Slow Commerce

It feels a little odd to be writing about ‘slow commerce’ right now, as a shopkeeper at the busiest point of my year.

But perhaps that’s exactly why I feel the need to write it. My small online shop is not immune to the Christmas shopping frenzy and it’s been a busy few weeks keeping on top of orders and enquiries and stock and everything else.

The temptation, at potentially-hectic times like these, is to speed everything up.

To ‘whip through the inbox’, to speed up the packaging process. The temptation, at commercially advantageous times like Christmas, is to compete with other online retailers and offer bolder, faster, more last-minute options.

What do all of these things lead to?

More stress. More work. And potentially, cut corners and more broken promises (and thus more stress and more work), since a micro business consisting of two part-time staff on decent hourly rates can’t possibly compete with Amazon’s many thousands of under-paid, over-worked, infinitely-dispensible workers.

The busier my shop becomes, the more important it is that I look after myself and nurture the relationships that are important to it and to me. With my assistant, with my customers, with my suppliers.

And with myself. (Ain’t it funny that it’s self-care and self-nurturing that are first out the window when things get busy?)

As online retail moves ever-faster, customers’ expectations move with them. We expect to receive items we purchase the very next day. We expect shops to be able to deliver this, every time. We expect that there are armies of customer service staff available to answer our queries 24/7. We’re sold convenience above all else, above quality, above care, above health.

The more I see this, the more I want to go the other way.

Not purely out of stubbornness (though that’s certainly a part of it) but out of fear. I’m afraid for where retail is going. I’m afraid for where our expectations are going. I’m afraid for the way that we are so focused on the acquisition of *stuff* that we forget to think about the journey, the process, the time it takes and the human (and non-human) bodies that make that very stuff possible.

Amazon culture gives the impression that robots handle orders and ship goods, that everything is automated and done yesterday, that you can have that item for just $3.97 with same-day shipping. Who is covering the cost of that ‘great deal’? Who is paying the price so that you can have it as cheap as possible and as fast as possible?

Where online shops automate more and more of the order fulfillment process (to the degree that my partner received a pack of four screwdrivers in a two-foot box last week, presumably because it is more efficient to just use the same box size for all products), heck, I’ll add an extra heart sticker to our packages – just to slow things down one second more.

Where retailers race to the bottom-est of rock-bottom prices… I’ll keep setting my prices based on a simple, fair formula: That everyone (me, my assistant, the folks who create the goods I sell) is getting paid properly.

This is a plea for a movement towards slow commerce.

Slow commerce is the antithesis of antithesis of mainstream online reatail culture. The deliberate antithesis of Amazon culture.

And it’s bloody beautiful.

Slow commerce is slow.

And because it is slow…

Slow commerce is sustainable. Slow commerce considers the time it actually takes to order, receive, process, package, ship and deliver items, and sets its own pace.

Slow commerce is relaxed. In setting its own pace, slow commerce allows wiggle-room. It allows for mistakes, or delays. It allows for illness. It allows for those days when it’s just not possible to get everything done. And those days happen to all of us, right? Just because I am a retailer doesn’t mean I have magic powers. In the same way, slow commerce is healthy. Sometimes I have period pain and can’t stand for long periods, or a headache and need to not look at a screen. Sometimes I have a friend in need and showing up for them is the right thing to do. Sometimes Hele (shop assistant) needs to change her days. With slow commerce, there is space for flexibility, so we can get the work done whilst allowing for our personal needs to be met.

Slow commerce is about process. Slow commerce is about the journey as much as the end result. In slow commerce, you’ll still get your goods, of course, but it will take longer, and it will be more carefully done. The focus is not on your consumption, but on your investment in beautiful goods that take time to design, create, ship and share, and the people who carry out this labour.

Slow commerce allows for earth care. For considering things like the most sustainable packaging options. For resourcefulness, re-use, recycling.

Slow commerce is a celebration of the actual items that are for sale. Rather than urgency marketing that relies on creating feelings of lack and it’s accompanying urge to buy, in slow commerce, we simply share the beautiful goods on offer, their pictures, their stories, our responses to them, and allow you to enjoy them as they are. So slow commerce encourages mindfulness. Not only on our end, packaging and shipping your orders with love and care, but on your end too.

Slow commerce says you are enough. Nothing is ‘must-have’, instead, we honour these items as beautiful creations, luxuries, treats. You may decide to purchase, and that’s great! Otherwise, please enjoy and know that you are whole and complete exactly as you are, and you do not need our wares in order to feel better, or more spiritual (since we are selling spiritual goods), or cooler, or anything else.

Slow commerce is enjoyable. We have time to talk and laugh as we work, time to exchange kind words with creators and suppliers, time to ask questions and solve problems together, time to read customer emails properly and respond from a human place. Time to celebrate successes and work on real, sustainable improvements.

Slow commerce is human. In setting such realistic expectations, slow commerce is a reminder that it is a human being that made your item. It is a human being that transports it across the ocean. It is a human being that receives your order, wraps your items, carefully places them in a box addressed to you, and takes your package to the Post Office. It is a human that stamps your package. It is a human that delivers it to your door. All of these tasks and many others have to be carried out by normal human people like you and I, in order for you to receive your item.

Am I losing sales? Perhaps.
But boy do I love my job.

What’s the use of raking in more and more cash if year on year I become more stressed out, busier, or more distant from my business?

Loving my work and getting properly paid is the only way I know to run a sustainable business. Without one part, or the other, my shop would close.

And that, in slow commerce – as it should be in any business – is the bottom line.