An online lifeline for Watford's high street

By Peter Taylor | 12 October 2020

2020 has been a challenging year for us all, and it’s not over yet.

Whatever the future holds, I believe it’s more important than ever to push forward. It’s our town motto to ‘go boldly’, and as we head into the final quarter of 2020, I can’t think of a statement more fitting for our times.

Our 2020 Watford Council Plan promises to promote Watford as an enterprising town where businesses can invest, grow and succeed. Part of that pledge is to drive the economic recovery of Watford, remobilise our town centre and local economy and support its recovery, so I’m excited to announce that Watford Borough Council is partnering with WhatsApp to create the UK’s first-ever ‘WhatsApp High Street’.

Research shows that almost two-thirds of small businesses in the UK have seen a drop in footfall due to Coronavirus, with public concerns over social distancing in small premises a major contributor. This has had a massive impact on local high streets and particularly on small to medium-sized businesses. We pledge in our 2020 council plan to do what we can to invigorate our small and medium businesses across the town, so creating that link between the online world that we’ve all grown so used to, and the real-world high street, has to be a big part of the solution.

 I'm delighted a global brand like WhatsApp has chosen to work with us on this initiative, which is the first of its kind in the UK. Local businesses are vital to our economy, bringing jobs and so much character to our town. We are committed to working with them to ensure Watford’s economy succeeds as we open up after a difficult period of lockdown. Digital skills and new technology are at the heart of our plans for the borough, which is why we are helping local businesses to adapt to the new circumstances we find ourselves in.

During the pandemic the majority of larger SMEs increased their use of online tools. However, less than half of the smallest companies followed suit  ?  perhaps in some cases due to a lack of resources. When asked what type of help small businesses needed to function effectively during the pandemic, help with improving customer communication topped the list, followed closely by the need for digital upskilling and marketing assistance.

The first of its kind

This pilot is the first of its kind. WhatsApp Business acts as a shopfront for a company’s products and services, and helps businesses to easily and instantly connect, communicate and build relationships with their customers. The App provides free digital tools to help manage the many challenges presented by the pandemic, such as lockdowns, curfews, social distancing measures, opening hours, stock issues, reservations or reduced menus. Experts from WhatsApp are providing training for an initial group of 12 local businesses on how to use the App to support their business, and training will then remain open for any small businesses in Watford interested in the scheme.

An online lifeline

WhatsApp has been a lifeline for millions of us separated from our friends and families during these difficult times. However, it’s now also proving it can be a lifeline for businesses. The WhatsApp Business App was designed specifically for small businesses, is free to download, and is as simple and intuitive to use as WhatsApp itself. There are over 50 million users of the WhatsApp Business App worldwide, making it one of the most popular ways for small businesses to communicate with their customers instantly, and all using a simple service that their customers are already familiar with. 

You can find out more information on WhatsApp’s partnership with Watford Borough Council at: https://www.watfordbusiness.com/whats-app 

Watford, like so many towns in the UK, has weathered a storm. And whilst we may not know what lies ahead, the pandemic has certainly shown that we can think outside the box to help our community during challenging times. The WhatsApp High Street initiative is yet another example of this. It remains a huge privilege for me to represent this innovative, resilient and creative community.

Peter Taylor is elected Mayor of Watford.

Picture credit: Getty

 
 
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