Belleville’s Downtown District goes Digital amidst coronavirus
Belleville Downtown District BIA had been toying with the idea of launching a digital marketplace as a gateway to shopping at local business online for a little while but the shutdown forced them to fast-track their strategy.
“When everything took place with the shutdown, we saw the need for a digital solution, a marketplace solution,” says Kelsey Moniz, media and marketing officer of the BIA. The BIA had been talking about launching in the next year or two. When the pandemic hit, they pulled it together in four weeks.
The BIA’s Downtown District Marketplace went live April 17 with a selection of 200 items from 25 downtown shops running the gamut of beauty, home, and entertainment. Several restaurants also got on board.
The premise is straightforward. Shop owners are responsible for uploading their own products and photos. They fulfill their own owners and manage the information on their profiles and the BIA is there to help walk them through the process via a series of quick training videos and how-to documents.
“The very basic skills of adding a product, uploading images and things like that might seem simple to people with a marketing and digital background but store owners who are focused on their business don't always have the ability,” she says. “So we want to help them grow those skillsets and manage the products and the profiles that they create themselves.”
Moniz credits the “cheerleaders and guinea pigs” who were willing to work through the technical issues as the BIA pulled the program together at a rapid pace. “They brought on other people through their own networks and by talking to other members and it got people on board and helped validate what we're doing and why we're doing it.”
As of the start of May, there are more than 1,000 items loaded in the online store which has the feel of an online market. There are no competitors, only local businesses selling their wares side by side. The platform has enabled over $15K in revenue and more than 260 orders.
Moniz says Belleville’s Downtown District is a tight-knit community but the desire to shop local is also fuelled by the current crisis created by the coronavirus. “I think it's reviving that desire to be within your community,” says Moniz. “We're global and with e-commerce, you can think even bigger, but there's also the ability to be grouped together as a smaller community too and still engage in that digital interaction.”
It’s a concept Moniz and co. have been trumpeting to other BIAs and economic development groups. “We just want the word out there that this can be done,” she says. “It's a lot of work and it's going to take some time depending on peoples’ skillsets, but it's a way to help businesses survive and get revenue and continue to function during this time and then live even better beyond that.”
Written by Andrew Seale