Think Globally, Move Locally

There aren’t many upsides to the Covid-19 pandemic but increased social cohesion is one. Now, it’s time to build on it, extending our concern to local communities and ensuring they can adapt and survive the new normal.

It’s well known that having varied services within easy reach is essential to the health of communities and an important factor in how people rate their neighborhoods. Diversity is as important for local economies as it is for species, and being restricted to their local area has thrown its shortcomings into grim relief for many people.

It hasn’t been all bad: Small shops deemed essential have seen a welcome uptick in trade. Now, the challenge is not to lose ground to large retailers again as wary shoppers jump into private vehicles and head for spacious out-of-town malls.

It’s a pivotal moment and everyone is watching to see which way things will go. On the one hand, the EY Future Consumer Index found many consumers now increasingly value brands or shops that contribute to the community or “feel local.” Witness the number of initiatives that have sprung up enabling people to pre-order from small businesses and support them until they get back on their feet.   

The other side of the coin is the surge in online shopping. When this involves large multinationals, as it invariably does, cheap goods made overseas from raw materials flood into the country at the same rate as jobs and tax revenue flow out. And increased transport miles, reams of unrecyclable packaging and frequent, small-scale last-mile delivery mean huge carbon footprints. The true cost of fast, “free” delivery is paid by local economies, the environment and gig economy workers.  

With unemployment rising and economies in free fall, it’s now more important than ever to safeguard and strengthen local businesses. At Shotl, we believe transport is an important part of this: Initiatives to promote local shops are not new, but they don’t always factor in the need for convenient local transport in enabling people to buy local, especially when it comes to the big weekly shop.   

In the outlying Barcelona neighborhood of Torre Baró, we’ve seen first-hand how local transport can facilitate a car-free lifestyle and help revitalize local communities. Just two years after we began running on-demand services, many residents now report increased willingness to shop locally rather than drive to a mall. Perhaps even more importantly, research suggests that revenue can increase significantly when shoppers don’t just swoop in and out by car, further increasing the benefit to local economies.   

Small businesses need to get creative and see how they, too, can capitalize on current trends. One solution could be competing in the online shopping arena by adapting technology like Shotl’s real-time booking and dispatch platform to facilitate goods purchase and delivery. Taking it one step further, transit already on the streets could double up by picking up and dropping off packages as well as people, particularly appealing for those who can’t afford to hire their own fleets. Finally, local transport providers could partner with shops to mutually promote each other through discounts or loyalty schemes.    

There are lots of ways we can help local shops be as resilient as big chains. It requires consumers and authorities to get on board but it’s never been so important. When we allow multinationals to dominate, we leave communities underserved and exposed. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and it only takes one large business to fail to leave holes in the high street. It’s time to put our eggs in healthy, diversified baskets instead.

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