I read on MSN today about cash mobs. If you've heard of flash mobs — either the violent or the artistic kind — then it's very similar to that. The idea behind cash mobs is to give a booster shot to local businesses. The cash mobs organize and descend on a particular local business to buy stuff. It's fun for the mobsters, and it's great for the business, which gets an unusually brisk sales day.
This isn't a bad thing, right? The cash mobs don't pretend that they're going to single-handedly bring the country, or even their city, out of the financial doldrums. If nothing else, they just plan to go out to have a good time:
We’d help businesses grow, we’d make people happy, we’d get stuff for ourselves, have a great time, and maybe we’d get a drink to celebrate afterward.
It's the economy — a shifting economy
Brick and mortar stores have lost business with the rise of online retailers, most notably Amazon.com. Booksellers have been the hardest hit — though to be fair, Borders Books and Music basically handed Amazon the keys to the front door! — mainly because Amazon is cheaper, has more in stock, and can be shopped in the comfort of one's home. Why settle for a measly 10% off of new books — with a paid membership, no less — when you can get 30% or more off every day, all the time? Heck, why not go into a place with your smartphone and do a price comparison right there? That's what people have begun to do, and it's not going to stop.
It's the USP that will save a business — not charitable shoppers
Price, selection, and convenience can't be the only reason that people buy things. If it were, businesses would be worse off than they are now. People must buy things in stores for other reasons. The businesses that figure out how to capitalize on the advantages of buying from them over buying from Amazon will succeed. This requires a crystal-clear unique selling proposition; the USP defines concisely the market it serves, and the key advantage it brings to that market. For example, we have a local hardware shop. It's more expensive than Lowe's in town for most items, but its key advantage is the personalized attention that the manager and staff give to their customers. This isn't at all to say that Lowe's employees are rude when you find them, but it's far easier to find a very helpful person at our local hardware store.
What's more, a USP isn't forever. It can't be. The advantages of one particular store vs. cheaper alternatives will change, and the store has to adapt, branch out, deliver different value.
Local businesses with a rock-solid USP, a heart for customer service, and a keen eye for delivering value that lower-priced competition can't, will do fine. Local businesses that don't will get eaten alive (though maybe a bit later if a cash mob strikes).