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.

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 residents not knowing 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. Buy Local was introduced as a free-to-use directory that provided this link and allowed customers to search for local businesses easily.  Since its launch, it continues to be a valuable, free tool for local businesses to promote themselves.

The solution

Buy Local is a local business directory developed to be easy to register on and use for businesses and customers alike. Businesses are searchable by geography so people can locate local services easily. Functionality has been enhanced to offer business-to-business searches, with the directory indicating local wholesale suppliers as well as direct to customers, supporting all types of local business.  Each listing provides contact details and a direct link to the businesses’ website and social media accounts.

Launched back in 2020, the website continues to attract new postings weekly and currently has more than 400 local businesses 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 whereby the 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 was able to give customers the functionality to search for the types of products they were looking for and directly contact local businesses.

The Buy Local team put its trust in an existing technical solution, which was already in use by customers.  This saved months in understanding requirements, defining and designing. The technical team was able to deliver a product that met core requirements within four days and took an agile and iterative approach to continually improve the user experience.  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 2020:

  • there have been almost 176,000 visits to the site
  • visitors have clicked the links to websites over 4,000 times
  • there have been 321 telephone calls, 1,094 email clicks and 12,820 unique searches to gain information, with the site still being visited 1,200 per month as of August 2022. 

These figures show that customers are still utilising this service to connect with local businesses to find the goods and services that they need.

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.

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

Additional features such as the ability for businesses to search for local suppliers has also been added.

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.