On an otherwise quiet Friday afternoon in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, 500 shoppers gather outside a Gome electrical superstore in the downtown district. They arrive en masse at the designated time–June 16th at 4pm–that they had previously agreed online. Several hours later, they emerge clutching boxes, having secured 10-30% discounts on cameras, DVD players and flat-screen televisions. “It was great,â€? says Fairy Zhang. “We just bought an apartment and this way we can afford nice things for it.â€? The previous weekend, over 100 locals visited Meizhu Central, a well known furniture outlet, to haggle over the prices of kitchen cabinets and dining-room furniture.
Tuangou, or team buying, aims to drive unprecedented bargains by combining the reach of the internet with the power of the mob. It is spreading through China like wildfire. The practice originated in online chat-rooms but has quickly inspired several specialist websites, such as 51tuangou.com and www.teambuy.com.cn.