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I am asking because I noticed the following question, but I am interested to understand in general if shopping questions are on-topic: Where can I buy fresh water prawns?

I think that such questions are too localized, in some way, or too general, in an other way.
If the expected answer is the place where to buy something, then the question is too localized, as people in different countries (or different states, but inside the same country) will go in different places; I would not expect people living in New York to go in the same place where people living in California go. If the expected answer is something similar to "go to a local store where they sell fish," then the question seems too generic, to me.

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Interestingly, our founder and CEO just made a statement about "Too Localized" today, which is why I held off on closing it. I left a comment asking for clarification but haven't received a response yet.

The linked answer suggests that "too localized" is reserved for a question that's relevant to practically no one other than the author, or if the answer would become irrelevant by tomorrow. I think this is a rather localized definition for Too Localized but it's always been difficult to define exactly where the boundary is. "Central Texas" isn't exactly a tiny place.

My feeling is that the localized issue isn't really the problem here. Rather, "Where can I find X in Y" questions are a problem for some of the same reasons that recipe polls are: They imply a list of things, rather than one or a few definitive answers, and the potential universe of shopping questions is very possibly bigger than that of all other cooking questions combined, especially when you factor in the possibility of there being one for each ingredient or piece of equipment in every single city.

I honestly would like to be able to say that the questions should stay; there's a real problem to be solved (it's not speculation or silliness) and most of the time the asker has genuinely attempted to solve the problem themselves before coming for help. It has all the characteristics of a good question, and yet, if we allowed every possible variant of that question, it would bury us.

More conventional/traditional forums usually solve this problem with local subforums. We don't have that option. We're stuck between a rock and a hard place; either we close a few legitimate questions or we run the risk of drowning out all the other questions amongst shopping threads that 99% of members aren't interested in.

I want to say to these people: It's not you, it's us. Your question was fine. We are just not equipped to deal with them as a matter of policy. Our software wasn't designed for it. I doubt that it's very comforting for the people who get their questions closed.

Anyway, that's my long-winded explanation of why I think we should continue to close these questions despite Joel's comments. I'm open to suggestions, though.

  • I guess that in some cases, the only way to see if it's too localized is to see if there are any answers, but sometimes those questions are clearly too localized. Closing a question after it got, for example, two answers seem unfair for who answered, but it is also what happens with off-topic questions to which somebody has already answered before the questions are closed. Being moderator on an SE site, I can understand how it's sometimes difficult to decide if a question is a no-no, or a yes-yes. – kiamlaluno May 6 '11 at 1:29
  • @kiamlaluno: The no-no and yes-yes ones are easy; it's the yes-no and no-yes ones that get complicated! – Aaronut May 6 '11 at 16:06
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Luckily, this hasn't turned out to be a major problem, due mainly to the low amount of shopping questions we get. But while the argument in the accepted answer leans towards deleting these questions, this isn't how we have moderated the few questions which did arise.

My opinion is that we don't need a special rule for closing shopping questions. However, most shopping questions are a bad fit, and should be closed based on existing rules. Specifically, a shopping question has a big chance of being either too localized, or a poll. If somebody manages to write a shopping question which is neither, we don't have to close it.

There are a few good reasons why you would want to ask a shopping question:

  • The item you want to purchase is not easily obtained in your (sufficiently large) region. You searched for it in local supermarkets (including the large ones), farmers' markets, gourmet shops, ethnic grocery stores, and other likely places, and they couldn't supply it. Also, it is not easy to get it from the Internet (for example, fresh herbs). Such a question is Desperately Seeking Chicken Haddies.
  • The item you want to purchase is not usually sold to a home customer. You know places where you could get it, but they are B2B places and sell it in 25-kg-bags. See for example Where do I buy food additives (not in bulk)?. The other way round is also OK, for example Cheapest place to get bulk chocolate?.
  • You can only find suppliers who sell it on conditions which are clearly unacceptable in your situation. For example, you know that you can order the item from the USA, but you live in Europe, and you would have to pay shipping, import tax and VAT, which cost more than the item itself.
  • The item is so rare, you can't even find a seller on the Internet.
  • you are looking for an item with specific features, and while you can find a plentiful supply of this type of item, you don't know which one has the specific features. For example, I could ask "Where do I get a non-ridged honing steel with at least 60 HRC in Germany?" - after a few initial searches, I know that the widespread brands available in the usual brick-and-mortar stores are all ridged, and although I can find a large number of online sellers offering honing steels, none of them says whether their product is ridged or not, and nobody gives the HRC number.

If you are answering such a question, please pay attention to the quality of your answer. List the source which sells the item, mention relevant details about their conditions (approximate price if known, where do they ship, etc.), and give sufficient contact information about them, the best being their web shop (if they are an online seller) or physical address. If you are in any way affiliated to the seller, please disclose it - we won't remove your answer just because you are affiliated. We will remove it if it isn't a good enough fit, or if it doesn't provide enough information.

Please do not give spam-like answers: spam Even if you mean well, the lack of information combined with a throwaway address at a public mail provider makes it suspicious and we will delete it.

See also a relevant discussion in chat (a bit old).

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