Strategy

The marketplace wave: launching the first Romanian online shopping mall

Andreea Pop
Andreea Pop September 30, 2020
The marketplace wave: launching the first Romanian online shopping mall

It would be a cumbersome process to name all the losers of the coronavirus pandemic, but shopping malls deserve a shout-out as being among the hardest hit. Veranda Mall, a Romanian shopping mall, far from wallowing in self-pity, set out to make the best out of the situation with the help of VTEX. And so, the first online shopping mall in Romania was born.

Under pressure

Located in Bucharest, Veranda Mall is a proximity shopping mall with a tenant mix dedicated to serving the needs of the local community. Despite being on the smaller size, the mall has plenty of things to be proud of: it is a family-owned business celebrating its fourth anniversary in October, it has over 10 million yearly visitors, and it has established valuable relationships with both its customers and tenants. 

Back in March, authorities imposed shops in Veranda Mall to temporarily cease their activity inside the shopping center. Thus, the mall itself and retailers inside suffered heavily, as numerous tenants had their one and only physical store inside the mall and no ecommerce channel whatsoever. Suddenly, the idea of digitalisation, which the leadership previously entertained only in passing, appeared to be the obvious solution going forward for all parties involved.

“The online shop would allow us to help our tenants and to strengthen our partnerships with them, but also to innovate in our sector. It seemed like a win-win situation.”

Andreea Onofrei, Project Manager of Veranda Online Shop

The team soon discovered, however, that such an initiative is easier said than done without external help. Few human resources, nonspecific IT and ecommerce knowledge, a limited budget and a clock ticking in the background became instant obstacles to ambitious plans of building an internal platform. A platform-provider to do the heavy-lifting was needed.

“As we don’t have the necessary technical expertise and we’re a very small team, it would have taken us an enormous time and tremendous efforts  to do this project alone, whereas our goal was to go live with a beautiful solution as quickly as possible. We needed help.”

Andreea Onofrei, Project Manager of Veranda Online Shop

Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

Things fell into order when Veranda stumbled upon VTEX. With its fully integrated native marketplace capabilities, prior expertise in the field and stellar time to revenue, VTEX was not only the perfect technological solution to Veranda Mall’s tricky situation, but also a great business partner that was not afraid to get its hands dirty. For instance, VTEX onboarded 5 sellers, thus providing valuable training to the management team and allowing them to become autonomous in the long-run. 

The Customer Experience team also suggested payment gateways, fulfillment partners and marketing tools to ensure a smooth experience, on top of being great collaborators with each update and maintenance-related issue.

“When the lockdown happened, everything accelerated. The entire project was possible mainly due to VTEX’s Marketplace capabilities – the fact that we did not have to build the platform ourselves helped us immensely.”

Lucian Caruceriu, Project Owner of Veranda Online Shop

Meanwhile, the busy bees of the Veranda team, on a steep learning curve themselves, ensured sellers got accustomed to the ins-and-outs of digital commerce. The low level of ecommerce maturity among Romanian vendors posed many challenges along the way, like incorrect catalogues and prices, the realisation that inventory sells out at some point, the complexities of fulfillment and the importance of product photography. Veranda stepped in whenever was necessary. Their devotion, coupled with incurring the financial investment in a Marketplace tool, strengthened Veranda’s relationships with the tenants.

“We are all new at this and we’re trying to help each other until we get it right. The more they grow, the more Veranda grows.”

Lucian Caruceriu, Project Owner of Veranda Online Shop

But the greater the effort, the sweeter the reward: after only two and a half months, the Veranda Mall online shop went live at once with the re-opening of the physical mall, ready to get businesses back on track.

“Looking back, considering the complexity of such an initiative, having the store live in two and a half months with six brands available is just amazing.”

Andreea Onofrei, Project Manager of Veranda Online Shop

Don’t stop ‘til you get enough

Having an online shopping mall goes beyond short-term novelty and quick fixes during “unprecedented” times. Now, any digital marketing initiative gains substance by having an end-point in sight for all campaigns, which were previously a shot in the dark with the feeble goal of awareness. 

Customer insights, website traffic and, of course, sales have now become low-hanging fruit. Additionally, fidelity programs and discount codes can be applied to the entire marketplace environment, consolidating a community feel and earning brownie points from recurrent visitors. The centralisation of all stores in one place and multi-seller carts seal the deal, for they offer customers the most valuable commodities: convenience and time.

“This online shop was a logical extension of our physical premises into an environment that was beneficial to the mall itself and to our tenants, but also to our end-consumers. We were certain that our customers would appreciate the option of online shopping, pandemic or not: it’s easy and quick. It’s not the same experience as the one you get when you mix shopping with entertainment, but if you are not a fan of spending much time in busy stores, the online mall surely provides you with a great product offering and you will be able to opt for home delivery, among many others.”

Lucian Caruceriu, Project Owner of Veranda Online Shop

The best is yet to come

All these benefits are complemented by the extremely appealing idea of digital infinity. A shopping mall will never be able to escape the curse of being, in the end, a building. It’s a physical space, with limitations imposed both vertically and horizontally, and with weak odds of expansion due to astounding costs and atrocious returns of investment. 

But on digital terrain, the possibilities are endless! At the price of a few nickels, everyone can join in the party: niche sellers, micro-retailers, and even stores that are not physically located inside the actual mall. Soon enough, the project will organically grow from an online channel of a shopping mall into a veritable marketplace.

“The shopping malls’ need to have online operations goes beyond market trends and marketing advantages – it’s a natural expansion into a virtual space that has no limitations.”

Cristi Movilă, Growth Leader on Eastern Europe

All in all, the best is surely yet to come for Veranda, and VTEX, a fellow Visionary, will be there to power all its bold initiatives.

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