A locally focused, e-commerce website was launched Friday in partnership with the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce and the City of Mountain View to provide small businesses with an online shopping platform during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The City of Mountain View, Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Association — we all were talking about ways that we can help our small businesses so that it's easier to find them and it's easier to conduct business in a safe and responsible fashion," said Peter Katz, CEO of Mountain View Chamber of Commerce. "Developing an online mall that was really designed to be hyper-local seemed to be the best approach."
The city repurposed a website previously focused on tourism to create the online mall. At the revamped website, ilovemv.org, visitors can find a hodgepodge of more than a 120 small and larger chain businesses, from local restaurants like Fiesta Del Mar Too to retail stores like Boutique 4, which sells women's apparel, and the local supplement store Nutrishop. The website also sells gift cards and can advertise special offerings from businesses. Any Mountain View-based retailer can list its store on the platform, Katz said.
Shoppers mostly don't make purchases directly through the website, but are redirected to the businesses' existing online store or other contact information. According to Katz, the marketplace has already experienced about 265 click-throughs in the past weekend since its launch, where people have clicked on the links to look into another business.
Katz also said a marketing campaign has been launched to advertise the new online platform, with ads posted in all of Embarcadero Media's newspapers, including the Voice, as well as the Los Altos Town Crier.
"So many of our businesses are having to turn to online commerce as their primary vehicle," Katz said. "And a lot of small businesses just don't have the wherewithal to have a robust online presence."
Nine months into the pandemic, the website is yet another reminder for how critical it is for businesses to pivot to online retail, especially for smaller businesses.
Kathy Bonte, owner of Yellow Rose, which sells jewelry and other accessories made out of recycled material, typically saw most of her sales through street market fairs, pop-up shops or brick-and-mortar stores that sold other local handmade goods when she first started her business in early 2017.
She created a website for her store as well, but mostly as a way for people to view the products she had before they visited a physical store.
"Only when the pandemic hit did I start really ramping up my online presence," Bonte, a Mountain View resident, said. "(Yellow Rose) was mostly in-person sales. But everybody's had to pivot."
Bonte doesn't expect a huge boost in sales through the Mountain View website. But in a time when in-person shopping is still at its most restricted point, she's happy to accept any online exposure.
"I guess there is such a thing as a free lunch," she laughed.
With the new online marketplace, Katz hopes that it will also satisfy some of the local residents' desire to support struggling businesses.
The new website comes not only in time for the holiday season, but also as COVID-19 cases surge again in Santa Clara County, causing state and local health officials to impose 10 p.m. curfews and once again restrict in-store retail shopping to 25% capacity.
Small businesses across the country have suffered from the pandemic restrictions as they experience layoffs and decimated revenues. In a recent survey of 864 small businesses conducted by the Small Business Majority between July 31 and Aug. 4, 44% of respondents said they were at risk of permanent closure in the next six months.
California alone has 4.1 million small businesses, which makes up 99.8% of all of the state's businesses, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
"We've had at least 30% of small businesses say to us that they either have gone out of business or, if this continues on for another couple of months, they will go out of business if they don't have some sort of financial support. Most of our small businesses are experiencing anywhere from a 40% to an 80% drop in business," Katz said. "It has been just devastating to everyone."