In March 2020, when the first public health restrictions came into effect, businesses and communities across the country faced new and unexpected challenges that called for innovative responses. Fingal County Council responded to the challenge of supporting sustainable communities and assisting local businesses to reorient to sustain their commercial livelihoods by supporting the development of the shoplocal.irish website.
The website is a social enterprise concept brought to the Council by the local community who had identified a need during the first period of public health restrictions for a website to help inform the public about what businesses were open in the area during that time and to help those local businesses who were open to sustain their business and market new services which they were pivoting to offer.
The initiative is targeted at small and medium local businesses and shops, particularly those which prior to that time did not have an online presence, offer telephone ordering or delivery and collection services. In order for these businesses to survive, they had to pivot to offer new services and focus on providing for the needs of their local communities. The website provided these businesses with the opportunity to market new services and reach into their local communities, to raise awareness that they are open for business and could meet the needs of those people cocooning or restricted to within a certain distance of their homes.
The website platform provides small local shops and businesses with a means to market themselves and promote awareness of existing or new ordering, delivery and collection services developed in response to evolving local community needs. GIS pinpoints the user’s location and informs the user of the businesses which are in the immediate vicinity. Users can also search business categories to find products ranging from food to books to art supplies. The website informs users of the ordering capabilities of the listed businesses and whether they operate a delivery or collection service. The website offers product accessibility to users, provides reassurance to the local community in a difficult time and improves local quality of life by sustaining business in the local community.
Fingal County Council promoted the initiative through the Community Call Forum which has a wide range of stakeholders reaching into various disparate sections of the community. These stakeholders promoted the platform among their members, clients and the general public, with a focus on the most vulnerable members of the community.
The Council’s social media campaign encouraged local businesses to register with the website. In the first two weeks of its launch, over 100 businesses across Fingal registered on the website. The campaign also inspired many more local businesses who were open during this time, but who were struggling to get the message out about their ordering & delivery services, to register and avail of the platform. Shoplocal.irish also maintains a strong following on Instagram, promoting and featuring the products of local businesses.
The Council also promoted the website through the Chambers of Commerce and informal networks of local producers, shops and businesses. The steadily increasing numbers of businesses on the platform is indicative of increasing public awareness of these businesses and that the marketing is effectively reaching the local community, who benefit from the knowledge of the availability of these products and services in the locality.
The website is co-funded by Fingal County Council and Pobal via the Social Inclusion & Community Activation Programme (SICAP). Fingal LEO also provided mentoring support in establishing the social enterprise and producing a sustainable business model to get the enterprise operational and support its expansion.
Business owners using the platform are advocates for the further development of the website, noting increases in business as a result of providing new online and telephone ordering facilities and delivery and collection services, with steady customer usage of these services. The number of followers that shoplocal.irish has on Instagram are also increasing, demonstrating the effectiveness of this social media channel as a means for local producers to promote and market their products to a wide audience.
Small local businesses are benefiting from the growing impetus of the Shop Local concept which has gained significance in recent months with citizens restricted to their local environs and consumer behaviour focusing on local producers and suppliers. There are now more than 570 businesses on the shoplocal.irish website and the initial social enterprise concept has received interest across the country to explore expansion into other counties.
This innovative initiative, which provides digital infrastructure in the form of a website, app and an Instagram social media channel, provides a means by which small and medium local businesses and shops can sustain their businesses and promote new products and services to their local communities. This concept is an example of innovation in providing an easily accessible means of conveying information to the public and reaching into the community, including the most vulnerable segments of the community, to provide essential information and reassurance and certainty about the accessibility of goods and services in the local community.