Local Innovation in An Amazon World

Despite our love-affair with technology, in the past few weeks, I've been reminded that local innovation doesn't have to be high-tech. One high-tech solution is so ubiquitous that we've almost stopped talking about it and how much value it has added to our lives! Although it's not true that all technology makes our lives easier, no one can deny that Amazon's unlimited product options and free shipping has made shopping significantly more convenient for busy Americans.

Just 2 years ago, I marveled at the number of times UPS would drop packages off at my neighbors house, and to be honest, I couldn't quite figure out what was going on with her. Now, my neighbors must be wondering the same about my house. Truth be told, there have been more than a few occasions when my children said, "mom, we're out of x" and my response was, "just put it in the Amazon cart". Obviously, having nothing to do with those cute brown shorts the delivery people wear, it is simply easier to throw something in the cart, than to keep track of the ever-growing shopping list. Beyond the convenience of toilet paper delivery, I recently noticed myself excitedly talking about Amazon Wardrobe and how much I enjoy the experience of trying things on at home, without any commitment to buy them.

But there is a dark side to this convenience that we should be talking about! As a person who fiercely advocates and prioritizes supporting my hyper-local, small business economy with my dollars, I am keenly aware of the impact that Amazon is having on downtown's, local shops and even medium to large retailers. I clearly see that Amazon's perfectly designed solution for the consumer's unknown problem of "inefficient retail" is changing consumer behavior, including mine. I accept that this is likely a permanent, irreversible trend. I also, optimistically, believe that all things are pulled towards equilibrium, even the economy. For this reason, I am proud to see retail innovation happening in my downtown community which provides balance to this trend toward impersonal retail therapy.

In the past, if you wanted - or needed, retail therapy, you would drive to your local downtown or mall and look through racks of clothing, shoes, accessories and handbags and would select something from the available options. Somewhere along the line, you would engage with a sales person or cashier and would (hopefully) have a pleasant customer service experience. Some of us still enjoy this experience, but most find it more convenient to look through online catalogs, or purchase from our favorite brands on Instagram, without ever interacting with another human - unless of course you run out to thank the brown shorts for stopping by your home - once again.

This article is not to paint a picture of doom and gloom, but to highlight a response to this move toward digital retail therapy that I believe is an innovation that will, in a small way, provide a counter-balance to our Amazonian world. The trend is not new, but I am seeing it take on new life in my community, which is giving me great hope.

In the past two weeks, I experienced my retail therapy in a restaurant, drinking mimosa’s, watching a fashion show and in another restaurant enjoying a special spring drink while walking around chatting with friends and picking up gifts for other friends.  In both cases, I was able to hang out the business owners, share war-stories and was proud to know that proceeds from my purchases benefited a local non-profit.

Digital retail therapy can solve issues of convenience in our overly busy lives, while Experiential Retail Therapy, which focuses on connection, experience and community, supports the local economy and entrepreneurs like Ani from Humanity and Hilary from the Sweet Spot, whose retail boutiques keep our beautiful historical storefronts activated and beautiful.  Bar and restaurant owners, who become experiential retails partners, like Alyssa from Warp & Weft and Richard from The Keep provide venues that enhance the retail experience and act as hubs to stay connected with friends and a place to turn strangers into neighbors.

In the past, I've thought of pops-up as a trendy fad for the craft-beer, millennial crowd, but after visiting two in the past few weeks and seeing the community connections they foster and the economic value they create for the restaurant and the retailer, I will certainly be enjoying pop-ups this spring. I will more than likely still use Amazon to keep my shopping list in check, but think I’ll try to reserve a meaningful portion of my retail therapy money reserved for Experiential Retail in and around my community.   

What Experiential Retail experiences have you had that inspire you, or remind you of the value of supporting your local economy? Have you made a financial commitment to support your local economy?

With gratitude

Franky Descoteaux

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