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How to reduce reliance on big-box retailers

Big-box retailers span the globe. Though Wal-Mart, Target and Lowes may offer great deals, there’s often nothing unique about big-box stores. Proponents of Main Street also note that big-box stores can’t provide the small business charm that can make local neighborhoods special.

Balance is everything, and that even applies to shopping. Big-box retailers can feature in consumers’ shopping plans, but there’s a place for small businesses as well. The following are some strategies to reduce reliance on national chains.

• Look at the alternatives first. Shoppers may look to big-box stores because they know what to expect and are familiar with their goods. But exploring smaller alternatives first can turn up some pleasant surprises. Take walking tours of the community and make note of which stores are available.You might just uncover a hidden gem.

• Prioritize quality, not quantity. Big-box retailers frequently turn to foreign-made products and can offer very low prices because the huge amount of merchandise they sell enables them to negotiate lower bulk prices from suppliers. Mass production of products may result in lower-quality merchandise. Small businesses may pick and choose their stock, vetting items before the customer even does his or her research.

• Ask for recommendations. Reach out through social media for recommendations on small businesses in the area. Find out where others are shopping and what they have to say about certain companies. You may not have certain establishments on your radar and may be pleasantly surprised at the competitive prices and outstanding service provided by local businesses.

• Shop in person. There’s no denying the convenience and all-hours capabilities of shopping online. However, it denies shoppers the experience of going into a store and browsing for products and getting a true feel for their sizes and quality. Modern consumers are no doubt familiar with the tedious nature of returning online items that fell short of expectations. Such experiences are significantly less common when shopping in-store, particularly at small businesses.

• Competition keeps prices lower. Big-box retailers may offer good deals, but over time those prices may rise as national retailers command more control of the market. A competitive marketplace encourages businesses to offer lower prices to attract customers. By shopping a variety of stores, customers can further this healthy competition across the board.

Big-box retailers need not be ignored. However, consumers can balance their spending at big-box stores and small businesses so they do not become entirely reliant on national chains.

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