In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maya Komerov noticed that consumers with a buy-local mentality were running into a pandemic reality: It wasn’t convenient to shop locally from home. As a result, people stayed in their apartments and shopped online, mostly on Amazon
— while local businesses, even the ones offering ecommerce, struggled.
As the co-founder and CEO of Cinch, a venture-backed startup that worked with local businesses, Komerov was in a position to do something about it. She tapped into her existing network of business owners and in June 2020 launched the online marketplace now known as shopIN.nyc.
The site is an online “everything store” — or at least, a whole lot of things store — supplied by New York City businesses and offering same-day delivery.
“Small businesses have the best opportunity in the world,” Komerov said. “Everyone wants everything fast,” and local shops are already close to customers, positioned for speedy delivery even if they didn’t have the infrastructure to offer it.
“We need to build the technology that allows them to get the power back,” she said.
And so amid a pandemic that changed our buying habits, Komerov is working to shift them further by convincing consumers (so far, just in New York City) to buy some of what they might have bought through the e-commerce giants at shopIN.nyc instead.
The website offers more than 70,000 items from more than 70 businesses, with same-day delivery on orders placed before 10 a.m. to Brooklyn and Manhattan south of 125th Street.
She’s pitched the site as a more community-minded shopping experience, with benefits like increased sales for neighborhood shops, well-paid delivery workers ($20 to $25 per hour plus tips), and opportunities to donate to nonprofits and send 1% of your purchase amount to a school. The donation program is modeled after Amazon Smile, which donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to a school or charity.
The site makes money through delivery fees and by charging participating businesses a fee on each sale. Orders over $59 are delivered for free, and orders that cost less are delivered for a $5.95 fee paid by the customer.
The total fee a business pays must add up to 19 percent, Komerov said, and most businesses pay less than that, — 10 percent on average. The other 9 or so percent comes from raising prices on the products they offer on the site.
By comparison, the New York City Council passed legislation during the pandemic that capped the fees third-party food delivery services could charge restaurants during a state of emergency at 20% per order. Previously, some were charging as much as 30%.
ShopIN.nyc’s “Shop Brooklyn, Not Bezos” slogan broadened to “Shop Boroughs, Not Bezos” with the addition of Manhattan stores.
The message resonated with Mira Zaki, a freelance photographer in Manhattan who Tweeted that she took the company’s pledge to do 20 percent of her online shopping in New York City stores. Since learning about shopIN.nyc through a Facebook ad, she has used it to order food for photo shoots, a gift, and snacks from Amy’s Bread, a favorite cafe.
Even though she saw her income decrease during the pandemic, Zaki said she was glad to pay a little more to support fellow small business owners during a tough time.
“If it saves me the time and energy of having to go out somewhere, I always pay for that service,” she said.
The site’s member businesses include grocers, home goods and fashion boutiques, wine shops, pet stores and a hardware store, and not all are brick-and-mortar. Business owners sell products like granola and oat milk from home.
“During the pandemic, it’s definitely been a big boost to our income, to be honest,” said Hayley McGrath, co-owner of Fferins of Brooklyn, a candy store open since 2018. “The delivery drivers are all really nice.”
Without employees, McGrath said her business was not in a position to offer its own delivery service, though she and her partner did deliveries themselves around Easter 2020. Now, the shop sells through several food delivery apps in addition to shopIN.nyc.
Sahadi’s, the venerable Middle Eastern grocer, joined shopIN.nyc in October 2020, months after the pandemic temporarily closed its two Brooklyn stores and shifted its customer base to the internet.
Online ordering “very unexpectedly became a very substantial part of what we were doing,” said managing director Ron Sahadi. The business continues to receive daily orders for same-day delivery in the city, which it also fulfills through the grocery delivery site Mercato. Store workers are newly assigned to dedicated shifts working online orders, a change since the pandemic.
Sahadi said he appreciates shopIN.nyc for its people, shared goals, and the new customers and multiple orders a day that it brings.
“You feel like you’re part of a community, because instead of someone going to one place, they’re trying things from their favorite stores, a gift there, a bottle of wine there,” Sahadi said. “You’re supporting a bunch of local businesses, which in this day and age we all need.”
Komerov’s challenge will be growing interest in a shop-local online platform as pandemic restrictions ease and people return to their old habits, including popping into their local store when they need something.
But in a country where shopping on Amazon is entrenched even when we can shop in person, Komerov presents her business as an emerging movement.
“I believe that if we build a product that everybody wants to be part of,” she said, “that’s the way to win and bring the city back.”