Here is a Q&A with Dr Jackie Mulligan, founder of ShopAppy.
- How did the original idea come about?
It came from a few issues including a local fight against a large supermarket coming into the area. I saw people joining who were not regular local shoppers – so for me it seemed that people liked the idea of supporting local, but were not doing it. I knew that I had money to spend, but that because I worked long hours, and travelled a lot, it was often easier to shop online, but I felt guilty that my money was not being invested in my local community.
When I shopped local in person I felt happier. I did some research on wellbeing as part of my PhD and it became abundantly clear that retail and all kinds of businesses in our high streets were deeply connected to our sense of identity, aspiration and community.
I resented the fact my own local high street was less accessible to me than Amazon, and so decided we needed to level the playing field – we needed to aggregate – bringing the fragments (local businesses) that make up the very important economic and social structure of place together to make it easier for people to support local businesses. Now people can browse local, book local and buy local with easy click and collect after hours– online convenience with a local conscience.
- What has been the level of take-up of the service and what are the key ways retailers are using it?
We are adding new towns all the time. From our start in December 2016 in two towns, we are now in 27 and one city with well over 100 in the pipeline. The more ShopAppy establishes, the more we give people a local choice to spend locally and we have growing evidence of increasing economic impacts, which of course reduces the negative social and environmental impacts of home-deliveries.
If people see what is available in their area, they discover new shops and services and this generates footfall and spend. We have almost 700 businesses so far joining us, from pop-ups to bricks and mortar shops, from restaurants and hairdressers to vets and financial services. Businesses are using it to showcase products, allow bookings, and promote their events.
We are very happy with the number of users who we target at a local level as they are the most likely to support local businesses – we have gained a lot of positive feedback from customers who have described our work as “game-changing” and have also most importantly been reminded that in spite of the doom and gloom headlines, there are a lot of businesses and services available to them.
- What about competition in this area?
There are a variety of online sites that offer e-commerce to businesses. That is not our focus – we are offering the only place-centred solution of its kind. Our priority is providing an alternative future that doesn’t follow the tech giant didactic that shopping is just about transaction, product and price. We know there is a significant base of customers who are concerned about their own towns and cities, and would choose local more, if local was more accessible.
ShopAppy focuses on place and people, it uses online to drive offline and campaigns to change behaviours – helping residents and visitors see what is available and to act on it, and helping businesses to collaborate more whether they are tech-savvy or resolutely non-tech. There are no competitors doing what we are doing in this way that embraces the wide range of businesses in markets, town and city centres.
- How has the solution been developed / advanced over time?
When we started, ShopAppy was centred on independent shops only. However over the last couple of years the very serious challenges faced by bricks and mortar businesses and markets of all kinds has been well-covered. That is why in 2018 we introduced booking features to include a wider range of businesses and also now accept franchises and chains to join.
For the consumer, the variety of products and services will drive footfall and we need to reflect that mix. The challenge though in most places is that chains do not have managers who are empowered to make decisions at a local level. I think absentee landlords and managers are a significant obstacle to the vibrancy and diversity of our town and city centres. We are overcoming this, because a greater number of pop-ups, stalls and markets are emerging too to close the gap in variety when chains can’t participate.
- Have there been any surprises along the way?
The surprise was how timely we were in launching ShopAppy just ahead of one of the most challenging periods in retail and it still surprises me how much fear of technology there is among businesses and how little infrastructure and policy support has been put in place to support them over decades.
I have been inspired by how many new businesses have entered town centres and markets, the passion behind those lobbying for change and the great business, council and BID collaborators who have joined us in creating an alternative future that sees online as friend not foe. One big surprise was being mentioned in the Select Committee in Parliament on the future of high streets, which made us feel that we were being recognised for our role in pioneering change. We do our best to represent the views of our business and customer communities in all kinds of meetings to help shape an alternative and better future for places.
- What can we expect from ShopAppy in the future?
We have developed a new AI engine that is very exciting. It will help businesses to amplify their marketing activities when they are limited in resources. We have some new developments underway based on three years of feedback, which we are now implementing, and you can expect to see us in more places – that is for sure. You will also see us continuing to contribute to discussions about how we can improve and evolve our markets, town and city centres. ShopAppy is more than a digital platform, it is a campaign and a mission to drive social and economic change.
- Do you have any recommendations for entries in the next Digital Retail Innovations report?
www.meanwhilespace.com is a refill App, which is reducing plastic pollution.