Businesses encouraged to join 'virtual high street' in East Wittering

A 'virtual high street' is being trialed in East Wittering, in a bid to secure the future of local, independent businesses.

Richard Dale, from Birdham, and David Williams, from Itchenor, have created an online platform, called Magaroo, which allows businesses to set up and sell online to their local community.

The businessmen, who have had 'multiple, successful' careers in finance, media and engineering, are now focused on 'totally supporting the local community and economy'.

The website was launched late last year, with a 'whole load of sellers' now on board, and 1,200 registered users in the area.

Richard Dale, right, and David Williams, left, have created an online platform, called Magaroo, which allows businesses to set up and sell online to their local community

Richard said: "If it works in East Wittering it could equally be applied to all communities within the area and, indeed, nationally but it all starts down here in the Chichester area, which is a great thing.

"I am passionate about the high street, as is David. The high street has been under pressure for a very long time and that was exacerbated dramatically by Covid, with a substantial reduction or elimination in footfall.

"High streets are centres of the community. It's where stuff happens. If you don't support it, in ten years time, it won't be there.

"A lot of businesses in East Wittering did an extraordinary job at the beginning of lockdown but it nearly killed them. Taking calls and emails is incredibly resource heavy.

"Me and David thought we needed to step in and do something to help these businesses."

Magaroo allows businesses to move to a home delivery model, whilst also encouraging customers to visit the high street, using a click and collect service.

"We can start to build virtual high streets," David said. "We have a virtual East Wittering where a large amount of our local independent shops are all in one place for customers.

"My wife and I do our whole weekly shop on Magaroo. It allows repeat ordering and you can do click and collect to encourage footfall on the high street.

"We don't want to see these guys disappear off our high street. This offers technological advantage and convenience whilst driving customers to their local shops.

"It can help businesses develop new revenue streams. You can increase your capacity and start to organise things before your shop even opens. It increases output as you've got more customers."

David said Magaroo solves commonly faced technical problems once and 'provides solutions to other local sellers'.

"It makes their operational life a lot easier, whilst still maintaining their physical presence on high street," he added.

"I already had a project ongoing, with a sailing club, which was based around the same broad concept, where you solve technical problems once for a small entity and then offer them in scale. It becomes economically viable.

"We worked with Munneries, the greengrocer, from April to September last year to fine tune the work. We then started talking to the other green grocer and the butcher and the fish monger."

Richard said they have had 'some lovely testimonials' from current users.

He said: "You can now do all your shopping at home whilst supporting your local businesses. It's wonderful for mums, who have to juggle their children whilst shopping, and elderly people. They don't want to be hanging around in a shop for a long time."

Richard said the start-up business is 'totally self funded', adding: "We are not paying ourselves anything out of the business. All that we earn we are reinvesting.

"We don't charge anything up front. There is no monthly charge, we just take a platform fee. We only make any money at all, when these businesses make money. That was really important to us."