First test for Vermont startup aiming to take on online retail giants

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – A Burlington startup that aims to take a bite out of online e-commerce giants had a mighty big showing in beta testing.

Dozens and dozens of boxes are loaded one by one into electric cars next to Hula in Burlington. Each one contains products from local retailers purchased during startup Myti’s beta test last week.

“We had an amazing turnout from the beta shoppers. About 400% of what we expected to do in dollar volume,” said Bill Calfee, who owns Myti.

Myti aims to make online shopping at local retailers easy. The inventory from businesses that take part is available online on Myti’s site for customers to search and add to their carts. Customers can buy from multiple stores in the same transaction with the items delivered by Myti to their door for a few bucks.

Art Bell of Dreamlike Pictures on Church Street in Burlington is now waiting for his orders to show up this week.

“Last year we spent about 15-grand on Amazon. UPS guys, FedEx guys here every day.” Bell said. “And I thought, ‘If all things are equal, why not dump that here?’”

That’s why he decided to take part in Myti’s beta test.

Bell says he didn’t have problems using the site but does think it has room to grow.

“Amazon has taught the world how to shop online. And if Myti can find a way to find that conceptually feel like that, this could be amazing,” he said.

What would make him continue to come back to the site are more options.

“I don’t give local a pass just for being local. But if it can feel like Amazon, price is the same, delivery is the same, we’re there. I want to support local but it’s got to fit in my world,” Bell said.

To get items to him, Myti’s team is driving electric cars around to participating retailers– like SidePony Boutique in Hinesburg– to pick up the goods.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: How did the beta test go for you?

SidePony Boutique Owner Catherine Moller: Beta test went amazingly. There were no technical issues, the team was really supportive and communicative, and it was a lot of fun.

Moller says she sold a little under $1,000 worth of merchandise during the two days of the test.

“It went really well. I was actually pleasantly surprised,” she said. “So, as far as volume went, it basically replicated what I would do on my own in a single day, so it provided a really nice bump in an overall income.”

Calfee says the demand is encouraging.

“Eight-thousand dollars in two days. So that’s eight-thousand dollars returned to the local community rather than going out of state to the e-commerce giants,” he said.

Now, they’re using what they learned from the beta test to figure out what processes work and which ones need some fine-tuning. Everything from how the products are picked up and packaged and delivered to what to do if an item a customer purchases is out of stock.

“I would say it went better than expected,” Calfee said.

I asked if anything they saw during their beta test would change their goal of launching to the public in March. Calfee said it’s too early to tell for sure but that’s still their target. He did hint they might try to do something around the holidays, though, based on feedback they’ve gotten.

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