Flea Markets : Anonymous and Virtual

Flea markets are cool! Sunday’s visit to a flea market in Ahmedabad awed me with unexpected variety of products. What excited me more was the experience of moving in the streets checking out stalls one-by-one. Holding an unknown product in my hands, learning how it works by talking to the vendor, discussing it with my shopping partner, weighing it, negotiating on prices, asking other shoppers how much did a product cost them, these interactions built my shopping experience there. The experience was significantly different from today’s online stores (and even brick-and-mortar shops or supermarkets). No one knew me there, I did not sign-up, no one asked for my credit card number, it was a complete one-off relationship that made my experience pleasant. Privacy is a fundamental right and subject of heated discussions across the world.

Missing Exploratory Shopping Experience: E-commerce fails to deliver an exploratory shopping experience where a customer does not know what is she looking for. Online stores are too organized where products are arranged in categories and sub-categories. Deals occasionally provide an exploration opportunity but that is limited to items which are discounted. But such an experience can be designed with e-commerce websites, technically, may be not economically. Perhaps excessive regulatory control and trust-building with customer drove these businesses to focus on written attributes of products which are verifiable in the form of a contract. For example, describing a product as “brand-new and unused” rather than showing it to be so. Perhaps technology is a bigger driver, web pages over which this content is delivered have never been more friendly to anything but text.

Anonymous Virtual Flea Markets: A marketplace where anonymous sellers can come and sell almost anything is not a dream any more. There is a galaxy of marketplaces on the dark web. Cryptocurrencies are gaining ground. “Why can’t we use Mixed Reality (MR) technologies to build such markets?” is the central question. I think we can. A number mixed reality headsets are already in market from Oculus Rift to Microsoft HoloLens. There are shopping cart applications such as this that are designed for virtual reality. An independent, community backed, anonymous, mixed reality flea markets software effort is what we need.