The people's republic of shopping

Tech Culture

Power to the shopper. That could be the credo that defines a new era in the retail industry, if sites like Crowdstorm succeed.

The latest service to enter the so-called social shopping market, Crowdstorm "measures the buzz around products and allows users to recommend products to each other." The site is born from the same concept that launched such services as Wists, and ShopWiki. Major players have also gotten into the act, including Yahoo with its Shoposphere and eBay through its affiliation with Kaboodle.

If anything, it's curious that such sites haven't taken off sooner. After all, it's been several years since Amazon started offering public book reviews, a major innovation at the time that arguably began the shared-shopping experience in earnest for the masses. Then Epinions took the concept beyond books, creating a loyal following for some time, though its popularity seemed to diminish with the rise of comparison-price shopping sites.

Beyond their practicality, Crowdstorm and like sites could represent something even more important than business (as hard as that might be to imagine): A shift in the all-important phenomenon of taste making, from corporate mass marketers to everyday consumers. As we've seen in the entertainment world, this type of grassroots empowerment can have revolutionary consequences.

Granted, retailers typically try to reflect the tastes of the public rather than start trends, but their execution is often spotty at best. (Remember New Coke?) With services such as Crowdstorm, maybe shoppers can help companies get it right faster--as well as help each other.

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