Love a local business? Social shoppers organize 'cash mob' visits

Small business advocates are taking to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to encourage patronage of community retailers, restaurants and galleries.

Small businesses have plenty to gain (and lose) as more consumers move a larger portion of their shopping online. One common refrain is that price shopping engines and perks from big retailers, such as free shipping, are squeezing out margins for the little guy or gal.

Over the past year, however, more than 253 groups in 46 states have organized so-called cash mobs -- seemingly random shopping visits or meetups organized via social network with the sole intent of patronizing a select local business.

The "cash mob" concept, apparently dreamed up last August by a blogger in Buffalo, N.Y., encourages participants to spend at least $20 in a local store or business during a given timeframe. This could have an enormous impact. For example, if just 100 people visited the same store one per week and spent this amount, that would be roughly $96,000 annually in extra revenue. That is nothing to sneeze at.

There are now several sites dedicated to coverage of the concept and designed to help local shopping activists/advocates organize their own cash mob events.

The cash mob idea was brought to my attention by, an online search engine that is part of massive retail and e-commerce site eBay.'s mission is to help buyers find out what's on the shelves of local retailers and figure out where they might find the best deal.

It is simultaneously ironic and logical that eBay is behind this. On the one hand, the company has helped shape the e-retailing boom that has challenged many small business owners. On the other, eBay has helped many a small company grow far beyond the bounds of a physical storefront. has created an infographic to better explain how cash mobs work, as well as the steps you might need to take to get approval. It would be horrible, for example, if the targeted store didn't have enough staff to handle an influx of given customers. Plus, the promise of visits might encourage a business to set up some reward program to encourage repeat visits by participants.


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