How far should we go into electronic markets?

I’ve been known to make the occasional purchase through an online marketplace. I’m sure most of us have.

It’s especially handy for the Christmas season, or if I happen to be looking for a hard-to-get item I otherwise might not be able to find locally.

Whenever possible, though, I prefer to keep my money in my hometown, or, at the very least, a neighboring community.

There is a news report circulating that Amazon is now looking into the possibility of getting into the pharmaceutical business.

The company has been looking into it for a while, and even hired an internal pharmacy benefit manager to put together a pilot program to be used by its employees.

If it all goes as they hope, then in a couple of years they could launch the service nationwide.

Competition absolutely is important. It can spur us to try to do better, overcome obstacles and grow.

At the same time, there are some forms of competition which also lead to the disappearance of our locally-owned businesses.

For years, people have pointed to the creation of the so-called “big box” stores, which often would be able to offer bigger selections for lower prices.

It became difficult for the “mom and pop” establishments to compete, and many would eventually close.

Then, came the advent of online sales. At first, it was an opportunity for local stores to broaden their sales opportunities.

They would make their local sales to people in their community, and as word spread about them, people from across the country could place their own orders.

For a while, those who took that step seemed to have a chance at some improved growth.

Then, just as one day someone came up with the idea of a “big box” store, someone thought the same could be done in the age of the internet.

A system of distributors and warehouses was created, a sales site was developed and jobs were created.

It certainly made it easier on many of us, who no longer had to get in the car, drive to a handful of physical store locations and hope we could find the item we wanted.

Now, all we have to do is enter a few words into a search engine, click on the mouse a couple of times, put in a credit card number and place the order. In a matter of a few days, it’s on our doorstep.

It’s convenient, but it’s not always the best choice.

There is still something to be said about being able to have that personal touch to your shopping experience.

Is it better to shop online or go to a local florist, who can help you better make those personal touches?

Would you rather surf the web, or go to your neighborhood book store (they still exist), whose employees can help get you the publication you would like?

Would it be better to go to the closest grocery store and select your own produce, or go onto some online portal and hope it gets to you while it’s still fresh?

It’s the same with this idea of online pharmaceuticals. I can understand if you are simply looking for some generic, shelf-available item, but prescription medication is more nuanced.

Your local pharmacist will get to know your needs and offer alternatives, if needed.

You might not be able to get that advice and assistance by going through an online retailer.

Most local pharmacies also provide delivery service these days, so if you are unable to get to the pharmacy, it’s still not a problem.

Is it possible this will lead to changes in the cost structure of their services? Sure, but it could also lead to some long-time, locally owned and operated pharmacies going out of business.

Is that something we want?

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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