Big-box stores vs. mom-and-pop shops: Which are better?


Fact Box

  • 'Ma and Pa Shop is an old colloquial term people use for small, independently owned stores. These are stores not owned by a mega-mart chain,' says
  • Investopedia explains Big-Box Stores as 'a retail store that occupies an enormous amount of physical space and offers a variety of products to its customers. These stores achieve economies of scale by focusing on large sales volumes. The term 'big-box' is derived from the store's physical appearance.
  • IBISWorld noted that 'the number of businesses in the Supermarkets & Grocery Stores industry in the U.S. has remained steady over the five years between 2017 - 2022.'
  • By far, the most common American brick-and-mortar shops in 2020 were convenience stores, of which there were 150,274 in 2020, shares Statista.
  • Retail Trade is among the top 10 industries for small businesses, alongside Wholesale Trade, Accommodation and Food Services, and Manufacturing, as reported by the SBA Office of Advocacy study.
  • 'Warehouse clubs like Costco charge membership fees, usually $60 to $120 a year. That fee gets you in the door. If you shop frequently, the money you save over the course of a year should easily cover the cost of the membership fee. If you don't visit the store enough, you won't recoup the fee,' claims Investopedia.

Chad (Mom-and-Pop Shops)

'Mom-and-pop shops' will forever be better than big-box stores, even in the digital age. For most of our country's history, local shops have been the lifeblood of their communities. An extreme example would be the old Wild West general stores. These sold food, clothing, tools, and everything you needed and were also a place to socialize and catch up on the news and gossip. 

While the small shops in a larger town are not so prominent and central as the Wild West, they serve the same purpose for those who rely on them. Small shops are an integral part of the community. And by supporting local shops, you are keeping more money within your community. Such shops tend to be locally owned, hire local people, and use local suppliers or manufacturers--an approach that is considerably better than sending all that money to CEOs in some other place who may not even pay taxes

Not only do local shops support communities through their economic model, but they also tend to be more charitable. Small stores are more likely to support after-school programs, youth sports, and other great local causes than big-box stores. This generous nature ties to their best attribute: they are personable. 

When you shop in small stores, you build relationships. You can ask them to stock items you need, delay payments during hard times, or ask questions about products. Over time, this creates a shop best suited to serve the community's unique needs. When we lose these businesses, we leave only the monolith chain stores, turning every little American town into replica strip malls with no character or heart. 

Nonah (Big-Box Stores)

Big-box stores are the better option for numerous reasons; chief among them is their ability to provide consumers the most value for their dollars by offering deep discounts on big-ticket items with the convenience of a one-stop shopping experience. Not surprisingly, a 2017 study showed that it is advantageous for consumers, especially those in low-income communities, to take advantage of the vast savings found in larger stores instead of the higher prices found in local, smaller convenience stores. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reported the trend of consumers seeking out the substantial savings offered by purchasing goods from big-box stores amid rising food prices.

Big-box retailers also positively impact local communities by increasing wealth, improving the standard of living, and, surprisingly, expanding growth for smaller businesses. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that big-box chains such as Walmart increase wages overall compared to smaller retailers. Further, economics professors, Charles Courtemanche and Art Carden, conducted a study titled Competing with Costco and Sam’s Club: Warehouse Club Entry and Grocery Prices, which revealed that over the long run, big-box retailers gave local communities a boost in traffic, which created economic growth for surrounding smaller businesses. 

Additionally, when it comes to sales generation, product manufacturers, both big and small, benefit from the marketing space offered by big-box retailers. Consumers are more likely to purchase products from stores they are familiar with. 

Ultimately, big-box stores provide convenience and affordability while improving the quality of life for consumers and increasing wealth for big and small retailers alike.

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