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Retail Gangsters: Flash-Mob Shoppers Gang Up On Store Managers

Flash mob image via <a href="http://www.happyrobot.net/robotchow/art/mob4_rc_crowd.jpg">Cheese Bikini</a>
Flash mob image via Cheese Bikini

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Here's a novel way of using the internet to score a discount on stuff—and it's not by harnessing the powers of Groupon or eBay—it's flash mob shopping, popularized in China, where, apparently, they've been doing it for ages. Mixing high-tech (web searching, crowd-sourcing, and community building) and low-tech strong-arming techniques (ganging up on store managers), customers in Asia have found a way to save money on coveted products:

So how does flash-mob shopping work? Say you'd like to buy a new camera. Canon. Grey. With a 2.5-inch Articulating LCD. You'd do a Google (or if you're Chinese, Baidu) search for other people who want the same item. You might come across a dozen "team buying" websites like "www.020tgw.com," which you would browse through to find out when a group is meeting up with store managers to haggle for a fair price.

You would then go to a shop downtown with 20 or so other folks. When the manager comes out, you might spend an hour (or two) explaining why you deserve 50 RMB off the price and a new leather camera pouch as an added perk. The suit-and-tie manager may or may not give in, but if he does, you'll know it's because you brought a mob over to the store and used crowd-sourcing (in the most literal sense) to leverage your strike price.

It's kind of like buying in bulk. Sort of. Brilliant? Bizarre? Possibly illegal? Another possible use for Foursquare? While we're not sure this sort of practice will catch on in the United States, the idea of a consumer-driven bulk discount (versus a retailer-orchestrated bulk discount) is interesting. Power to the people and stuff.
· Flash-mob shopping in China: Groupon's predecessor? [SF Chronicle]