There is a lot of emphasis today on preserving and supporting local economies. We are encouraged to “shop local” to keep small business, main streets, and traditional mom and pop shops viable. Shopping local is said to maintain the traditional social backbone of a community and to prevent large corporate venues from completely overtaking community life.
I love the idea. I like to do the right thing and make a difference. When I shop at a big box store, I make a miniscule contribution to the economy. When I shop at a small business, however, I help someone’s livelihood. I help keep their world and their dream alive. I help the community and make a difference.
But I’m going to be completely honest here. I absolutely loathe it. I avoid it like the plague. I am one of those people who will deliberately drive out of the way, past anything small, local, or privately owned, to get to a corporate big box store and buy something that was available at a small business right down the street from my home.
Many people would find this behavior enigmatic, but as an introvert, I have a simple explanation: It is merely one of the many defensive strategies I employ every time I go out in public. I am just trying to avoid a well-worn drama that plays out almost every time I visit a local shop.
It goes like this. I come in and a friendly salesperson greets me and asks how they can help. I thank them and tell them, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” But the friendly person is perplexed with my answer and not satisfied. They want to know specifically what I’m looking for. They want to know why I’m looking for it. They follow me around, and if I pick up anything, they insist on telling me about it.
Then come the questions. What do I want it for? Whom do I want it for? And my absolute favorite — do I live in the local area?
At this point, I feel like I’m being attacked by a swarm of hornets. I can’t think, relax, or make a decision with them hovering around me. Their personal questions feel like stings. Anger flares inside me, and I’m determined to get out of there before I tell them to back off and where they can shove their nosy questions.
Refusing to reply, I shrug and retreat down the nearest aisle towards the exit. But the friendly person is after me like a hornet to honey, desperately trying to “connect” with me before I can make it outside to safety. Ignoring the pained expression on my face, they persist.
So there I am, in the hell that too many introverts are familiar with. Some “friendly” person is demanding to pry me open with a jack-hammer. If I don’t let them do it, they will be hurt and offended, and I will be branded an antisocial snob.
Nevertheless, I refuse. More than once I have burst out the door empty handed, flashing a disgusted glance in their general direction on my way out. Yes, I will be one of those weird, stuck up, angry customers they tell horror stories about to their friends and coworkers.
And to think, all I wanted to do was pick up a few things.
In Big Box Stores, There’s No Pressure to Explain Myself
By contrast, when I go to a major corporate supermarket, big box store, or department store, people rarely bother me. It’s true that the crowds and atmosphere can be overstimulating, but at least I’m safe from hovering and interrogation. Staff members may ask if they can help, but when I say no, they usually get that I mean it and back off.
And if I do have to ask for help, that’s all I get – help with my purchase. There’s no pressure to bond, make small talk, or explain myself. Instead of having to fight off an intrusive stranger, I get to browse comfortably through their stock and focus on my own thoughts.
Diversity and inclusion are becoming more prominent values in our communities. But our spirit of inclusion seems to stop abruptly at the doorstep of personality type “i.” We emphasize “community” as an alternative to the corporatization of society, and it is.
But why does “community” have to be defined exclusively according to the extrovert model? I don’t want to chat and bond with everyone I encounter. I don’t want to be required to explain myself to a stranger for my every action or purchase. I don’t think this should be a problem, but unfortunately, it is.
Community based venues are certainly not the only places where introverts can experience this familiar conflict. But I’ve learned through experience that the smaller the venue, the more likely I am to be ambushed with “friendliness” and “helpfulness.”
So I am attracted to the public spaces where I am the safest from attack. I like big anonymous stores where you have to track somebody down if you need help, impersonal hotels where nobody is interested in who you are or why you’ve come to town, and the most welcoming introvert oasis in the history of commerce itself – Amazon. Just let me get lost in that beautiful quiet jungle.
Small Businesses, Here’s How to Get Introverts in Your Stores
So to the small business owners and local merchants: What would it take to get introverts like me into your store as regular customers? Here’s a plan:
- Acknowledge our existence. Stop treating all your customers with the one-size-fits-all extrovert model.
- Call off the hornets. Let “no thank you” mean “NO.”
- Let us know it’s safe to come in with a sign or advertising designating it as a “Quiet Friendly” establishment: one that doesn’t make chatting and bonding mandatory.
Otherwise, I will judge your store by its size and fear walking into another ambush. I will go on by and take my chances instead with corporate commerce.
I’m not a business expert, but I have to wonder about all the small local businesses out there suffering and struggling to stay afloat. What difference would it make if they stopped chasing introverts like me out of their establishments? Could some of those “angry,” “rude,” or “stuck up” customers actually turn out to be their salvation?
Will we ever get to find out?
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Image credit: @alexandrovphil via Twenty20