Building an e-commerce site is more efficient, cheaper and greener than constructing a brick and mortar shop. And it can certainly be lucrative—if you know how to do it in the right way. Jason Solarek, who founded The Bridge, realized that e-commerce sites were lacking their own social media network, so he developed what he calls, “the Facebook for retail businesses.”
“E-commerce hasn’t enjoyed the free all-in-one creative freedom that social networking services Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have,” says Solarek. “There are few services enabling businesses to quickly and cost-effectively open an online store.”
Solarek likes the Facebook analogy because Bridge is a connector of communities. The site connects various different members of the retail chain around one database, and like Facebook, essentially gives each individual member it’s very own identity, and a website for others to link to and view any data, product, news, etc. on. Currently, they are host to 33 luxury brands and 35 retailers in the U.S. They are looking into opportunities to expand in France and Japan, as well.
Filling the social network void for e-commerce sites, Solarek built this e-bridge aptly called Bridge which connects retailers, manufacturers and sales representatives under one network. Just as Facebook gives users a profile—that is essentially a free, personal website displaying user ideas and images—Bridge sets users up with an e-commerce store which provides shop owners a site to display their products from all collection of brands they collaborate with and sell. The idea is to crowd source the management of products and boost sales to the general public within one space.
“The physical world equivalent would be opening a store where you pay no rent, pay no employees, and pay nothing for merchandise on the shelves,” says Solarek. “You just pay the cable bill. Just like your friend's are responsible for updating their Facebook page, the brand is responsible for updating its product information in Bridge. [Except] you don't have to enter your brands' products on your site [yourself]; Bridge does it for you.”
Members manage their Bridge's visual appearance and control which brands they choose to Bridge. “We give retailers a status update tool called “Chalkboard” which is like a digital version of a chalkboard that a retailer may have in front of its store,” says Solarek. “Retailers can 'chalk' news about sales, new arrivals and more. Shoppers can 'like' the retailer's chalks.”
Also like Facebook and other social media sites, Bridge is free for manufacturers and sales representative users—it’s the retailers who pay for the service. Bridge is $19 per month per brand that a retailer subscribes to. Bridge +Plus is $49 per month, a service that allows a retailer to add products to its Bridge catalog via a password-protected tool. Next up, Bridge plans to launch a mobile phone e-commerce app for Bridge members.
“Like purchasing cable television channels a la carte, the more you pay, the more sales channels you streamline,” says Solarek.
Together, the linked brands, customers, shopkeepers and product producers each “stock” their profiles with product and information. Within the Bridge system, this cumulatively keeps maintenance costs much lower than hiring an individual programmer and designer to construct a Web presence. The intent of Bridge is to eliminate that back and forth of finding and hiring a programmer. Instead, Bridge hosts a variety of sufficiently cool and attractive templates for users to quickly employ and take on for the identity of their e-storefront.
A bit apprehensive about directing clients to a third party website? It does seem like a risk potentially sending eyeballs away from your product to your competitors and other destinations with attractive bells and whistles.“I often remind people that there were initially similar concerns about businesses linking to Facebook,” defends Solarek. “Whether someone experiences Coca-Cola on Coke's website or Coke's Facebook page, Coke wins. The same holds true for Bridge. A business' Bridge catalog is an official extension of the business, and supplements its online channels.
Image credit: Jason Solarek