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Time to get together and start group buying?

Lots of stick people with a shopping trolley

One way to unlock better value is to buy together, as many consumers are now realising. Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, looks at the best co-operative buying schemes and how can we encourage more.

Overseas, there are some fabulous examples of consumer bulk purchasing. Choice in Australia pioneered group switching, now taken up by Which? here in the form of ‘The Big Switch’.

In Japan, the Seikatsu Consumer Co-operative brings together a quarter of a million consumers to do joint buying. Instead of a hundred different types of washing powder, they select the best in terms of value and sustainability and, as a result, have the same purchasing power collectively as a Walmart or Tesco.

Co-operative buying in the UK

In the UK, we have consumer-owned co-operatives such as the Phone Co-op and Co-operative Energy.

Another organisation, The Energy Saving Co-operative, brings together residents, enabling them to bulk buy everything from lightbulbs to solar panels, saving energy and money. It works on the simple and effective model that any profits it makes are returned to its customers, who own the business.

These are still small scale but they are at least owned by consumers, whereas some of the other attempts to harness group buying online, like group buying deals, are financed by venture capital and can end up exploiting the community rather than building it.

With the economy heading south, it’s not surprising to see that there is a renewed consumer interest in getting a better deal through co-operative buying. Our research shows that over eight million people in the UK are buying co-operatively, either formally or informally.

The best co-operative buying

So where are the best ideas?

We’ve teamed up with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to launch the ‘Buy Better Together Challenge’ to recognise and incentivise new models of collective purchasing.

The idea of the prize is to encourage new action and innovation, with a £60k fund that will go towards training and mentoring for stand-out projects, including £15k for the overall winner to develop their project.

You can submit your ideas between now and May, when projects will be shortlisted ready for the final judging in the autumn. The challenge is open to applications from individuals as well as new or existing groups in the public, voluntary or business sectors. We are really looking forward to hearing different experiences and ingenious ideas on ways of buying co-operatively.

So, if you have ideas of what could be done, now’s the time to share them. Perhaps you want to do more co-operative buying? Or are you doing it already?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Co-operatives UK, the trade association for co-operative enterprises – all opinions expressed here are their own, and not that of Which?

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