MallWeGo is a New York-based startup launching at the Disrupt NY 2013 Startup Alley today with a social, gaming shopping experience for web and mobile. The company has built a virtual world for socialising with friends in avatar form, which looks like a simplified Second Life or The Sims, but the kicker is it’s built for shopping, with a virtual mall where people can visit virtual stores and browse (and buy) actual products.
The app also includes a gaming element, with a free, built-in casino game through which users can win coupons to redeem at the associated retailers’ stores — as another way to encourage users to stay and spend in-world. Each user also gets their own home from home in MallWeGo: an apartment (below right) where they can view all the virtual stuff they’ve acquired, hang out with friends and do stuff like opt in to have ads displayed on their walls in order to earn more redeemable rewards.
Bryan Ortiz, co-founder, said the idea is a combination of his favourite things: online shopping, gaming and social networking. “It’s pretty much taking the Amazon concept of vendors and putting together a Sims like approach,” he told TechCrunch. “That’s really what I was trying to create — something that’s fun but at the same time trying to make sure all the users are benefiting.
“The more time you spend on the platform, the more games you play, the more areas you explore in the mall, I’m going to reward you for that time. If you want to watch an ad — you don’t have to, you don’t have to see any ads on our platform — but if you’d like to I’m going to reward you for that as well.”
On the ecommerce side, after the user clicks to enter the 3D store, the virtual world moves into more of an “Amazon window-shopping style Pinterest experience”, said Ortiz. “If you don’t want to play [the gaming elements] at all you can just use MallWeGo as an ecommerce platform,” he added.
Another feature lets users “window shop” with friends — whereby they can invite friends to see where they’re shopping from within the app and then hang out and chat about the products they’re both now seeing.
For retailers, MallWeGo is both an advertising, ecommerce and shopping analytics platform. “We have extensive analytics on the back end that we’re giving to vendors,” said Ortiz. “We have a big advertising platform so we can do everything from complete brand wrapping — let’s say a product release from a larger company, we can wrap the walls of the mall, we can wrap apartments. We’re working with larger stores right now — furniture retailers… to furnish your apartment with their products.”
Such virtual branded products won’t cost anything for users to put in their (virtual) apartments since they are acting as a form of brand advertising — but after a MallWeGo user has kitted out their apartment with virtual furniture from a real-world store, chances are they may fancy buying some of it in real life, added Ortiz.
MallWeGo’s platform is currently in alpha, with a beta launch planned for a couple of weeks. Getting retailers — both offline and online — and malls/retail locations signed up is the priority.
“We’re now talking to Simon and Westfield malls — to start doing virtual versions of their stores. We partnered up with Bryant Park so we’re going to do a virtual version of their area — so when a vendor signs up for an actual spot in the park they will get a version in our store as well. So we’ve got a little bit of everything.”