Online shopping scheme to help retailers ceases due to lack of funds

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The online shopping scheme aimed to help retailers hit by the Covid-19 pandemic - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

An online shopping scheme to support local firms has ceased in East Suffolk - after a council committed £60,000 of public money to the project.

The district council said between its launch in December and the end of February the scheme had 35 live stores and a further 23 signed up waiting to go live, generating more than 433 orders and upwards of £8,300 in business for those retailers.

But now the six-month pilot with Click It Local – an online high street brand which operates as a local alternative to large web retailers - has ended with the online provider admitting it had exhausted all funding avenues to keep going.

The scheme allowed people to buy from local independent or high street shops through one payment and get it delivered the same or the next day, aiming to help support retail in bouncing back from the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

East Suffolk Council committed £60,000 from its share of the Government's Welcome Back Fund last October on a six-month contract with Click It Local.

Craig Rivertt, deputy leader of East Suffolk District Council and cabinet member for economic develo

Craig Rivett, deputy leader of East Suffolk District Council and cabinet member for economic development - Credit: East Suffolk District Council

It is understood no warning was given about it ending, but deputy council leader Craig Rivett said it had been concluded that the financial model was not sustainable.

“At the end of last week, it came to the attention of our economic development team that Click It Local had concluded that its pre-existing delivery model was not financially sustainable as it functioned during the pandemic,” Mr Rivett said.

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“We understand that, as a result, orders, deliveries and collections have been paused, and outstanding customer orders have been fully refunded.

“We have been informed that Click It Local hopes to continue to offer some form of online ordering and delivery for independent stores in the area.

“In the meantime, our chief concern is minimising any impact on affected businesses.

“Our economic development team officers have been in contact with Click It Local to request that these businesses are closely updated on progress.

“Officers are also ready and able to offer ongoing digital training for businesses which signed up to the scheme.”

While the council said it had been informed Click It Local planned to continue some kind of online offering, a statement on the firm’s own website appeared to differ.

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Click It Local has been approached for comment, but has not yet responded.

However, the organisation’s website said: “Click It Local’s mission has been to support independent retailers by innovating the high street and the way we all shop local.

“To deliver on this mission, in what has been an increasingly challenging period, we have been working constantly over the last six months to secure the support and capital we need to continue in this effort.

“It has become apparent that we have exhausted all possible options. It is with very heavy hearts that we must sadly let you know that we will no longer be able to serve our cherished stores and customers."

The council said the pilot was due to finish at the end of March, but the authority is in the process of calculating if there is any funding to be claimed.

Welcome Back schemes

Despite the setback, East Suffolk Council has said that its other projects bankrolled through the Welcome Back Fund are on course as planned.

The council was awarded £287,000 in total from the Welcome Back Fund, which effectively acted as a continuation of the European Regional Development Fund’s ‘Reopening High Streets Safely Fund’ in 2020.

A series of walking trails – two or three for each of the district’s 12 key market towns – are being developed via a mobile app to encourage footfall.

The project is being delivered through Go Jauntly and the trails are expected to be online this spring.

Elsewhere, handy pocket guides for the district’s market towns are being developed, while a report on the impact of Covid-19 on both individual towns and the district as a whole is also expected this spring following a series of surveys.

The council said it was currently in the process of refreshing its economic growth plan, expected to come to cabinet in May with details of the local priorities, as well as develop a new visitor economy strategy, which is expected to be completed imminently.