In another time, when I was VP of Marketing at an Internet retailer, I was extremely pro Internet retail and against anything that would slow down the web including sales taxes on web sales. The benefits of Internet retailing were obvious to me. Greater customer choice, lower costs and prices, delivery to your home or office, the ability to read reviews on products and retailers and more.
The benefits were so large and obvious I never considered the costs. I traveled a lot back then and seldom thought about the effects of Internet retailing on local communities where we all live.
Now that my wife and I are the owners of a local retailer and a member of a local community, I see things from the other side. The view is sobering and is why I have chosen to actively support The 3/50 Project.
As a local business, I pay property taxes, collect and pay sales taxes, and contribute what we can to local charities that help those in the community in need. In other words, everyday we do something to support the place where we work and live, and where our customers work and live.
As an Intenet retailer, we had customers all over the world, but the only community that benefited was the one where we were located. We felt good about supporting "Our" community. We also thought it was great we legally didn't have to collect sales taxes from customers located out of our state, as we were "saving" our customers money.
Now I regularly have to explain to a customer why they should buy something from us, rather than from an Internet retailer. In most cases the discussion centers around price.
Customer: It's cheaper from the web comapny and I don't have to pay sales tax.
Me : But you have to pay for shipping.
Customer: But its delivered to my home so I save time and gas.
Me: With me you can easily return, we offer free gift box/wrap, let you touch it or try it on before you buy it, visit with our dogs, and our prices are very fair.
Customer: Yes, I love your store, but I can save a few bucks on-line.
Sometimes we win the sale, sometimes we don't. Now with what I have learned from The 3/50 Project I have a new sales pitch:
The majority of the money you spend with me will stay in the community and benefit the community. The money you spend with that online company doesn't. Buying local is the best local stimulus package there is for our community where you live and work and your kids go to school.
The Internet isn't going to go away, and I don't want it to. But we do need to educate our customers and the public about the impact of their buying decisions, as there are costs and consequences they are not always aware of.
The playing field also needs to be leveled, but that's the subject for another day.