First, there were flash mobs. Now, there are cash mobs. A cash mob is an organized group of do-gooders who suddenly descend on small businesses, snap up merchandise and gather at pubs and restaurants afterward to celebrate their pro-community mission. The shopping sprees have taken place in cities ranging from San Diego to Buffalo. The cash mobs organize online at website such as Facebook or Twitter, where they get details. Farmers markets, toy retailers and hardware stores have populated the hit list so far, with mob members typically spending between $10 and $20. The cash mob trend started getting social media pickup last year, and as word spread, so has the benevolence. Community activists, non-profit employees and regular people have formed cash mobs in their towns.
The philanthropic acts provide an appreciated economic boost for small-business owners, said entrepreneur John Reburn, who was hit by a cash mob numbering more than 100. His Appalachia Press, a letterpress and silk-screening shop in Roanoke, VA, rang up 54 sales in less than an hour as customers bought stationery, books and prints. “We did the equivalent of a Christmas shopping day in 45 minutes,” Reburn said.
Reburn, who was informed of the cash mob visit three days in advance, said the throng not only stimulated sales, it raised his spirits. “There are months when you just wonder if you can continue and if (printing) just has to be a hobby and not your career,” he said. “But this little cash mob was just so joyful. Even though it was just one night, it does make you feel appreciated.” Although the term mob brings up connotations of a fight, Reburn said it was a pleasant experience when dozens of customers crammed into his small shop. “They were very respectful and there to have fun,” he said.
The group was there to support local business, yet participants get something in return, said Jennifer Baker, an assistant professor of philosophy at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Under the “virtue ethics” point of view, if people try to continually do what they think is right, “It becomes second nature, and you end up with fewer worries and a better grasp on what is truly of value.”
The increase in cash mob activity comes at a time when America’s small businesses need community support to survive. Nearly 40 percent cite declines in customer spending are one of the three most significant challenges to their firms’ survival, according to the National Small Business Association.
Long Beach, CA resident Francisco M. Dominguez organized his city’s first cash mob, taking the flash mob concept by organizing consumers to patronize a business on a certain day during a certain time and spend a minimum of $20 at the targeted store. “I started cash mobs out of necessity for local businesses,” said Dominguez. “Cash mob is a social economic movement, driven by the need to support our local businesses.”
For Dominguez, the criteria are simple: his cash mobs patronize no chains or franchises; the store has to be local and it has to be struggling. “The business does not know we are trying to help as a community and the mobbers are willing to pay full price for (an) item,” he said. “No one is looking for free stuff or (a) discount. And we started to have a large number of followers. We also started to get notice from larger businesses that have invited us to come and mob them but they have to be turned down because we can’t see if they are struggling or not. We are getting contacted by many different people and businesses. The problem that we are having is that we like to stay very involved, and for us to physically be able to attend several places one week is proving difficult. We are working on implementing technology for expansion. We will eventually be able to control and advertise one cash mob per week all over the U.S.”