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Virtual Mall Launched To Help Businesses Continue Trading

EPIC Whakatane is proud to announce the launch of the Whakatāne Virtual Mall – New Zealand’s first regional virtual mall.

The not-for-profit organisation is dedicated to promoting the Whakatāne town centre and has created the platform to give its members a simple, fast, and cost-effective way to sell products and services online. The Whakatāne community has been crying out for ways to support their favourite local businesses while physical stores are closed, making the virtual mall a timely solution for business owners and their customers. It will keep everyone connected and enable the town to emerge from COVID-19 stronger than ever.

The pandemic’s impact has been profound for many of EPIC’s 110 members. With a large number of CBD businesses not currently set up to sell online, alert levels three and four have seen a drastic reduction in revenue and painted a picture of an uncertain future. “Setting up an online shop traditionally costs in the thousands and can be a time-consuming, intimidating process,” says Legacy Accountants director Jason Lougher. “Now, more than ever, it’s important for our CBD businesses to be able to sell online. The EPIC team saw that need and moved quickly to respond to it.”

If businesses have an existing Shopify website, they’ll be able to connect it directly to their virtual mall store, so they can easily sync products, orders and stock, and save valuable time spent loading large numbers of individual products manually. Work is also being undertaken to allow syncing with other popular platforms, including WordPress and Magento.

The platform will initially only be open to EPIC member businesses, who will be able to showcase their products and brands in virtual store-fronts – all controlled by the business-owner themselves. Customers can then window shop and buy from multiple retailers using one digital shopping cart.

The Whakatāne Virtual Mall has been created in partnership with Kiwi tech company Mall Planet. It will give businesses the tools they need to start selling online quickly and easily. For a one-off registration fee of $99+GST, the Mall Planet team will build sites for businesses. “The beauty of the Whakatāne Virtual Mall is that you get a high level of support in creating your shop,” Jason says. “So even if you’ve never sold online before, we can get you up and running in as little as a week.”

Each site’s design is fully customisable and can connect to Stripe, so businesses can accept credit card payments safely and securely.

EPIC board chair Warren Short hopes Whakatāne will be one of the world’s most digitally advanced business communities by the time lockdown ends. “EPIC is a team of innovators and leaders, and we're proud to do what needs to be done to support local businesses now and in the future.”

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