Buy-Local Campaigns Deliver Above-Average Holiday Sales

Supporters of buy-local campaigns say shopping at independent retailers benefits the community more than shopping at national chains or big-boxes. They argue locally owned businesses spend more money in their own backyard than big retailers, which usually centralize spending. They also say participating in such a campaign is smart marketing for local entrepreneurs looking for ways to appeal to customers reeling from the effects of the recession.

Detractors argue the efforts have negligible economic benefits and can result in higher prices and a narrower selection for consumers.

My colleague John Tozzi took a deeper dive on both arguments in a story we published in February. He also tracked three independent retailers over the holiday season in this series.

Now, a national survey released today of 1,800 independent retailers makes two things clear: The buy-local movement is here to stay. And it gave indies a welcome boost over the past two months.

According to the survey, conducted by Minneapolis-based nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, holiday sales at respondents’ stores were up an average of 2.2% this holiday season. Compare that with today’s Commerce Department figures, which show that overall retail sales were down 0.3% in December and up 1.8% in November.

The ISLR survey, now in its third year, also found that independent retailers in the 100-plus cities with active campaigns reported stronger holiday sales than those in cities without such campaigns. Independent retailers in these cities reported an average increase in holiday sales of 3%, compared to 1% for those in cities without such an initiative.

Survey organizer Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ISLR and author of Big-Box Swindle, told me about 800 of this year’s respondents commented on customers’ increased interest in buying from independents.

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