Buy It Like You Mean It and Vendor Relationship Management
I just got back from the launch party for Buy It Like You Mean It, a startup non-profit that is “enabling the socially conscious consumer”. I’m a big fan of what they are doing. As a free-market capitalist, I like to think that the power of markets can solve all kinds of problems. As a realist (and Wall Street technology vendor), I realize that market actors can have wildly different information and expertise.
Consumer goods suffer greatly from this problem. They are produced and distributed by large and complex organizations. Consumers, particularly in traditional retail settings, have little to go on but what it says on the box and the brand. And in recent times, brands have become commodities themselves, with everyone from Martha Stewart to Sesame Street selling their name. In order to make this market work, we need better technology at the point of sale.
Enter Buy It Like You Mean It.
Send them a barcode (via SMS or otherwise) and they will send you back a customized report about that product and how it aligns with your personal political or social inclinations. This information is crowd-sourced, Wikipedia style, from what I imagine will become an active community of corporate watch dogs. In the short term, they are focusing on chocolate, to build a complete database and work the bugs out of their system. But I’m sure it won’t be long before they branch out. And probably build an iPhone application.
I’m a huge fan of the application of technology to improving market dynamics, and especially of applying technology to level the playing field between consumers and corporations. Since the first time I heard the idea, I’ve been excited about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), the dual of the ubiquitous Customer Relationship Management (CRM). A lot of this stuff is still in the conceptual stages, such as ProjectVRM at Harvard. Buy It Like You Mean It is a refreshingly concrete application of the same ideas.
I imagine a future in which self-organized blocks of consumers, aided by software, can effectively hold their own against even the largest vendors. Chinese “team buying” (Tuangou) is an early example of this. I look forward to using technology to share information with other consumers about my credit card company, auto mechanic, airline, or hotel. Actually, I can already do that. So instead I look forward to using technology to digest and aggregate all the freely available information, and to even more directly manage my relationship with these vendors, all the way to making purchase decisions for me.
Much appreciation to Taza Chocolate for hosting the launch party. They are a stone ground chocolate factory in Somerville, making ultra-high end chocolate. If you have a chance to tour their factory, I highly recommend it.