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New app launched to create ‘digital shop window’ for local businesses

Photo credit: Matthew Horwood

A group of Welsh entrepreneurs have come together to develop a new app that will bring businesses and consumers together to support their local communities.

iTown is a free app for towns, villages and high streets that collates up to the second information from all the businesses in each local area that, during these unprecedented times, have had to adapt to the changing needs of the Covid-19 lockdown.

By creating a digital shop window, iTown enables consumers using the app to see what products are on offer locally in businesses such as corner shops, butchers, fruit and veg shops, bakers, and takeaway food outlets. They can then order and arrange delivery through a simple online messaging service and pay online.

The idea came from conversations between Professor Dylan Jones-Evans of the University of South Wales (creator of the Wales Start-up Awards) and Kate Methuen-Ley (founder of Tiger Stores Cardiff) who were looking for ways to support their local businesses. However, it proved very difficult when searching online to find out which brilliant independents were open, who was delivering and who had stock available.

Kate said “I was trawling through Facebook and Twitter and sharing any information of local businesses who were delivering, doing take-out or had items in stock. However, I couldn’t really find one website where my friends and family could only find out what was available from local businesses. As a small business owner myself, I also realised that shops would find it difficult to get their message out to customers during the current lockdown”.

Fortunately, both had been working with Vicky Mann, a Pontypridd based entrepreneur who had already developed a potential solution to the problem via the NearMeNow app that promotes the physical presence of the bricks and mortar businesses by amplifying their shop window advertising.

Vicky said: “When we discussed how to help local firms, I immediately realised that there was something tangible we could do to support businesses, towns and high streets during these uncertain times. NearMeNow has always championed the independent businesses since its inception and I was more than happy to help create a free version to help those communities and businesses who need to interact with customers through a simple easy to use platform.”

With free help from businesses from across the Welsh entrepreneurial network including digital firms Blue Stag and Web Marketer, iTown was born. Founder of Blue Stag Dan Sargent was enthusiastic about how quickly this was put together “It’s been great to be involved in iTown and I’m proud of what this small group of people have accomplished in such a short space of time. Hopefully iTown can really help support the local businesses that we all rely on so much when then need it most”.

Professor Jones-Evans added “At this difficult time for Welsh business, it’s wonderful to see entrepreneurs come together to do something collectively for the community we work in every day by creating an app that enable customers to go online to link directly to those shops and outlets remaining open in their high street at this critical time. We have also created a button on the app by which customers can also buy gift vouchers for future use, thus helping those businesses that are currently closed”.

Whilst there will be a rollout across Wales over the next couple of weeks, the first place to adopt iTown will be Treorchy in the South Wales Valleys which was recently voted the best high street in the UK.

Adrian Emmett, owner of The Lion pub in Treorchy and the person who nominated the town for the prestigious national award said “Due to Covid-19, our high street offerings are changing by the hour but unfortunately, social media and directories aren’t keeping up with these changes. Treorchy needed a way of viewing shop window adverts from a distance and a quick easy way of setting up and taking payments for newly formed delivery services and we are delighted to be adopting iTown for the benefit of local businesses”.

Full details of how both businesses and consumers can register for the iTown app can be found at www.itown.net.