VOICE for Locals, which has received a grant of over £1.8m from the UK government to boost small business potential, says it has digitized over 200 local businesses across Northern Ireland in less than 30 days .
The initiative has launched its latest ‘Times of Change’ campaign in St George’s Market to help traders, who typically rely on in-person attendance, expand their online services and access the world of e-commerce.
The initiative enables engagement with a wider audience, on a more consistent basis, beyond the confines of official St George’s Market trading days, through the Voice for Locals digital directory of all rated businesses in the north ( www.voiceforlocals.co.uk).
Marketplace merchants can now use a mobile app to collect ratings, reviews, manage reservations and build loyalty. It also allows them to become certified with City & Guilds approved e-learning courses, and benefit from personalized business and technology advice, to build a self-sustaining economy in the wake of the pandemic.
The initiative, implemented by a consortium of organizations including Unloc Limited, TieTa and City & Guilds, plans to expand this campaign to other markets and high streets in the north.
Jay Thattai, founder and governing authority of Voice for Locals (www.voiceforlocals.co.uk), believes the campaign will help businesses recover, rebuild and bounce back from the pandemic.
He said: “It was gratifying to see 71 traders sign up for online activities in just one day. Some 55% of onboard merchants are female entrepreneurs with basic digital skills. Each merchant will have their own homepage with their business description, photos, and videos featured in the Voice for Locals NI directory.
“They also have tools to collect real customer ratings and reviews from the marketplace that will automatically reflect online, to build credibility so online shoppers can shop locally with confidence.
“Each merchant’s landing page also has a request button to generate leads for merchants during non-trading days. Prospects automatically access their personalized mobile apps.
“The iconic St George’s Market has an international appeal and attracts tourists from all over the world. With the expanded digital presence, traders can now access the rest of the UK, Europe and global markets that would otherwise have been inaccessible, via the initiative’s expansion plans.
One trader who has benefited from the initiative is Cathy McLaverty of Randalstown, who is president 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 a day to make something, market it 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, skills or time to digitize and market our business. Until now, we did not have the possibility of possessing the database of customers who bought from us.
“More importantly, we couldn’t contact them when we introduced new models. We didn’t know if we had a happy customer and if that person would recommend us on social media and recommend us to friends and family.
“With Voice for Locals, we have this information at our fingertips. We have the tools to personalize rewards and promotions and ensure that we continuously engage with our customers, and feel truly empowered.
“The NI Directory will also help generate leads for traders Monday through Thursday when the market is closed. We look forward to identifying new trading opportunities.