'Cash mobs' target local businesses
Social media-fueled flash mobs have morphed into groups of people who shop en masse to support local businesses.
Flash mobs gained popularity in the mid-2000s as a sort of hipster-performance-art trend in which groups used social media to organize gatherings at specified locations to "spontaneously" break into song or dance. The events were generally frivolous and entertaining, but largely without purpose.
Now a new iteration has emerged as "cash mobs" convene to spend money at local businesses, supporting small retailers and their home economies.
Like flash mobs, cash mobs are organized via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but sometimes get a little help from more conventional media when events are announced in advance in the newspaper or on the radio.
The concept was invented by blogger Chris Smith, of Buffalo, N.Y., who organized the first cash mob in August at a local wine shop, according to NPR station WBUR. Smith said the mobs are "sort of a reverse Groupon," through which people pay full price to support their community retailers:
"(I want to) make them think once a month that you don't have to go to Target for everything you need and everything you want," Smith said.
Unlike flash mobs, which are usually a surprise to local businesses, cash mob organizers notify the targeted store in advance, so they'll be prepared for the possible influx. The mobbers, however, know where to meet, but not the store where they will shop.
The Cash Mobs blog carries a list of "mob rules," which recommends choosing stores that are locally owned and that give back to the community in some way. They also advise getting approval from the store's owners and setting a $20 spending commitment for mobbers. Post continues below.
Cleveland lawyer Andrew Samtoy, who the Cash Mobs blog says organized that city's first event in November, told San Diego's KPBS that the mobs appeal to people because they feel they can have a larger impact by acting collectively. "People want to make a difference, and I also think that part of it is that people want to take back their local economies," he said.
Lauren Way, who organized a recent cash mob in San Diego, told KPBS that "it's really about realizing that making an immediate tangible difference in your community is easy and fun."
Small but growing
The cash mob trend is small but growing. Facebook community pages for groups range from "San Diego Cash Mobs" (with 577 likes) to "Orkney Cash Mob" in the United Kingdom (with 44). Twitter lists dozens of cash mob-related pages, but most have fewer than 200 followers. The Cash Mobs list of "blogs near you" includes more than 60 locations in almost 30 states and Canada.
The mob that Way organized in San Diego in January drew about 24 people to a store that sells work by local artists. Each person spent at least $20 at the store, NBC San Diego reported.
"If one person goes into a local business and spends $20, that's great," Way told NBC San Diego. "If 40 people spend $20, that's $800 that went into that local business."
Businesses are optimistic about the trend. In fact, Entrepreneur magazine recently ran an article listing seven tips for small businesses to attract a communal shopping event. (Advice ranged from "Communicate your values" to "Organize your own cash mob.")
Another reason for cash mobs is the chance for participants to meet new people and make new friends. Post-shopping socializing is recommended among the "suggested rules" on the Cash Mobs blog. Mob Rule No. 8 states: "The business must be within one block of a locally owned watering hole," and Rule No. 9 is: "Cash Mobbers must join us for celebratory drinks after the successful mob."
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