Autumn 2012 / Leading Edge
Cash Mob

It’s like a flash mob, but motivated to buy

Cash Mob

Photo by Jo Shepherd, Courtesy of Andrew Samtoy

The notion, held dear by some consumers, that one should shop at local mom-and-pop establishments rather than large chain stores has taken on a new twist in the age of social media.

The “cash mob” is a variation of the flash mob. But instead of hundreds of people showing up in a public place at the same time to sing or dance, cash mobs designate a day to visit a local business (selected in an online vote beforehand) and spend some money there – perhaps $10 or $20. The idea is to give the shops a one-day boost in revenue to keep them going in tough economic times.

Craig Boutilier, a professor of computer science, says the idea is an altruistic version of a phenomenon called tuangou, which originated in China. There, people would arrive en masse at a store to haggle for a better price on a particular item. Boutilier is now working with PhD student Tyler Lu on an online version of bargain hunting that’s consumer-driven – unlike Groupon, in which vendors decide the deal.

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