Buy Local - North Yorkshire County Council

Buy Local is a new local business directory developed to be easy to register on and use for businesses and customers alike.

Buy Local is a free online business directory developed to connect residents with businesses and tradespeople operating under COVID-19 restrictions in their local area. Developed in direct response to consumer demand in the first uncertain weeks of national lockdown to help residents to find locally available products and services online and assist local business to provide essential goods and services. The directory has supported business start-ups and diversification through providing free advertising and publicity, - a free virtual shop window. Case studies showcasing successes and impact are published on the North Yorkshire County Council website and in the local media.

The challenge

The early weeks of lockdown introduced self isolation and shielding to North Yorkshire’s most vulnerable residents. Uncertainty, panic buying and general increased demand left some goods and services unavailable to sections of society.  Residents did not know where to get the goods and services they needed locally. Likewise, local businesses were unable to trade in the conventional way. The solution needed to put local businesses in touch with customers in an effective and trusted way and tell customers that they were still open for business. Local people worried about impact on their employment from the impact of Covid started new businesses or diversified their existing businesses and there was a need to advertise these new products and services in a safe online way.

The solution

Buy Local is a new local business directory developed to be easy to register on and use for businesses and customers alike. Businesses are searchable geographically based under various catagories such as food and so people can locate local services easily. Functionality within the tool enabled customers to search by business type, area or key word to help them quickly connect with relevant businesses and provided a direct link to their website and social media accounts.

The website has almost 850 local businesses now registered. Customers are able to access up to date information in one place and businesses can update information on what they are supplying and how they are trading themselves.  Businesses are checked by the North Yorkshire County Council Trading Standards service for records of poor trading practices before being registered on the site.

The Buy Local team replicated an existing online directory listing North Yorkshire voluntary agents (NYConnect) but developed an improved more efficient solution. The existing NY connect product held data on a website, with a financial overhead to keep up to date. The Buy Local team created a model where data owners (businesses and service providers) sign up, consent, and are able to keep their own information up to date themselves. The Buy Local team were able to give customers the functionality to search what types of products they were looking for and directly contact local businesses.

The Buy Local team put their trust in an existing technical solution, which was already in use by customers.  This saved months of time usually spent understanding requirements, defining and designing. The technical team were able to deliver a product that met core requirements within 4 days and took an agile and iterative approach to further tweak where necessary, based on customer usage and feedback and later on where Covid restrictions eased and continue to fluctuate.  The legal team adjusted terms and conditions to comply with the commerciality aspects of the new directory and compliance with GDPR.

The impact

Since the site launched on 10 April there have been almost 74,000 visits to the site.

Visitors have clicked the links to websites 2,784 times. One Business has received 79 visits to their website. There have been

84 telephone clicks,

639 email clicks and

3,358 clicks to expand the information shown

In terms of the speed of the creation of the site and its usefulness in providing essential services, the shopping element of the site alone was visited 1,385 times in April (10th-30th). Residents wanted and used this site.

These figures show that customers connected with local businesses when they needed them most.

An additional impact was the joint working with County Council Services, notably with Trading Standards and Communications team.

The Trading Standards service checked each applicant to the scheme, and was able to engage positively with businesses who initially gave concern, giving them advice and guidance which enabled them to achieve compliance with relevant legislation and allow their entry to the scheme. Buy Local enabled the Trading Standards service to reach businesses it would not have had contact with otherwise and it is hoped that businesses’ positive experience on this occasion will encourage them to seek advice as required in the future. This is a good outcome for those businesses and also for the residents and other consumers with whom they trade.  

The North Yorkshire County Council press team were involved in positive publicity for those businesses on the site showcasing many inspiring examples of the usage of the site ( published on the Council’s website) to connect customers with businesses and how the site has supported businesses through this difficult time.

How is the new approach being sustained

Analysis of use, customer feedback and evaluation of the website’s functionality are used to inform technical developments by the digital team to improve the product’s usability.

Communication campaigns using new case studies are regularly published in the press, social media and the council website to keep interest in the site from businesses and customers.

The council has been publicising the site to council staff to encourage them to Buy Local including a prize drawer competition over Christmas.

There has been coordination and communication with business groups and stakeholders such as the local enterprise partnership to advertise this initiative.

Transition from an initial rapid response tool to Covid national lockdown to a permanent directory supporting buying locally and therefore supporting the local economy is planned.

Lessons learned

The development of this interactive online directory was worth the investment in staff time as it has been a great success in providing a rapid solution to local needs.

 Several Council teams were able to work together virtually to develop this tool across the Council – Economic Development, Trading Standards, Legal, Customer Services, Digital and Communications.

This outreach experience has shown that business engagement can extend beyond economic recovery activity to provide wider support to strengthen individual and community resilience.

The development of the website model has shown that transferring ownership to the business lowers overheads for the council, increases agility and therefore usefulness for the business in difficult and changing times and increases accuracy and trust for the end user.