‘Amazon for Ridgefield’ aims to deliver goods from town stores
Around Christmas this past December, Ridgefielder Jake Cascioli noticed something alarming — a half-dozen businesses in the village were closing for good just a few days before the holiday.
While local small business owners packed boxes and moved out, Cascioli said homes around town still had piles of packages on the front stoop waiting to be sorted and wrapped up under the tree.
“I was driving around seeing Amazon packages on everybody’s doorstep,” Cascioli said during a presentation in front of the Economics and Community Development Commission Monday (ECDC), Aug. 5.
“We were like, ‘we know people are buying, they’re just not buying from the town,’” said Brian Armstrong, another Ridgefielder.
The two hit upon an idea for a new startup — an e-commerce site with free in-town delivery, that would sell products from businesses in Ridgefield to folks living in town, or as Cascioli put it, “Amazon but just for Ridgefield.”
They plan to soft-open the site, named Ridgefield Marketplace, to take orders from consumers in the coming weeks. A full-scale launch, complete with an outdoor movie night, will follow in mid-September.
So far they have 51 merchants signed up for the service, with a goal to add around 20 more by the full launch.
The site mirrors those of e-retailer giants by creating a one-stop shop with one digital cart at checkout, rather than dozens of sites maintained by the individual store owners with their own layout and checkout process.
It also means residents who are less mobile —including the elderly —can order an item from home and have it show up at their door. The startup aims to have free delivery by the next day when it rolls out.
“My wife just had a baby, she’s not packing up three kids just to go downtown to buy something when she can just get it online,” said Armstrong. “There are big segments of the population here that just aren’t being served.”
Residents love the town and want to support the local businesses, Cascioli said, “however, we live in a commuter town where people get home after six o’clock,” he said.
For merchants, the advantage is that someone else will take on the responsibility of filling online orders and ensuring their website runs smoothly.
Cascioli said he looked at the web presence for the shops around town.
“There’s a serious gap between where everyone is and where everyone could be,” he pointed out.
The town’s retailers have by-and-large been wary of taking their business online.
“It’s also a scary thing for people to dive into,” said Cascioli. “We take the tech side away from them.”
The pair promise that joining the marketplace will be no more difficult than creating a social media page — “if you can Facebook you can put products on here,” Armstrong said.
“It’s basically a picture, a description, price.”
The pair said they plan to give retailers access to their customer data — including phone numbers and email addresses, similar to the information stores gather when a customer signs up for a loyalty program — rather than keeping the database to themselves.
The marketplace also has an affiliate program which gives a kickback to a website owner when someone buys a product through a link to the marketplace on their page. So far Cascioli said that some of the school PTAs have expressed interest in the program, as well as social media “influencers” who run some of the larger groups in town.
Adding a business page on the site is free for merchants, the Marketplace makes a commission on products when they sell, Cascioli said.
Businesses that sign up for the service get a personalized page, laid out similarly to a Facebook profile with the business name, a space for a headshot of the owner, and a cover photo at the top of the page.
Benefit for the town?
The Ridgefield Marketplace site’s landing page includes top categories, like automotive services and beauty supplies. Cascioli said they eventually plan to use the space for personalized recommendations once they have access to more data on their customers.
Chairman Arnold Light called the delivery model a “big win” for local shops, and Vice-Chairman John Devine noted that the cost of shipping and packaging up items could easily add $10 to the cost of an item — meaning many shop owners don’t bother trying to sell and ship orders online.
The commission stopped short of offering an endorsement of the startup to the town merchants, something the pair hoped to receive following their presentation.
Light told Armstrong and Cascioli that the commission could not give them a full-out an endorsement. The chairman did say though that the ECDC could include the marketplace in their listing of Ridgefield business, and could give the pair a blurb once the venture launches.
The marketplace plans to hold an outdoor movie night in September to celebrate their launch, with food from local vendors and a projector — “Goonies” is in the favored film at the moment, Cascioli said.
“The more people that we get on here ... the more it’s going to benefit the town — keep people spending money in town” keep the sales tax dollars flowing into the town, and “hopefully just make a healthier business environment,” said Cascioli.