Why size matters when shopping

What difference does it make if you buy from the international chain store or the small, independent one? Many people tend to choose the former, mostly because of reputation. It is a common conception that products from the international chains are cheaper, and because they are well-known, trust in the products’ quality is often also higher. It is not wrong that a price gap can be observed many times, though not necessarily. Because of the higher volume of products, the price per product that a company pays to produce it decreases. Therefore, it is only natural that the bigger a company, the cheaper it can sell its products.

The price difference is, however, usually not very significant. The positive sides to buying from smaller businesses might easily outweigh this as well. We hear a brand name often, we know many people buy from it, it is easy to assume decent quality. However, small, locally operating businesses often have better, more personal relationships with suppliers and are usually very conscious about their responsibility to provide a good quality product.

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Of course, that is only generally speaking, price and quality still always differ from company to company whether big or small. There are other reasons to be choosing smaller, local stores. For one thing, small and independent companies drive innovation, diversity and economic growth. However, their great value really stems from the people behind those businesses. Starting your own businesses takes creativity and drive, but also courage. It is a high risk, so naturally, the people eventually taking that step put their heart and soul into the business. They believe in the value of their enterprise and thrive to do the best job they possibly can with it. Customer service and customer relationships usually go beyond the simple, unpersonal seller-buyer relationship of large companies.

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Valuable but vulnerable

Unfortunately, small and independent businesses are about as vulnerable as they are valuable. They need the money earned to keep the daily operations going and rarely have sufficient reserves to get through an economically challenging time. The current pandemic situation shows this very clearly. Many shops were or still are closed due to the restrictions imposed by governments for health reasons. Those stores that are still open experience a drastic decrease in customers because people leave the house very little and mostly only make the most necessary purchases.

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While the restrictions are legitimate in their necessity to ensure people’s well-being, the harm for the economy is undeniable and affects a large number of people. Small businesses and everyone working for them are especially affected, since they do not have the means to survive such a loss of incomes. Salaries cannot be paid, people have to be let go, leaving them without a living. In many cases businesses have to close down completely, not being able to re-open once the restrictions are lifted.


How to support small, independent businesses

Governments as well as the United Nations and the European Union are working out ways to help small businesses to stay open and keep their staff on the paycheck. Spain is for example trying to help through the deferral of taxes and social security payments, Germany through short-time work and credit programmes. There are ways, however, how we as citizens can support small, independent companies as well!


Of course donations are always appreciated if you can afford it, but there are many other ways to show support. Next time you buy something, be it in store or online, choose the local, independent provider. Even for businesses that have not had an online offer so far, it might be worth checking if they do now. Many businesses have set up online stores, delivery services or other online services in order to adapt to the current situation. If you can afford it, you can also already buy things you will need at a later point or get gift cards. This way, companies have the income they need to keep things running now and you will get use of your money later. If you are not sure how to find local businesses that might need your support, look for local business networks online. Many regions have initiated such networks to support each other as well as get support from the outside.


In Catalonia for example there is a large number of local, ecological agriculturists as well as several platforms to help people locate them. The organization Arran de terra is dedicated to more justice and sustainability in societies as well as food systems. Their website not only gives information about agro-ecological initiatives but can also be used to locate shopping opportunities for consumers who want to support small, local providers. In Vallvidrera, families have taken buying from ecological, local suppliers to the next level and formed the collective Canpujades. How that works and what providers they buy from can be found on their website.

Especially when markets had to be closed down, small, local providers sold more and more directly to people’s homes, like the cooperative L’Ortiga that offers different food packages to be delivered to your door. Following the principle of “del parc al plat”, i.e. from the park to the plate, here you can also get baskets with the finest meat, cheese, wine and much more directly from the natural park Alt Pirineu to your doorstep! These past weeks really have shown the importance of local agriculturists for ensuring basic food provision. Local and ecological food suppliers are, however, not limited to the basics. Cooperatives like L’Olivera and Cerveza Florestina offer wonderful wine and delicious beer from Catalonia!


By being conscious of the little things you can do to support local businesses, you can help your community getting through this difficult time together. And even when things are starting to go back to normal, remember how valuable those independent stores are and keep that in mind when choosing where to go when you next buy something, no matter if it is this week’s groceries or just a cup of coffee.

Images: Arran de terra, Pam a Pam, l’Ortiga, Unsplash

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