VOICE for Locals, which received a grant of more than £ 1.8 million from the UK government to bolster small businesses’ potential, says it has digitized more than 200 local businesses across Northern Ireland in less than 30 days.
The initiative launched its latest drive ‘Times Are Changing’ at St George’s market to help traders, who typically rely on in-person footfall, to extend their online services and tap into the world of e-commerce.
The initiative allows engagement with a broader audience, on a more consistent basis, beyond the confines of St George’s market’s official trading days, thanks to the Voice for Locals digital directory of all rated businesses across the north (www.voiceforlocals.co.uk) .
Market traders can now use a mobile app to collect ratings, reviews, manage bookings and drive loyalty. It also allows them to get certified with e-learning courses endorsed by City & Guilds, and avail of personalized business and technology advice, to build a self-reliant economy in the wake of the pandemic.
The initiative, delivered by a consortium of organizations including Unloc Limited, TieTa and City & Guilds, has plans to extend this drive to other marketplaces and high streets across the north.
Jay Thattai, founder and steering authority at Voice for Locals (www.voiceforlocals.co.uk), believes the campaign will help businesses recover, rebuild and rebound from the pandemic.
He said: “It was gratifying to see 71 traders signing up for online business in a single day. Some 55 percent of on-boarded traders are women entrepreneurs with basic digital skills. Every trader will have their own landing page with their business description, pictures and videos featured in the Voice for Locals NI directory.
“They are also given tools to collect genuine customer ratings and reviews in the market which will reflect online automatically, to boost their credibility for online shoppers to shop locally with confidence.
“Every trader’s landing page also has an inquiry button to generate leads for the traders during the non-trading days. The leads automatically go to their personalized mobile apps.
“The iconic St George’s Market has an international appeal and attracts tourists from all over the globe. With the expanded digital presence, traders can now tap into the rest of the UK, Europe and world markets that would otherwise have been unattainable, via the initiative’s extension plans. ”
One trader who availed of the initiative is Cathy McLaverty from Randalstown, who is chair of St George’s Market Traders Association and sells a range of women’s accessories through her business Cathy McLaverty Accessories.
She said: “All we have is a few hours in a day to make something, market and sell it. We have always looked forward to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at St George’s to sell our products. We don’t have the team, the skill-set, or the time to digitize and market our business. Until this point, we did not have an opportunity to own the database of customers that shopped from us.
“Most importantly, we could not reach out to them when we introduced new designs. We did not know if we had a happy customer and if that individual would recommend us on social media and refer us to friends and families.
“With Voice for Locals, we have this information at our fingertips. We have the tools to personalize rewards and promotions and ensure we are continuously engaging with our customers, and we truly feel empowered.
“The NI directory will also help generate leads for traders from Monday to Thursday, when the market is closed. We are looking forward to pinpointing new business opportunities. ”