As local businesses were being forced to close their doors or alter their services because of the coronavirus pandemic, it became immediately apparent we needed to use the large platform of the Winnipeg Free Press to help in whatever way we could.
In late March, the Winnipeg Free Press, in partnership with Bold Commerce, launched the listing service Buylocal.ly. This interactive, free directory allows businesses still in operation to provide information such as how to order along with pickup and delivery options so that consumers know when, where, and how to support them.
The collaboration with Bold Commerce came about in a rather fateful way. Winnipeg Free Press Editor Paul Samyn mentioned in a column that a listing service was being developed and would be available to the public soon. Members of Bold’s team saw the story and reached out to let us know they were developing an identical listing service and asked if we’d want to partner rather than compete.
We looked at their product and determined it would get better development support than ours — and, ultimately, we both had the same goal of helping business owners during a truly unprecedented situation — so we took them up on their offer and combined forces.
Responding quickly to a crisis
As with all things COVID-19, the window of time between coming up with the concept and rolling it out was a small one. The project was launched in less than seven days. The initial MVP continues to be enhanced, with features like keyword search soon to be added.
Internally, the design and management of the page is a collaboration between several departments, including editorial, digital, and advertising, although maintenance is relatively minimal. Since business owners can add themselves, it’s not entirely up to our teams to input all of that information. We saw warm support from local business groups and chambers who were quick to share this with their members and even helped by entering some business listings.
The listing itself allows consumers to filter by type of business (restaurant, grocery, service, pharmacy, shop, alcohol, health/wellness, other) and by what those businesses are offering (pickup, deliver, senior hours, virtual options).
Each colour-coded business tile includes an address and contact phone number and/or social media pages, with an option to click “more information” to see current hours of operation, the best way to order or purchase product, and any notes the business has chosen to include, such as which website to visit for the most up-to-date information on stock or availability.
As of April 24, less than one month after launching, nearly 1,000 businesses have registered in the Winnipeg area alone. Our buylocal.ly listing page has been viewed more than 54,000 times and has been shared more than 19,000 times.
Local media is in a unique situation where they have close ties to both businesses and consumers, so this is a natural fit. For other media companies looking to add a similar feature, Buylocal.ly is looking for other partners to help bring the tool to other markets. It is not built specifically for Winnipeg and can be deployed to any location easily.