Before the Internet bridged the worlds of socializing and shopping, Andrew Jensen enjoyed hanging out at the Staten Island Mall.
So Jensen, the founder of MallStand LLC, a Hoboken tech startup that blends e-commerce and social networking, recalls being befuddled when Jersey Shore actress Angelina Pivarnick claimed in 2011 she was attacked with a water bottle by an angry Staten Island Mall patron.
That's not how Jensen prefers to remember the mall, a favorite stomping ground of his teenage years. Fast forward two decades: the young entrepreneur is now using technology to create a pleasurable shopping experience without physical limits — or harassment.
“We're trying to recreate that environment without hitting anyone over the head with a water bottle,” said Jensen, now 33.
MallStand LLC launched earlier this year providing online access to hundreds of merchants, where users can buy gadgets, clothes, hunt for bargains, or browse at boutiques. Users can also order food.
“No mall would be complete without a food court, so we provide that as well,” Jensen said.
The social element comes into play by encouraging users to invite friends to join their shopping ventures, becoming eligible for larger discounts in the process. Plus there are avenues for instant feedback. Have an opinion about the new burger joint? MallStand participants can read and write reviews.
Jensen said social elements are added to draw younger users, distinguishing MallStand from price comparison sites that he says mostly appeal to older consumers. Interactive opportunities also hold the attention span of younger consumers, he said.
“A big complaint from merchants is people do a daily deal and don't return,” Jensen said. “We want the consumer to keep returning so they go beyond those one-and-done deals.”
Whatever the demographic, MallStand's content is growing. Jensen said the site has more than 2 million products with 30,000 accounts (though Jensen said almost all users are consumers who enroll for free. Jensen estimates less than 1,000 merchants are registered.)
The startup has yet to disclose income, but it earns revenue by collecting a portion of sales conducted via MallStand. Those rates can vary: Generally 17 to 22 percent in the site's social category, or 8 to 11 percent in the food court minus taxes and tips. Mallstand's take is lower for boutiques, about 3.5 percent, and for big-box stores like Best Buy that operate on smaller margins.
Jensen says smaller merchants benefit by being spared the expense of creating an online ordering platform, plus they gain access to consumers they wouldn't otherwise reach, especially in the social category where users have incentives to team with friends. Either way, Jensen says MallStand offers merchants rates considerably lower than Groupon or Grubhub.
MallStand is eyeing expansion, just not by building more storefronts and parking lots.
Its ultimate goal is going national, starting with expansion in New Jersey and nearby states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia.
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