A "big shift" in consumer trends post Covid-19 lockdown has inspired a local business coach to open a new mall. But it's a mall with a difference.
There aren't any car parks, eftpos machines or food courts. It's all online.
The new virtual mall initiative aims to help get businesses trading online and allows them to future-proof themselves against any possibility of another lockdown.
Following the recent rollout of the Whakatāne Virtual Mall, Whakatāne chartered accountant Jason Lougher joined forces with Kiwi tech company Mall Planet to deliver more than 26 virtual malls nationwide.
Tauranga's virtual mall is launching on November 1, with malls in Rotorua, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Coromandel, Marlborough and Queenstown under development.
A virtual mall aims to be a "one-stop-shop" for businesses to sell goods and services.
The idea is for every business to have a store in their region's Virtual Mall, run by a local mall operator dubbed the Virtual Mayor of the City.
Love Your Business founder Phil Holland is behind the Tauranga Virtual Mall.
Holland contacted Lougher during lockdown after recognising a need for Tauranga businesses to be able to afford to trade online.
"It's a really neat story. It's a Kiwi company behind the development and they are awesome guys to work with."
He said more than 100 Tauranga business were already onboard.
Holland said there had been some "big shifts" in consumer trends post Covid-19 lockdown, with more people working from home.
It was now about educating business owners about how to adapt to the change in shopping behaviours, he said, but many people didn't have the budget for a brand new eCommerce website.
"If you're a small business or have started a side hustle, you can have a full eCommerce website for about $149. It makes it really affordable.
"It gives them the ability to carry on trading should we have another lockdown. We are future-proofing businesses."
Businesses are charged a small fee if they sell something, which goes back into website development but there are no ongoing fees.
"We are also working on a real estate and a jobs function and ultimately a buy and sell type function.
"It kind of builds that one-stop shop ... It is like walking through a shopping centre."
As a business coach, Holland said business owners feared the unknown after the initial lockdown.
"In the first two or three weeks, I was working 12-plus hour days with business owners, calming them down, putting a plan in place. It had a big mental impact on business owners.
"But it has been the most rewarding time in my career. It is just giving business owners that confidence to keep forging ahead."
Now, he said it was all about cash flow.
"We have got a short runway to Christmas. I think Christmas is going to be very different this year. We have got a bit of a cash-flow crunch at the moment."
Holland said now was the time to shop local.
"What comes around, goes around. By supporting local business we are supporting local jobs and economy, therefore, we get the growth rather than it going elsewhere.
"Let's love Tauranga. Let's love our home first."
Lougher said businesses were really feeling it at the moment and needed support from their local community.
"We saw this in Whakatāne where local business owners were already under strain after the tragic Whakaari/White Island volcano eruption saw a significant downturn of tourists to the area, and then the economic fallout from Covid-19."
Lougher said the feedback about the Whakatāne Virtual Mall had been outstanding.
"We have all seen various directories, and pop up marketplaces appear over the past few months but we want to provide something that would last long beyond Covid-19.
"This platform is the next evolutionary step in using the internet as a local community and it's an innovative New Zealand development.
"We need to keep spending locally because it supports our community, small business owners and it's better for the New Zealand environment."
Mall Planet director Michael Fahey said what was unique about virtual malls was business owners got instant access to a "vibrant community of potential consumers".
"Gone are the days that you need an exuberant marketing budget just to get your website found online."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said many businesses knew they were missing opportunities by not having a great online presence, but many were scared of the unknown and high costs.
"This is one example of how a business can be guided through an easy process to build an online presence that complements their brick and mortar operations.
"An online presence opens you up to many more customers, which means you need to have a variety of ways that people can find out about your website."
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said shopping locally helped keep businesses afloat and create local jobs.
"Covid-19 has put many local businesses under enormous pressure and they can only survive and thrive with the support of their customers.
"We are seeing a number of marketplaces develop to serve local customers or particular niches in the retail market."
During the course of the Covid-19 crisis, Harford said there had been a "big shift" towards shopping online, which made a digital presence even more important.
"A digital presence not only means it's easier to serve your existing local customers, but also means that you can potentially grow your customer base and find new customers from outside your immediate local area."
Tauranga Virtual Mall
• Free to join.
• A new Store Configuration Wizard means anyone can create a store within a few minutes and get trading.
• Option for operators to build the website for businesses for a one-time fee of $99 + GST.
• Or, if businesses don't already have a website, for a monthly fee of about $20 businesses can have their store hosted on their own domain name and it works as a full-featured website.