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Could Peer-to-Peer Help Independent Businesses? 8

AmericanInKiev asks: "As an antidote to the trend of big businesses wiping out the independant business/cafe/bookshops - is it possible to use P2P applications to link related independant businesses rather than watch them die one by one? For example, you go to a small bookshop and ask for "The long dark tea-time of the soul" by Douglas Adams. "Fresh out" they say, but a quick P2P lookup shows the book available around the corner. A friend of mine runs a fourth generation retail nursery, but the Big Box stores buy in bulk and often sell plants as loss leaders. If he had a P2P system which could coordinate inventories across multiple small nurseries, they could buy in bulk, and search each others inventories, and aggregate shared stock to fill large orders from tight inventories. In a fashion, P2P and a common courier system, would create a kind of power grid effect for small businesses allowing load sharing, individual contribution, and economy of scale. Is there a P2P technology currently oriented towards this market?"
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Could Peer-to-Peer Help Independent Businesses?

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  • by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <> on Tuesday June 05, 2001 @07:52AM (#175856) Homepage Journal
    The issue is not software its stock costs. The Walmarts of the world can sell retail for less than the little guys can buy wholesale because they buy everything in huge quanitites.

    If you are a little guy who wants to go up agenst the Walmarts and the B&N's of the world you better have something specific to draw people into your shop. I don't think P2p inventory is going to do it.
  • Ever been to a junk yard? In the two cities I have lived in, during the last few years(houston and lubbock , tx), the junk yards have had a system that let's them check each other's inventory. If they don't have a part, they will often tell you that Joe's Junkyard around the corner does. In Houston, I seem to remember they had two systems actually--1 computer based, and a radio system that let them request parts, if someone at another site was listening
  • I agree. Just calling it P2P does nothing except to make the arrangement 'buzzword compliant'. Setting up a coop or some similar arrangement is what it seems the poster really has in mind. And, as you say, the technical hurdles are insignificant WRT the socialogical and business hurdles in such a scheme.

    Another thing to be wary of:

    Customer: Do you have a flowering chestnut tree?

    Shopkeep: No, but it seems that the guy in the next street/town/etc. has one. You could go over there and get it.

    Customer: Jeez, I'll just go to the mega store and save myself the running around.

    Many mom-and-pop shops have died by trying to go toe-to-toe with the biggies. Find out what you provide that they don't (service, service, service) and make sure that customers and POTENTIAL customers know about that.

    Avoid the buzzwords, and answer the real questions.
  • The real problem is tying in all of the mom and pop systems together. That is, of course, even assuming that their systems have a real-time inventory count. And then you get into issues of 'reserving items' or how Mary doesn't want Jane to see some of her inventory.

    Its a whole big mess of software, policies, procedures, and politics. You'd accomplish more by trying to start a new Fidonet relay in your region.

    Those problems aside, though, I'd love to see something like that work. Looks like a tough sell, but maybe there are a few niche industries it can be done in?
  • First off, something very like this happens, though generally with less technological mediation than suggested by a P2P system. It's called a union sometimes (a word that many of the Libertarians of Slashdot would find ugly). And sometimes it's called a coalition. When bigger companies do it (RIAA, MPAA, etc.) it gets called a cartel. A couple of years back, it was called "B2B portals" or "vertical portals". Often, those were organized by distributors and not retail outlets, but that's just a matter of where you lie in the capitalist food chain - I'm blanking on the site name right now, but some commerce sites try to bring "quantity discounts" to individual consumers by letting them group together to buy in bulk.

    As a concept, this has been floating around for years, even in technological form (and decades, even centuries, in purely people forms). Read Negroponte from five years back - his favorite example was lots of people getting together to buy cars in bulk.

    Now, be that as it may, this isn't a case of a "small matter of programming." It's a classic political Prisoner's Dilemma. If I tell the customer here in my store "Go get it elsewhere," how can I be sure that "elsewhere" will do the same thing in return? Capitalism rewards treachery. Treachery is most often a short term game, and capitalism makes it extremely easy to favor the short-term and screw the long term. Peer-to-peer doesn't do anything to remove a retailer's unease about sending a customer to another store. They'd sooner try to keep the customer by placing an order for the customer right then and there (and pretty much any media store (book, record, video, etc) will do that).


  • I know that libraries use a similar system for their online catalogs to locate volumes that may be in different branch libraries. I've seen the system also used between libraries that aren't necessarily afilliated (like interlibrary loan).

    Some links to systems set up like this (there's others, these are just the ones I know about):
    Longview Public Library [] is linked with the Lower Columbia College library
    Oregon State University Valley Library []; via Telnet []
    Oregon Union List of Serials []
  • I think the problem here is not so much cost as availability. The idea proposed here is a good one to provide better "virtual stock" than is available from any one store. If it means I can get a better selection of books, clothes, music, etc. at the store I can walk to, it's a great deal! So someone should go develop this.
  • Well, since no one else seems to have an opinion, I'll throw in my useless one.

    I don't think software is the issue, something like that would be really easy to set up using database stuff that's out there now that might not look beautiful, but it would do the trick. My concerns are mostly commerce related, first off, there needs to be some way to sort out the scum of the business world, affiliates just wanting in on everybody else's work, which implies a cost involved (as with anything), and who's to decide a registration fee that won't lead everyone into practically being part of a big business?

    Outside of that, it sounds like a really easy thing to do, it's just a matter of getting businesses to want to go in together on it, promotion, etc. Call it your own, do it yourself, make the world a better place, like most ideas it just sounds like a lot of setup.

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost