‘Times Are Changing’ as St George’s Market traders go digital

The ‘Voice for Locals’ initiative has already digitised over 200 local businesses and is set to digitise NI marketplaces and high streets

By Claire Cartmill
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 10:21 am

Voice for Locals, which received a £1.82m grant from the UK Government to bolster small businesses’ potential, has digitised over 200 businesses across Northern Ireland in less than 30 days.

The initiative launched its latest drive ‘Times Are Changing’ at St George’s Market last week to help traders, who rely on in-person footfall, to extend their services online and tap into the world of e-commerce.

The Voice for Locals team met traders to introduce them to their tagline “Times Are Changing”, to illustrate that their trading times are changing. They can now expand sales, trading online every day of the week. It also signifies the fact that it is an opportune time for traders to take their business to a digital platform.

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St George’s Market traders are pictured with Jay Thattai, founder and Steering Authority at Voice for Locals

The initiative allows engagement with a broader audience, on a more consistent basis, beyond the confines of St George’s Market official trading days, thanks to the Voice for Locals digital directory of all rated businesses across Northern Ireland, ni.voiceforlocals.co.uk.

The event saw traders at the iconic venue use a mobile app to collect ratings, reviews, manage bookings and drive loyalty effortlessly. The traders, who typically trade on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were seen proudly sharing the news of their online presence with their customers.

The platform allows traders to go digital with mobile apps, get marketed locally, get certified with e-learning courses endorsed by City and Guilds, and avail of personalised business and technology advice, to build a self-reliant economy in the wake of the pandemic.

The initiative, delivered by a consortium of organisations including Unloc Limited, TieTa and City & Guilds, has plans to extend this drive to other marketplaces and high streets.

St George’s Market traders are pictured with Jay Thattai, founder and Steering Authority at Voice for Locals

Jay Thattai, founder and Steering Authority at Voice for Locals, said the campaign would help businesses “recover, rebuild and rebound.”

He said: “It was gratifying to see 71 traders signing up for online business in a single day. 55% of traders onboarded are women entrepreneurs with basic digital skills. Every trader will have their own landing page with their business description, pictures and videos featured in the Voice for Locals NI directory. They are also given tools to collect genuine customer ratings and reviews in the market which will reflect online automatically, to boost their credibility for online shoppers to shop locally with confidence.

“Every trader’s landing page also has an enquiry button to generate leads for the traders during the non-trading days. The leads automatically go to their personalised mobile apps.

“The iconic St George’s Market has an international appeal and attracts tourists from all over the globe. With the expanded digital presence, traders can now tap into rest of the UK, Europe and world markets that would have otherwise been unattainable, via the initiative’s extension plans.”

Jay Thattai, founder and Steering Authority at Voice for Locals is pictured with Cathy McLaverty, chair of St George’s Market Traders Association, and the Voice for Locals promotional team including Erin Campbell and Amy Devenny

One trader who availed of the initiative is Cathy McLaverty from Randalstown. Cathy is chair of St George’s Market Traders Association and sells a range of women’s accessories. Her business is Cathy McLaverty Accessories.

She explained: “All we have is a few hours in a day to make something, market and sell it. We have always looked forward to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at St George’s market to sell our products. We do not have the team, the skillset, or the time to digitise and market our business. Until this point, we did not have an opportunity to own the database of customers that shopped from us.

“Most importantly, we could not reach out to them when we introduced new designs. We did not know if we had a happy customer and if that individual would recommend us on social media and refer us to friends and families. With Voice for Locals, we have this information at our fingertips. We have the tools to personalise rewards and promotions and ensure we are continuously engaging with our customers, and we truly feel empowered.

“The NI directory will also help generate leads for the traders from Monday to Thursday, when the market is closed. We are looking forward to pinpointing new business opportunities.”

St George’s Market Trader Sean Gallagher from Fin McVeg is pictured with Jay Thattai, founder and Steering Authority at Voice for Locals

The consortium’s tender win for the project makes it the recipient of the fifth largest grant in the UK and the largest in Northern Ireland. Unloc will provide the technology, marketing and skills development element of the offering while TieTa will offer business and technical support. The team is working closely with City & Guilds to gain recognition for e-learning programmes delivered to local businesses throughout the scheme’s duration.

This project is funded by the UK Government through the UK Community Renewal Fund.