Never mind that it translates a '60s polemic into a paean to '90s commercialism. The banner topping's main screen succinctly sums up the revolutionary approach of this shopping Web site: "Buying Power to the People."

From's name-your-price approach to's never-ending auctions, a rapidly growing number of online shoppers are finding new ways to buy things that only the Internet can make possible. Calling itself "a next-generation interactive retailing company," Mercata ( is one more of those usual shopping aisles online.

Launched in May, the site promotes a group-buying approach -- lowering the prices on brand-name merchandise by pooling people who want to buy a particular product. Mercata negotiates volume discounts with manufacturers without each consumer having to buy bulk.

With product categories ranging from "Baby Zone" to "Consumer Electronics" to "Sports and Fitness," the site posts pictures and descriptions of hundreds of "PowerBuy" products whose prices decrease in real time as more shoppers buy them. Buyers pay the price posted at the time of their purchase. They even can e-mail friends from the site to recruit buyers for these while-supplies-last deals.

Example: The price of the Belding Balance Max golf bag that went on sale Monday at 8 p.m. had dropped to $75.52 by yesterday at 11:30 a.m. -- a savings of $83.48 from the retail price of $159. Or check out the Quasar four-head VCR that retails for $109.99. With 13 hours and 16 minutes remaining on its sale, it had dropped to $86.50. And that price could nose dive to $43.25 if applying Mercata's introductory deal of 50 Mercata dollars (up to 50 percent off) for signing up free as a "PowerShopper."

Worth a visit, whether you buy something or not, are Mercata's consumer guides, which provide comprehensive explanations of how to buy products requiring smart decisions -- camcorders, cordless phones, infant car seats, golf clubs, etc.

Only caveat is that, like always, whether online or at the mall, compare prices before buying. Some deals at Mercata are outrageous, some aren't.

Engine Recall

Tecumseh Products Co. last week recalled about 118,000 engines found on outdoor power equipment. A hole in the engines' fuel line can leak, posing a fire and explosion hazard. The recalled engines primarily are on snow blowers (Ariens, Frigidaire, Garden Way, MTD, Murray, Simplicity, Snapper and Toro), and some post-hole diggers, log splitters, shredders, irrigators and ventilating fans. Look for "Tecumseh" and D.O.M. numbers from 9121 through 9233 on the engine label. The power equipment sold from $800 to $2,000 from June to September 1999. Call 888-271-4048 for a free repair.

Got a consumer complaint or tip? E-mail details to or write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, 20071.