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All Hail the Age of C2C: Consumer-to-Consumer

You've heard about business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) retailing. So what is CSC -- consumer-to-consumer -- all about? Terry Esper, associate professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management at the University of Arkansas, explains.

C2C promotes "the notion that consumers can serve a role in getting product to other consumers," says Esper. He speaks of "collaborative consumption," the trend of consumers participating in self-made buying and selling communities. As a result, they can play a key role in getting product to the final buyer.

The trend is being driven in large part by social media, although consumers have always engaged in some form of exchange, Esper says. More recently, the growth of mobile technology has caused that practice to take off. Supplementing mobile communications is a reliance by consumers on popular websites such as eBay and Craigslist. The internet, says Esper, "plays a really big part in allowing consumers to engage with one another."

Some manufacturers are concerned that consumer-driven exchanges create a competitive alternative market, and a threat to maintaining the quality of service. Esper says the practice addresses demand for product that the original supplier is unable to fulfill. But there is particular concern about the implications for luxury goods, which tend to be accompanied by an "overall experience" created by an authorized retailer. C2C exchanges are "a potential threat against ensuring that the experience is holistic," he says.

C2C also presents suppliers with the challenge of forecasting demand. "It's one thing to forecast when people will buy your product," says Esper. "It's another to know why." The initial buyer might immediately sell the product to another party, essentially playing the role of unauthorized distributor.

Retailers and manufacturers are trying to leap onto the C2C bandwagon by embracing crowdsourcing. They're hoping to use in-store shoppers to deliver orders to consumers who shopped on line. "Companies are at least thinking about it," says Esper. "It's starting to open up some really interesting doors."

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