Pre-pandemic, ShopAppy spent years promoting the importance of shopping local and supporting independent businesses. But as of 23 March 2020, their digital offering went from being optional to essential for retailers across the country.
Huge numbers of businesses were forced to close their shops completely, while others struggled with a significant fall in customer numbers through the adherence to the ‘stay at home’ message – and without any digital presence, the scale of the problem they faced very quickly became apparent.
This is where ShopAppy was able to step in to help those businesses, supporting local high streets in a way that had never been more badly needed, enabling them to go from no digital offering at all, to having an order and click-and-collect service in a matter of minutes.
Since 2016, Bradford-based ShopAppy has been working with towns, villages, and cities across the UK, creating a commission-free online ‘shop window’ to enable customers to browse, book and buy local products in one online transaction, or buy vouchers to spend at a future date.
In four years, founder Jackie Mulligan and her team – 2 full-time, one part-time – had bought on board 29 towns across the UK. But in nine months of 2020, that number swelled to 150. The team also grew to 20 to keep pace with the unrelenting growth, as businesses nationally clamoured to be part of ShopAppy and the digital opportunities it could offer to help ensure their survival during the pandemic.
“Customers like the idea of buying local but they also want the instant ability to buy things online that they get from the likes of Amazon. This was a big learning curve for a lot of businesses in a short space of time. Pre-COVID-19 people were spending £1 in £5 online – during the pandemic that became £1 in £3. It became the case that they were missing out, they were losing revenue by not being online,” says Jackie.
For ShopAppy to support these many businesses, significant investment was made into upgrading its own website and e-commerce platform and new partnerships were developed with Visa and NatWest to enable it to service the demand it knew was coming. This added to the support it had received previously from Digital Enterprise – Digital Growth Voucher funding that had helped the company enhance its site for the growing demand.
“The voucher enabled us to develop better tech after our first iteration on the site, we were able to scale more quickly, as we had a better and more developed product,” Jackie explains.
Through the snappily-titled Project Pandemic Pivot, ShopAppy scaled quickly, changing its business model, and innovating its technology in early March, so it could be ready for when the global pandemic hit the UK.
“I was really worried about COVID-19 and was looking at what was happening in Wuhan, thinking ‘We need to get ready for when that comes here’ – the work I’d done in a previous job showed me that with a pandemic, it was when it would happen, not if,” says Jackie, whose background in academia saw her research future trends where such events were clearly a significant threat.
“We worked hard on a major upgrade of our site and were all set up for day one of lockdown, enabling businesses to continue to trade. The agility of our business enabled others to carry on.”
The ShopAppy case study was first featured in the Digital Enterprise TOP 100 2021 special report – access the report here to read the interview in full.