FORT COLLINS — Call it Amazon for Fort Collins’ small retailers.
After months of development, the Fort Collins’ visitor bureau has launched a new service to let customers in the city or across the country buy goods and services from local vendors from one centralized website and payment system.
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Dubbed the Visit Fort Collins Marketplace, the service counts more than 40 retailers and nearby businesses as participants, Visit Fort Collins CEO Cynthia Eichler told BizWest.
While similar in name, it has no connection to the Fort Collins Marketplace shopping center in the city’s midtown area.
The idea for the marketplace formed early during the pandemic as shutdowns shifted overnight the sales patterns for local businesses across the country and in Fort Collins. As consumer spending overwhelmingly went online, the visitors bureau and its partners spent 13 weeks developing the site and onboarding merchants.
If people couldn’t come to Fort Collins, they reckoned, the online marketplace would bring Fort Collins to the people during the most important time of year for a retail industry that has taken a beating during the pandemic.
“It really was that desire to also make sure that when we come out on the other side of this, our folks are in their buildings,” she said.
Eichler said that to her knowledge, Fort Collins is the only city in the country that’s developed a centralized online presence for local retailers quite like the Marketplace.
The website is also allowing companies to sell future passes to events, such as exclusive brewery tours or whitewater rafting.
That runs the risk of businesses selling gift cards and closing down later under the weight of the pandemic, leaving customers with unusable gift cards. Such a scenario played out in May, when Europa Colour Salon Spa & Barbershop closed its doors in May.
While Eichler said it’s difficult to predict if a company will stay afloat to a time where it’s safe to use an event voucher, she said booking a tour or event during the winter will provide much-needed cash flow to these businesses ahead of their usual summer peak. She also said customers could trade in their vouchers for physical products if a business closes down.
The marketplace will stay on after the pandemic, but Eichler expects it to serve as a complement to in-person shopping rather than a replacement.
“This is really a longer-term strategy for us now that the shopping pattern has been disrupted, and I think it will continue to be,” she said. “But it’s meant to complement, not compete. We just want to help be a bridge to keep those registers ringing.”
The Visit Fort Collins Marketplace is continuing to accept new merchants.