A Waldo-looking character wanders past virtual Streetify shops
UK startup Streetify hopes to gain traction with a two-year-old app that creates virtual versions of physical streets and stores, where retailers and brands can display offers, discounts and links, and hopefully drive traffic to their physical stores as well.
As do many other startups, Streetify has grand ambitions to out-Amazon Amazon, offering deeper discounts and even same-day delivery by piggybacking orders from local merchants onto existing courier runs. The company claims to have 1 billion stores in virtual form globally, compared to 4.4 million sites for Shopify, and says they will be accessible soon via virtual reality headsets.
“Shoppers can feel great about buying locally and getting stuff they want very quickly, supporting local businesses,” said Streetify founder Martin Banbury. “This gives them a reason to go back to nearby stores. Who wants to visit a half-empty Main Street?”
Streetify, currently available in the U.S as well as the UK, Canada, India and Australia, is working to amp up exposure here, backed by a $10 million marketing budget. A beta version of Streetify with limited functionality was released in March 2020, and has been upgraded since. The company, which has been bootstrapped by Banbury’s other ventures, is actively soliciting investors.
Streetify works as a browser extension, using an algorithm-based tool that pulls up ranked price comparisons across 1 billion sites and 50 top discount addresses, including Amazon, Walmart, Google, Honey and Groupon. Within the extension is Meta Streets, which users click on to open up the visual layout of streets and shops.
Shoppers can download the free Streetify app in Google and Apple play stores, and add whatever virtual streets they want, including those in their town. Storefronts can then direct them to special offer pages or just a main ecommerce site. Streetify’s algorithm scours the web for deals and posts them in store windows. To create the virtual streets and shops, it pulls data from Here Maps, the navigation system used by carmakers including BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar.
Streetify doesn’t charge to have storefronts listed. It makes money through affiliate advertisers, currently at 50,000+, and earns a commission on sales and customers sent to retailers through a tracking code. Retailers don’t need to join; Streetify identifies affiliate programs and sends them opportunities.
Banbury said he got the idea five years ago during a lunch conversation with UK TV celebrity and influencer Anthea Turner, who is now a co-director of Streetify. “Anthea said she wanted to show all her interests and brands she works with on a virtual street,” he said. “She has lots of social followers and I thought, what a brilliant idea.”
A serial entrepreneur, Banbury founded UK agency The Mission Group PLC, and was one of three co-founders of Insureandgo, an online travel insurance broker focused on Europe. He said development of Streetify began in earnest three years ago, and expanding it is now his primary focus.
“The reason it’s such a big project is, if you Google ‘virtual shopping street,’ you get hundreds of thousands of responses,” said Banbury, who has filed to make Streetify a certified B-Corp. “Everyone and their dog has taken a pass at it, but no one has succeeded. There’s a plethora of companies that say, we support Main Street, but they typically charge $50 a year and create a sort of virtual street that’s just a listing. Some are quite big. That’s a different world than what we have here.”
Banbury is working other angles to rapidly grow Streetify. This includes seeking deals with celebrities, sports stars and teams and major movie studios who can create their own custom streets loaded with merchandise and recommended brands. For instance, a member of the pop group One Direction is already onboard, he said.
“We could approach Disney, for example, and produce a ‘Frozen’ street, easily changing the graphics,” he said. “Or we could go to Warner about creating a Harry Potter street. There will certainly be conversations with people like that.”