As an Alaskan-raised skier now living in the Inland Northwest, I know that the key to a great day in the mountains is feeling comfortable and confident in your gear.But quality equipment can be expensive. And, like most deal-seeking shoppers, I use to believe that buying gear online was always the most cost-effective option. I also thought finding cheap gear was the ultimate treasure hunt, especially during my high school and college years when funds were tight. But my perspective on online shopping is changing, and here’s why: I now work for a small retail business.
November marks my one-month anniversary at the Spokane Alpine Haus, a locally-owned ski shop on the South Hill. Over the past month, I learned for the first time about Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP), where companies set a minimum price at which a retailer can advertise a product. If a brick-and-mortar or online retailer is advertising a product lower than MAP pricing, it is actually illegal.This helps protect local retailers like our ski shop that put in hours of personal time with customers—helping with questions on gear, apparel fit issues, custom boot fitting, and other needs—from getting undercut by slightly lower-priced Internet promotions.
Online shopping has been a threat to almost every sector of the local retail industry in recent years, and even at a consumer level, online shopping (with the exception of some small, specialty product retailers) can cause more harm than good. The reason is simple: larger online retailers have little incentive to help the consumer or invest in local communities, and they aren’t equipped for the level of customer service only a face-to-face interaction can provide.
A recent extreme example of how the disconnect between large online retailers and consumers can have negative consequences for the entire outdoors community is the controversy that erupted around Backcountry.com. The company has become one of the top retailers in the industry, selling a wide range of outdoor gear, including some items at a discount. The trouble started in the fall of 2018, when the company trademarked the term “backcountry” and started going after smaller companies that used the word “backcountry” in their name. This legal-bullying strategy threatened the livelihood of several small-business owners across a wide range of industries including denim, coffee and even a women-focused avalanche course called “Backcountry Babes.” A social media backlash surged by October 2019, and the company dropped one of the lawsuits and apologized on November 6.
When people shop local, owners and employees are able to create relationships with customers and in our case at Spokane Alpine Haus provide a better gear selection and fitting experience, which means more fun outside. The great outdoors is supposed to be a place that builds community, and shopping local is an easy way to help strengthen our local outdoors community—it’s a personal experience that gives people life and gets more people outside.
Written by Klaus Hanley