unlocks the power of the internet for the smallest businesses in the United States, the Main Street retail and service businesses
Distinguishing features, Industry, Goals, Challenges
Virtual Storefronts builds and distributes tools that unlock the power of the internet for the smallest businesses in the U.S., the Main Street retail and service businesses. We empower our customers by providing a solution that is simple to use; requires little or no time to maintain; and frees them from the burden and cost of creating and maintaining a website, all for a very affordable annual subscription rate.
We are creating the first coast to coast network built around the specific needs and unique social leadership position of locally owned, independent shops. Our platform leverages the value of the in-person customer experience and custom product offerings of our merchants by creating a digital bridge from the online shopping experience to local offline shopping.
Paths that are normally open to SaaS companies such as scaled online marketing across the Total Addressable Market are not viable for Virtual Storefronts. To make our product relevant to local shoppers, Virtual Storefronts onboards merchants within a specific geography.
We understand our merchant in a way Silicon Valley has failed to do for two decades.
We understand that local merchants, even our power user merchants who are adeptly leveraging digital channels, want exactly zero extra things to do on a computer. So we built a solution that removes the 'digital chore' of creating a website. This is very popular.
68% of our pilot merchants understand the value of having a website, but until we offered them a Storefront, they did not have enough incentive (or had already had too many failed and bad website experiences) to actually go through the painstaking process of finding someone to build a website
So we have focused on doing something revolutionary:
Turning this elaborate technical chore into a 15 minute online profile that fulfills the needs of most small merchants.
Many investors simply cannot believe this is a need because they mistakenly believe the current listings on Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Shopify and Facebook must already fulfill that need. Investors believe this as an article of faith or first principle. Investors don't understand that our customer does not see these platforms in the unique way they perceive Virtual Storefronts, as a defacto solution to their website problem.
Merchants more commonly see these platforms (which are nearly universally designed to serve the public consumer, never the merchant) as a time tax that sucks up their time without asking; forces them to perform unwanted duties (i.e. posting on Facebook); provides a misfit commercial solution that's built primarily to serve corporations; and in many cases makes running their business harder and more stressful, as online review sites frequently do.
It's surprising how baked in these assumptions are. We have discovered a major market opportunity in a badly underserved market. Even when presented with clear evidence, investors simply refuse to believe that our customer is underserved. Even our power users who leverage marketing platforms from Instagram to Square see Storefronts offer a completely unique value in SEO and customer service by providing their customers with an effective one-stop online information portal.
To be fair, even I was surprised at how our merchants embraced our product as a website. We are listening to both shopper and merchant feedback and have been upgrading our constantly evolving website solution product with our developers at Areas Code throughout 2022.
Even as Russia invaded their country(!), our Ukrainian development team at Areas Code never stopped their work. They have taken Virtual Storefronts to new heights. The effect has been dramatic. All stakeholders love the direction we are going with the core Storefront product.
Our next development round will introduce Shopper profiles and enable Shoppers to follow Announcements from Merchants in their own custom feed. With the opening of Shop <> Shopper channels, the power of our network is about to get even stronger.
Unique Business Features overview
We are what is called a two-sided marketplace, meaning we serve the public shopper and our customer, the shop. In this space, there is a universal obsession with catering to the shopper, or at least to what the product designers believe the shopper wants.
In this industry you 1) build around the shopper experience - there is no room for any other major concern, and 2) you push your customer to convert themselves from the real thing into the most robust digital online substitute that technology will allow.
Most modern web services use CMS or frameworks for fast and cost-efficient development. That looks obvious - it’s easier to build the whole backend using “semi-coked” parts of 3rd party code.
But that approach has some disadvantages too. Often, the intention to speed up custom application development leads to a lack of option to modify core behavior, decreasing the project's speed or performance.
Less obvious but still significant - frameworks depend on libraries, which in turn depends on the entire environment - OS version or even platform architecture version.
The Virtual Storefronts project was designed and built using the “no framework approach”.
We used clean PHP for the backend, with no CMS or library dependencies. As a result - we have the outcome when the code runs on any platform that supports PHP with no modifications or bug-fixing.
Currently, the project’s backend easily works on x86, ARM, MIPS, and any cloud PAAS or IAAS environments.
That’s an interesting and impressive “side-effect” of using the “no framework approach” we have here.
Virtual Storefronts on wefunder.com
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