Jul. 18—The S.U.N. Virtual Mall, a website that will enable local small businesses to have virtual shopping sites is set to launch this week.
Local businessman Art Lieberman, owner of MCPS of Central PA, of New Berlin, assembled a team of partners to establish the interactive site that will serve Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties. Twenty-one local stores will be a part of the launch.
The website — www.sunvirtualmall.net — officially opens tomorrow.
“It makes a lot of sense,” said Lieberman. “Shop small at the virtual mall. Shopping small is shopping locally. Keep your local stores alive. We don’t know what the new normal is going to be.”
The virtual shopping center enables stores with websites that emulate e-Commerce sites without the costs of actually creating and maintaining the site. Also, producing enough revenue to allow failing stores or even start-ups to be able pay a reasonable fee to participate. The website appears as a mall with storefronts, interior shops and an exterior and interior design of a mall.
Larger chain stores and online stores like Amazon who have e-Commerce sites can afford to create, design and maintain these sites. Small businesses, who were already struggling to compete with online shopping, have been hit hard by the pandemic and state restrictions and shut down orders, said Lieberman.
He is putting up his own money for now to cover the $450 a year to run the storefronts. At this time, store owners can join without costs for two months, but Lieberman said there will eventually be a fee.
The stores that will be included in the launch are Advanced Care Chiropractic, of Lewisburg; Burrorff’s Sales and Service, of Hartleton; Good Times Barbershop, of Lewisburg; H.A. Inc. Heating and Cooling, of Wilkes-Barre; La Primavera, of Lewisburg; Mifflinburg Auto Sales; Mifflinburg Variety; Out Shines Promotions, of Mifflinburg; Plaza House Furniture Showroom, of Selinsgrove; Reiff’s Nursery and Greenhouse, of Mifflinburg; Remember When Primitives and Antiques, of Selinsgrove; Stubz Woodworking, of Watsontown; Heaven’s Best Carpet Cleaning, of Milton; Heritage Printing and Design, of Mifflinburg; Trutt’s Pharmacy, of Mifflinburg; Unique Inspirations Limited, of Mifflinburg; Weaver’s Store Inc., of Spring Mills; and Wood Co. Craftsman, of Washington Crossing.
Jeffery Kauffman, general manager at Mifflinburg Variety located at 307 E. Chestnut St., said the exposure will help the business grow. The store has sold fabric, shoes and clothing at that location since August 2014.
“What it’s going to do is get our name out there, allow the customer to look on the web and be able to see what we offer,” he said. “They can call us and chat with us face to face if they want to. We can get information to them, purchase right from there, check to see if the item is available and hold it at the physical location. To sum it up, it’s to get our name out there to more customers in the valley.”
Kauffman said he can’t predict whether the idea will benefit the business in the long run.
“We’re willing to give it a try,” he said.
Jill Adams, owner of Remember When located at 36 S. Market St., Selinsgrove, said the virtual mall will be a good resource for the business. The store has sold primitives, antiques, jewelry, furniture, soaps and more at the location for the last two years.
“When COVID started, we started doing more with social media, reaching out to people, and shipping out when the store was closed,” said Adams. “We would take pictures of certain items and post them online. The virtual mall is something different so we’re going to give it a try.”
How it works
The website will contain new store information, stores that are conducting sales, paid advertisements by either store merchants or others, directions on “How to shop the Mall” and any other relevant info helpful to shoppers. There will be a list of credits to those companies which have helped to create the mall and the cast and crew responsible for the design, said Lieberman.
Lieberman assembled a team of partners. Exhibitor Connect, based in Lakewood, Col., designed the mall; Heidi Criswell, owner of Heritage Printers in Mifflinburg, created the logo for the mall and began working on individual stores as the art director; ResNexus designed the website welcome gateway; and 7 Mountains is handling the promotional aspects.
There will be a spot to click which will take the person directly into the Mall, and the first thing they will see is the mall itself and then a menu will drop down and ask them to register with their name, telephone number and e-mail address. When they shop again, their sign-in will be their e-mail address, he said.
After they complete that, another screen will appear and ask them to shop by name of business, type of business, or by city, When they select any of those, and they make their selection, the storefront will appear. It will have the logo, name, store hours, telephone number and highlight what they sell, clearly visible, he said.
“Clicking on that they will now see: either the website of the store, a menu of the restaurant, pictures of items they sell or some other information relative to the service they provide,” said Lieberman. “If they have opted into it, they may also see a button they can press for video chat, which will send an e-mail to the store owner that someone has asked to speak to them.”
When the store owner answers, the shopper’s name will appear from the registration information. The store owner can then proceed to market his goods or services and, take a transaction of a credit or debit card using the chat. The customer could also call the merchant by phone and talk to them if the merchant has opted out for the video chat, he said.
When the customer has finished shopping, several options will be on the top of the screen.
“Go to next store” “go to previous store”, “return to lobby of the mall” or “exit the mall” (the next or previous store is alphabetically the next or previous), he said.