In April 2020, the Quebec government introduced Le Panier Bleu, an online directory of Quebec retailers that supports local businesses impacted by the pandemic. The initiative maintains that if shoppers are presented with an accessible way to shop local, they may be more likely to opt for those options rather than purchasing from large retailers. While Panier Bleu’s mission is promising, the platform must be reworked to become more user-friendly, and students can help it reach its full potential.
When the pandemic set in, businesses struggled to survive because of government imposed public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. As businesses were suddenly restricted to online sales, many local vendors without the resources to adapt to a web-based sales model suffered. Furthermore, many local stores only sell specific products. Even if the population has access to multiple shops from the comfort of their home, it is still far more practical to do all of one’s shopping at once. Consumers looking to buy a variety of products instinctively visit Amazon, which offers almost everything one could need on one site.
The government sought to adopt Amazon’s model not only to help small businesses survive, but also to try and combat the retail giant’s monopoly on online shopping. However, Panier Bleu’s strategy has some glaring flaws. Although it is meant to support local shops, critics have expressed concerns over some of the vendors listed on the site, like IGA, which is part of a multinational chain that already has its own online platforms and clientele. By including IGA and other stores like it on Panier Bleu, attention is taken away from truly local vendors, detracting from the purpose of the initiative. If the government wants to better support local businesses, it should consider removing any already well-established chains from the website. To do so, it could implement a revenue threshold that business must be under in order to appear on the platform.
Beyond issues with the selection on Panier Bleu, users will find that it is not nearly as intuitive as its competitors. While it aims to become an alternative to Amazon in Quebec, Panier Bleu merely redirects shoppers wanting to buy a product to a store’s website. Users looking for different products still have to visit several sites. This urges shoppers to buy from large online retailers, as they can search for a variety of products in one place and easily make a single purchase.
Despite its flaws, Panier Bleu’s shortcomings should not discourage potential customers from using it, including McGill students who are typically likely to shop on Amazon. While it may be less convenient, the benefit for small businesses can be massive. Further, increased use and feedback may push the government to improve the directory rather than eventually abandon it due to low traffic. To further support local businesses in the long term, when using Panier Bleu, students should also take note of which local stores sell the products they need to promote a shift to local shopping especially when it becomes easier to shop in person again. The process may take more time than shopping on Amazon, but if done en mass, these small actions support local shops that are in dire need of help.
By shopping on Amazon, students are supporting a company that made a monstrous profit last year while letting down struggling businesses. Although Panier Bleu must be improved, it can be incredibly meaningful to local shop owners, which ultimately outweighs the mild inconvenience that may come with using it.