YOU don’t think we want to buy local? As a self-appointed spokesperson for Guam consumers, let me say that we do want to buy local – if and where possible.
While Guam’s Buy Local campaign extends to the procurement of services, labor or some highfalutin needs, I am speaking – err, writing – as an ordinary consumer with day-to-day necessities or occasional caprices.
First, let’s get real. The average consumers are practical rather than sentimental. There are several reasons why buying local can be more superior to online shopping.
- Buying online can be more costly. Even if the item available online is less expensive, the shipping cost is prohibitive.
- Consumers want instant gratification. Waiting is a pain in the neck. They want their product right now and they want to see what the product actually looks like and how it feels. There is always the risk that online purchases don’t measure up to one’s expectations – and getting a refund, if one is not happy, can be troublesome.
- Many consumers are paranoid about online transactions because giving out credit card information makes you vulnerable to identity theft and Nigerian scams.
- Placing orders online doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the item of your fancy. Some geographically and historically-challenged businesses in the U.S. mainland won’t take your order because they “don’t ship to foreign destinations” such as Guam.
- Finally, buying local makes you feel good because your hard-earned dollars don’t leak out of the Guam economy. The money circulates locally. The government collects more GRT, raises more revenues and, therefore, gives us our tax refunds.
So I trust that you know where I am going with this. Even sans the noisy Buy Local campaign, we would buy local – if we can. Unfortunately, we live in a jurisdiction where buying decisions can’t be influenced by any feel-good slogan that rings hollow. This campaign entails a tricky equation. Buying local for the sake of buying local begs the question.
The reality is, Guam consumers are being held hostage both by the online shopping choice and local patronage endorsed by the Buy Local campaign that rings hollow. On one side of the argument are claims of price-gouging by local retailers, who tend to take advantage of a captive market, hence charging whatever the market will put up with; and on the other side, the non-availability of the products that consumers need and want.
Buy Local! It’s like listening to a PA announcement on a United Airlines plane, thanking you “for choosing United.” This announcement should be followed by a wink. Do we really have a choice?
Sure, feel-good “Buy Local” sounds sexy in a nationalistic way. But it is anything but realistic at this point. Unlike other jurisdictions in the states, or other countries for that matter, that espouses the Buy Local movement, Guam doesn’t manufacture much of anything.
It all boils down to the irony of Guam’s open economy and the opportunities that we have been missing out on.
In its 2009 technical report, the University of Guam’s Pacific Center for Economic Initiatives (PCEI) recommended the creation of a “manufacturing sector of the high-value type” that would not only meet local needs but would also provide export opportunities.
“Already available as an incentive to boost the manufacturing industry is the General Headnote 3(a) program of the tariff schedules of the U.S., which allows duty-free entry into the United States on most exports for those items manufactured and assembled in Guam,” the PCEI report said.
According to a separate report by the Office of the Insular Affairs in 2010, “To make Guam’s manufacturing industry more competitive with neighboring Asian economies, one of Guam’s recent initiatives is to amend the General Headnote 3(a) program to reduce the percentage to 30 percent of the finished product to be added on Guam, including such products as textiles and apparel.”
Recently, I was compelled to place an online order for a sports hula hoop because local shops won’t even take my order. It would cost more to ship one order, they said. I have also placed online orders for black lace gloves and an orange bob-cut wig with bangs. Don’t ask me what I need them for; just think about how many other people on Guam with whimsical product needs spend their money elsewhere because what they are looking for is not available locally.
Until Guam decides to be a little self-sufficient, local consumers will continue pressing the “Add to Cart” button and shrug off the Buy Local rah-rah-rah!