More than a century ago, the Sears Roebuck catalog arrived in the mailboxes of rural Americans and changed their lives. It didn’t just make fine toilet paper: shoppers could order everything from clothing to guns to entire houses and have it delivered to their homes. Now online shopping has opened the world up even more to rural people, letting them buy food cheaper than local supermarkets and clothing that the Walmart a half-hour drive away doesn’t carry.
Catalog shopping has been a given for people in rural areas and small towns for a long time, but it’s only recently that buying everything online became commonplace. The Wall Street Journal discussed the shift with the UPS delivery driver who serves Magnum, OK, who says that his business is up about 30% in the last few years.
He knew that things had really changed when he saw a bottle of plain old bleach being delivered to a customer. It was probably cheaper than the town grocery store and easier to have UPS bring it to the customer’s doorstep than to drive to Walmart.
The WSJ chose this area in Oklahoma because it happens to be home to the longest rural mail route that the U.S. Postal service serves. While the USPS doesn’t impose surcharges when delivering to remote areas, UPS does. You may not realize that retailers are paying extra to deliver to you, since many of them simply absorb the $4 surcharge.
E-Commerce Is a Boon for Rural America, but It Comes With a Price [Wall Street Journal]