.

This kind of lifestyle change of moving all your shopping from one place to other places is a HUGE change. It might be easier to give yourself the permission to incrementally work your way to shopping "better" than you are currently doing, and not beating yourself if you can't always perfectly manage to source X locally AND independently.

All that being said, I *do* think your step 1 is canceling that Amazon prime. Shocker - if you really need to, you can still order stuff from Amazon w/o prime! This is what I still do, if after searching locally and on every other corner of the internet, I determine yes, I need to feed the Bezos machine, then I'll very deliberately order from Amazon as one-offs.
posted by ellerhodes at 4:04 PM on October 18, 2020

Why shower and makeup? No-one outside cares if you're freshly bathed or wearing makeup. As long as you're wearing what I call "outside clothes" and don't stink then you're ready to roll.
There's lots of stores that are online and will deliver. Powell's for books, obviously, but there's what are you shopping for that you need delivered the next day?
posted by fiercekitten at 4:17 PM on October 18, 2020 [16 favorites]

Do you need Frye boots? Order them from the Frye website.
Do you need a Radio Flyer Wagon? Order it from their website.
And so on. This also cuts down on the probability of receiving counterfeit goods from Amazon; an increasing problem.
Another idea is to search for what you need on Etsy; filtering for goods made/sold in your state.
That brings the “macro” down a bit, at least.
posted by BostonTerrier at 4:40 PM on October 18, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Getting yourself more lead time before you really need a thing will help. For regular-replacement stuff like toothpaste and undies, have spares and put the replacement on the shopping list when you *start* using the spares, not when they’re nearly used up. (Spares can live together in a moderately inconvenient spot - going to the storeroom/storebox reminds you that you should put a thing on the list.)
posted by clew at 4:46 PM on October 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

Small local businesses want you to use them, but they also want to be safe. Small indoor spaces are really vulnerable now, especially for the people who work there all day. Call and do as much as you can over the phone or on their web site, and spend as little time in the store as possible. Wear a mask and buy-and-return if you have to. Patronize stores that are trying to be safe and are doing all they can to protect employees and customers. Take advantage of their expertise and let them help you.
posted by rikschell at 5:01 PM on October 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Step one is to cancel your prime membership so that amazon becomes more expensive and less convenient.
posted by juliapangolin at 5:04 PM on October 18, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like a lot of the difficulty for you is buying things in person. One option is to buy online and do either curbside pickup or have things delivered - that's what I've been doing with local businesses I want to support. Perhaps you also want to buy in person, but doing local online shopping is great first step.

I also used to default to buying everything on Amazon. I've been working on changing the habit, and, in case it's helpful, this is my list for how I prioritize where to buy.

Best to worst -
- local store I specifically want to support
- random local store
- nearby location of chain store (e.g. Target - if I do curbside pickup from the nearby Target, it at least supports local jobs)
- chain store online purchase / shipped (at least it's not Amazon!)
- Amazon

I still buy a fair bit from Amazon, but at least it's not my default anymore.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:07 PM on October 18, 2020

Best answer: This will depend on your neighborhood, but part of what makes a neighborhood shop attractive to me is that I can integrate it into my day-to-day life. Can you combine an enjoyable walk with a stop at a store? That way even if you end up not buying something, it's still not a loss. Also, good neighborhood shops are responsive to consumer demands. If there's a shop that you would actually shop at if they had longer hours, let them know. Or if there are particular products that you would like to purchase, ask them to stock them.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:14 PM on October 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I've shopped at local stores that already put their inventory online or let me order stuff so I was able to check ahead of time, and then I can just be in and out if necessary. I go in at opening on the weekend so there's not too many people. I should probably say that the store I've spent the most time in is a family business where I know the family and I did get reassured that people actually are wearing masks in there. A lot of places do curbside pickup (or if you're lucky, might locally deliver).

I probably wouldn't just go shopping at somewhere where I have to go browse about and spend time in the store now, unfortunately. I'm just ordering groceries from Safeway and misc. supplies like toiletries from Target. But as for clothing shopping, hah. What do I need new clothes for anyway to not leave the house? The only clothes I get are masks off Etsy.

Anyway, I don't really have any advice for shopping at small local stores where you really do need to spend time in them and you can't pick things out ahead of time so as to keep them in business. I'm just ... not shopping at them.

I concur that as long as you don't reek of BO and don't have bird's nest hair, nobody cares any more. I have junky "outdoor clothes" these days and your mask covers almost everything so who cares about makeup, and I have to wear a ponytail to tie the mask around.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 PM on October 18, 2020

One thing to have a strategy for ahead of time: how to handle shopping at a wonderful, one-of-a-kind indie store after you see or hear the owner express political and/or social viewpoints that you find morally problematic.

Do you continue to shop with them, because it matters to you to support local businesses and your local community? Do you look for another local or regional business offering the same thing? Do you go up the 'tiers' (local business that sells online, regional business, national business that isn't Amazon, etc.) rather than shop there again? I can tell you my choice, but I think it's more helpful for you to think through your own.

Whatever your choice is, you might want to think about it ahead of time. Small business owners, even in the most liberal of areas, don't always tend to be the most liberal-minded people.
posted by librarylis at 7:38 PM on October 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Specific strategy for groceries and anything you would get from Target or a similar store: Use Dumpling and not any other shopping service. Dumpling connects you with personal shoppers in your area - small business people - and at least the guy that I use will do restaurant pickup (skipping Grubhub, UberEats, etc), basically any supermarket, PetSmart/Co, Target, basically any pharmacy store, and he has an option for "Pick a Store" where you enter the information and he will go there and get whatever for you.

There is a delivery charge and you do want to tip, but since switching away from Instacart to this guy, I haven't looked back. If it's more expensive, I'm not noticing it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:57 AM on October 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is actually a really interesting question, and I'm kind of surprised that there haven't been think pieces written about the subject in like Slate or the Atlantic.

One of the biggest effects that Amazon has had, in my opinion, is to strengthen the link between wanting and buying. In the past, these were two separate things. You could want something specific, but not buy it because no stores had it in stock. Conversely, you could buy something you might not actually want, because it was available. But now if you want something, you just buy exactly that thing and you're done. Severing that link is important.

You can start thinking of shopping as a hobby. You can incorporate it into other fun routines like taking a morning stroll or going out for lunch. Don't go out with the intention of buying x, y, and z, or anything at all. Just go out with the intention of stopping in a few stores and looking around. The experience is the product. Have you ever shopped at a used bookstore? It's like that; you can't go in looking for a specific book, or you'll be disappointed. But I don't see many disappointed readers at the used bookstores I go to.

That's true in a number of ways. When I buy a book at a local bookshop, I'm not just buying a book; I'm also buying the idea of a literary-minded community. I used to work in a specialty sporting goods store after college, and part of the appeal of shopping there was that you were spending time around other people who cared about that niche sport. "Finding your tribe" is the kind of silly-sounding buzzword, even if your tribe is just people who wear a certain style of sunglasses.

There are other things you're paying for when you buy from a small business, too. I could order shoes through Zappos (and I have), but I take my kids to this awesome local shoe store we have in town, because the salespeople take the time to measure my kids' feet and try on 100 different pairs of shoes to see what works best for them. These are professionals, often with decades of experience. If I just order a pair that looks cool online, who knows whether they'll actually be good for my kids' feet? The sporting goods store I used to work at offered skate sharpening and repair services. The transaction doesn't necessarily end when you hand over your cash and the store gives you a receipt - it's an ongoing relationship.

And in addition to service, you're also getting product recommendations from people who know what they're talking about. The shoe salesmen I mentioned are willing to take the time to try on 100 pairs of shoes, but we never have to actually do that, because after they measure and look at my kids' feet and hear where my kids are in their growth and development, they'll suggest a few specific pairs that they think would work best, and they're almost always right. This is one of the most commonly-cited benefits of book and record stores, and while that's sometimes overstated (I once bought a CD of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and the clerk suggested that if I like Beethoven, I should probably also check out Andrew WK), it's true. Even if you're an introvert and don't talk to the staff, you're still getting their input because they curate the selection. At the sporting goods store, we weren't interested in selling every product relating to our sport, just the ones that were a good value and actually helpful to playing the sport. If it's for sale, it's recommended. In stores that stock a wider selection, like record stores, they'll usually have a "staff picks" section.

So that's my advice. View shopping as an activity like jogging or eating out, and remember how much more you're buying than just a product. As for the hours, I think a lot of places have cut back hours during the pandemic, but they'll probably go back to normal hours when (if) it ends. And showering/getting dressed/etc.? Well, you must be shopping at much nicer places than I am. Maybe you should get all fancy if you're shopping at designer boutiques, but if you're just running to the hardware store or toy store? Nah, just go in your sweatpants. It's fine. I can guarantee you that the small business owners whose livelihoods you're supporting won't refuse your money because you're wearing a baseball cap over your bedhead. That's just an excuse you're using to avoid going out.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:23 AM on October 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Giving up amazon
posted by lalochezia at 6:35 PM on October 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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