A recent New York Times op-ed (Hate Amazon, Try Living Without It) argued that Amazon.com is a blessing for people with limited mobility. While the ability to shop remotely is indeed important for many people, the writer goes on to make claims ranging from half-true to glaringly wrong. We decided to address a few of these points because they are assumption not unique to this writer that we see often. The passage that jumped out at us reads:
You have to be an able-bodied person with remarkable affluence and free time to not buy any of your food from drive-through windows, to forgo Walgreens for an independent pharmacy, to avoid all-encompassing superstores that slash prices.
Let’s start with the most egregious error. People with low incomes can least afford to waste money buying drugs from chain pharmacies. In a study published in May, the Consumers Union found one-month supplies of five common prescription drugs totaled an average of $107 at independents, while Walmart, major drug store chains, and supermarket chains’ pharmacies charged $518 and up for the same prescriptions. AMIBA reported on the study and background on the forces preventing consumers from getting the best available prices.
And community pharmacists often stand alone in combining home delivery with personal service and expertise that can prevent harmful or deadly mistakes. The author’s wrong assumption that chain pharmacies are less expensive than independents demonstrates the degree to which corporate marketing (aided by credulous reporting) obscures facts and misleads consumers.
The assertion that only those with “remarkable affluence and free time” avoid fast food drive-throughs is also poorly-informed. A wide range of meals that cost much less than fast food chains’ products and offer far greater nutrition easily can be made in minutes. Here’s one of many articles already having debunked this claim. People are paying extra for the convenience of fast food, not saving money.
Lastly, superstores admittedly can save people money on some items, but in almost every case where the Consumers Union has compared major independent stores to chain competitors, independents have topped the ratings in overall customer satisfaction and have been price-competitive. Some examples are graphed (with data sources linked) here.
Does this mean you should expect the corner bodega or deli to match the prices of a 60,000 square foot supermarket? Of course not — they are entirely different businesses! But when it comes to full-service supermarkets, hardware stores, office supply stores and others, virtually every remaining independent retailer participates in national buying cooperative or organizations that enables them to compete well with corporate chains and online giants.
The author suggests buying from local entrepreneurs is an act of benevolence. But while there’s a long list of ways doing business locally betters our communities, “going local” is often the best choice for pure self-interest as well.