An online shopping community designed to connect shoppers with retailers is targeting the Grand Rapids market.
Sydewalk in East Lansing launched yesterday as a resource for retailers to expand their web presence, while developing relationships with consumers.
The startup has a presence in Grand Rapids and Chicago and is aiming to grow in both markets.
Jason Pliml, a Sydewalk product manager in Grand Rapids, said the service is looking to build "long-term relationships" with retailers and users.
“There are a lot of really strong retailers, and they really struggle to get their name out,” said Pliml, referring to the Grand Rapids market.
The founder and CEO of Sydewalk, Bruce Maguire, has experience in real estate as chairman of Wolverine Development in East Lansing.
“Small- and medium-sized stores especially have been left in the dust,” said Maguire, referring to their online presence. “It is all about putting those small- and medium-sized merchants in front of the customers.”
Maguire said the startup’s differentiator in the market is its niche target audience of retailers, including restaurants, and ecommerce functionality.
Sydewalk allows users to create personal pages where they can organize stores or products into collections or “Sydewalks.”
Users can follow other users and can also find deals and purchase products from participating merchants on Sydewalk.
Sydewalk allows businesses to claim their pages and list products, announcements and events.
In Grand Rapids, Pliml said the startup is working to establish a partnership with the nonprofit Local First, which represents about 600 businesses, to promote some area merchants.
Merchants can participate at no cost for limited services, or they can sign up for the premium level for $14.99 per month.
With the free version, businesses are allowed to post up to three products, one announcement per month and receive basic reporting from Sydewalk.
At the premium level, merchants can post unlimited products, events, announcements and receive more advanced and detailed reports on user engagement.
The reports tell owners when consumer traffic fluctuates during a certain time period and how many users shared products to social media sites.
Sydewalk is also given a percentage of each sale completed online: 4.9 percent for businesses at the premium level and 7.9 percent for companies using the platform for free.
Pliml added that Sydewalk is looking into allowing premium-level merchants to communicate directly with users and set up a reservation-booking program for restaurants.
“Merchants want to interact with customers — they just don’t know who they are,” Pliml said. “We are trying to make this really a frictionless thing. The goal is to not be in the way of the relationship.”