Shopping socially with group buys

A multitude of online communities are centred on all sorts of different topics, from fountain pens to even home-cooked meals. —

There is strength in numbers, and that’s what gives “group buys” – the practice of procuring a product in bulk with a bunch of other buyers – its purchasing power to save costs.

The savings can come in the form of something as simple as splitting shipping fees between buyers, especially for items ordered from overseas, or even approaching workshops and manufacturers directly to make a bulk order at a cheaper and typically wholesale price.

The idea of making larger orders to shave off costs is nothing new – businesses have been taking advantage of it all along, but it hasn’t been as easy for consumers.

Making a bulk order means people will need others to also want to buy the same item, making the idea moot if they are unable to reach a minimum headcount.

But with the rise of Internet communities and social media, things have changed. And though the practice is more popular in some tech communities than others, it’s not limited to niche gadgets.

A multitude of online communities are centred on all sorts of different topics, from fountain pens to even home-cooked meals.

Typically, the target item would be an existing product, but in some groups, the devices on offer may be custom designed by a member of the community itself.

This is commonly the case for groups specialising in custom mechanical keyboards, where designers tend to do an “interest check” before proceeding to make the product.

Those keen on joining in to save cash on their next purchase have to start by joining communities on social media platforms like Facebook that are specific to their interests.

Locally, there are the Keyboard Clackers Malaysia and Malaysia Mechanical Keyboard Facebook groups, where users both initiate group buys and share existing ones being run by other enthusiasts overseas.

Foodies, on the other hand, can check out the Group Buy (F&B Only) Facebook group, where members offer foodstuffs and meals in batches.

Those with more niche interests in items like flashlights and everyday carry (EDC) can keep an eye on community-centric platforms like Reddit.

One such group can be found on the r/flashlight subreddit page.

However, the frequency of organising group buys can vary from community to community.

In online communities where group buys are uncommon, there’s always the option of being proactive and initiating one if it’s allowed.

It’s also advisable to reach out to the manufacturer or supplier beforehand to ascertain the costs and conditions.

But like all things, there are some downsides to making purchases through group buys, with the most obvious being the long lead times.

Organisers have to run interest checks before they can even begin, which could take days if not weeks.

After that, ample time has to be given for people to join the group buy, as having more people will help save more money.

That’s not the end of it – if it’s for an item that is being made to order directly from the designer or factory, the lead time can be longer, even months.

This was a common occurrence for the custom keyboard community during Covid-19 due to the increase in group buys being organised.

Essentially, anyone in a hurry is better off making the purchase on their own, albeit without the cost savings.

Aside from potential delays, a made-to-order product may fail to meet customers’ expectations if it differs from what was ordered.

The worst-case scenario – a group buy organiser may run off with the participants’ money. This is why it’s best to stick with organisers with a good track record.

But when everything goes right, opting for a group buy can make things quite a bit cheaper than importing it yourself or buying from a local reseller.

It also allows people to buy a product they would not be able to get anywhere else.

As always, make sure to weigh your options before committing to a group buy while keeping the principle of “caveat emptor” or buyer beware in mind.

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