Independent retailers from England’s smallest city have joined forces to sell their wares through a new digital marketplace.
More than 30 retailers from Wells, Somerset, are the first to sell through MyHigh.St. They are also being joined by traders in nearby Street and Castle Cary.
MyHigh.St’s founders are toy shop owner Loaye Agabani, mobile software entrepreneur David Warburton and marketing consultant Tim Lewis, all based on Wells’ high street. Through the new venture they aim to take an offline sense of community onto the internet, encouraging local people to support their homegrown shops around the clock, while also opening up a new universe of potential customers further afield.
“Some of the research we’ve done has shown an underlying desire to support and maintain our high streets,” says Agbani. “Small retailers are what makes the high street interesting. But the internet has changed the way people shop. At 8pm everyone’s dual screening with their tablets while watching the Olympics and all the shops have closed.
“Now for the first time we are making the marketplace of independent retailers available [at that time]. If there is that desire to maintain our high streets as they are, support our local shopkeepers and independent retail, then this is an opportunity to do that.”
Shoppers on MyHigh.St can put all of their purchases into a single shopping basket to buy and arrange delivery through a single checkout. The site is PCI compliant, and has partnered with PayPal and Cardsave, part of the Worldpay group for payment options, and with UPS for next-day delivery. "We’re all sharing our traffic as we do on the high street at the moment," he said. "The way it’s built, it’s very easy to go from one shop to another and it’s easy to add purchases into one basket, have one payment."
The innovation, says Agabani, who runs Wells toy shop Junior Toys, enables small retailers to sell online in return for a percentage (14%) of their internet sales, bypassing the difficulties and costs of setting up their own websites.
“Independent retailers like myself and my wife are so focused on the day-to-day running of our shop that we forget there are other avenues,” he said. “You read about online retail and how well it’s doing and feel you should be doing it. I’ve wasted several thousand pounds trying to get online but don’t do it professionally because I don’t understand it and how it works.
“As a shop on the high street, a wet rainy weekends are not good for business but now we hope we’ll be able to benefit when other online retailers do as well.”
But the focus is also on taking shoppers into the store, with delivery options that include Click and Collect. Its loyalty scheme gives higher rewards to those who visit the high street than those who shop purely online, while on-site vouchers can be only spent on the high street. M-commerce is enabled alongside e-commerce.
The aim is to have 15 other towns online by the end of the year. Retailers from nearby Street are already uploading their inventories through the content management system, while more have also shown their interest ahead of the launch.
Our view: As a group, small independent retailers have arguably most often lost out to the growth of online retail. Lacking the name recognition that the best-known high street retailers enjoy, it's harder for them to build up that online presence. So this seems an interesting solution to the problem of how to find customers online - and how to encourage those online customers to visit the high street. We'll be watching over coming months to see how the theory – that customers who want to support their local high street will be happy to do so online – works in practice.