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New app creates first digital high street in a bid to tackle UK high street crisis

The pilot of an app designed to revitalise Britain’s ailing high streets has been launched in South Wales creating the first digital high street.

The developers of NearMeNow are piloting the digital technology on Cowbridge high street with the hope of rolling it out across the UK.

The NearMeNow app provides the complete digital toolkit that high street businesses need to compete on a level playing field with bigger chains and online shopping.

Businesses are able to push their traditional shop front advertising into the wider community and at the touch of a button, advertise if new stock has arrived, if a salon has a free appointment, or a restaurant a free table.

To aid customer engagement, the app’s developers have integrated a feature that has been dubbed “the WhatsApp for high street businesses” which provides two-way instant messaging between customer and high street business, and there is also the functionality for customers to complete financial transactions to secure goods and services.

In addition to these core features, NearMeNow developers have pushed the boundaries of emerging technology with AR developed alongside CEMET (The Centre of Excellence for Mobile and Emerging Technology) at the University of South Wales. This feature transforms the customer experience byallowing shoppers to interact with adverts whilst viewing the high street through their smartphone camera lens.

By enabling independent high street traders to advertise and interact with customers more effectively, the developers of NearMeNow hope it will support businesses in generating customers, eliminating waste and boosting the bottom line.

The app is the brainchild of former risk analyst turned maths teacher Victoria Mann who came up with the idea when she was sat in a hairdressing salon on a weekday morning, surrounded by four hairdressers and three empty chairs. She said:

“I thought there must be a way to fill those chairs and attract new customers at the same time. An app that would push out current shop front advertising into the palms of the hands of each smart phone user nearby.

“I knew it would benefit so many other businesses on the high street who need to get the word out to the local community and communicate with them on a responsive and immediate basis.

“The butcher with an overstock of meat or the baker with a freshly baked batch of bread – all those businesses have something to share and need to get the word out at the right time to the right people.”

Hoping to bring new ideas, skills and digital technology to advance high streets across the UK, solving a real social and economic issue, NearMeNow’s launch follows recent research from PwC that showed an average of 16 high street stores closed every day in 2017, totalling 5,855 over the course of the year.

Victoria continued:

“Research shows that high street store openings are at their lowest in seven years, while the number of stores closing continues to grow. Our high streets are under increasing pressure from online competition and yet, many people I speak too are still keen to buy local and use regional shops and suppliers.

“We felt the potential for communities and local economies to reap the benefits of digital was not being realised. Through NearMeNow, we hope to re-energise the traditional high street model delivering the most innovative technology, while at the same time digitally upskilling traders.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how the pilot performs in Cowbridge, with plans afoot to roll it out across the whole of the UK.”

Based at Welsh ICE in Caerphilly, NearMeNow has secured £200,000 investment led by the Development Bank of Wales, who invested £150,000. It has also received backing from TownSquare’s Accelerator, NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark and Business Wales’ Accelerated Growth Programme for businesses with high growth potential.