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4 August, 2009

Unfair competition - fair enough

At the risk of repeating myself, I don't 'support' local or independent retailers merely for the sake of supporting them against competition from multinationals and web-based retailers, literally patronising them for being 'traditional'.

It's unrealistic to expect individual shops to compete with the economy-of-scale available to chains and hence to offer lower prices, but if small shops offer genuine value that larger competitors can't (and many specialist shops certainly do), they'll receive my custom. Expertise and customer service are important, and I'm willing to pay a little more for them. An excellent example is my local bike shop: I could easily pay less at Halfords or online, but Colin & Pete run an excellent shop and workshop; I feel valued as an individual customer, and hence value their service.

However, if the sole distinction is sentiment or a twee sense that 'old-fashioned' is inherently A Good Thing, I'll invariably go with price & range of available stock. I don't worry about homogenous high streets – 'cos I buy online anyway.

Which is why I have no sympathy whatsoever for secondhand booksellers who complain that they're being driven out of business by charity shops. Maybe it is unfair that charities face fewer expenses than for-profit retailers. Tough. That doesn't mean they 'deserve' special treatment. Maybe the era of (non-specialist, non-charity) secondhand bookshops has simply passed.

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