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Home Hacks : Building The Local Shopper

At xDesign, we love hearing about our teams side projects and interests, especially when they are volunteering their skills and expertise to develop “tech for good” solutions to help the community during such difficult times.

We were thrilled when our Senior Software Engineer, Bee Flaherty, revealed her role in a brilliant online initiative to bring the community and local food suppliers in Edinburgh together during the COVID-19 crisis. This is Bee’s story of creating The Local Shopper.

It started with a lemon tart

I was contacted by my former boss and friend David Storey. He was chatting to the agency CreateFuture about a not-for-profit project that would help people and businesses in Edinburgh during the COVID-19 crisis. The idea was to create a free online resource listing local shops, restaurants and cafés that are now offering delivery/collection services for food and drinks. It would be a simple way of supporting independent businesses who are struggling, while providing people in the Edinburgh area with interesting culinary options to brighten up life in lockdown. The idea was actually triggered when one of the team was delivered a delicious lemon tart!

I wanted to give something back

A collective of friends and colleagues with a talent for digital design and development was assembled, and I volunteered my services as the developer on the project. I had some time off and was getting slightly bored and so it was a good way to immerse myself in a personal project. It also felt really good to be doing something useful and valuable in such challenging times. I've got friends who run local businesses and work in the hospitality industry, so it was my way of giving something back to them.

It took just five days

I took the designs, added data and built the site. The main idea was to keep it simple – the site is built in Vue and it’s basically a giant Google spreadsheet. I’m lucky that I have done a lot of work with Google Maps before, so it was pretty straightforward and very fast. The whole thing came together in about five days. The main challenge was trying to keep the running costs as low as possible by making sure we wouldn’t incur many Google API charges. It was also important to make The Local Shopper as self-sufficient as possible, so that it’s easy to use and inexpensive to maintain. Members of the public and business owners can submit new businesses via the site, which are then manually added once a week. We wanted to make this accessible for everyone.

Positive team spirit

Despite the speed, the design and development process worked really well. We had an initial big meeting to kick things off, and then quick catch-ups at the beginning and end of each day so everyone knew what they were doing. I knew one or two people who were involved in the project so that familiarity was nice. Everyone worked together so well in a very positive spirit.

131 suppliers..and counting...

At the time of writing there were 131 suppliers on the site, covering everything from grocery and bakery, to coffee, beer and fully prepared meals. I’ve been sending the website link to friends and colleagues, and have had so much feedback from people who didn't realise many of the places listed on The Local Shopper were still open for business. In particular, one friend was wildly happy that Mary's Milk Bar was delivering proclaiming ‘Oh my god, this is the best thing that’s happened to me all week!’

This could be the start of something bigger

There may be potential for the site to develop beyond the crisis. Sometimes the costs of joining and commission fees of the big delivery services such as Just Eat and Deliveroo can be high for local independent suppliers, so this could have long-term value for businesses who continue to offer collection or delivery services. There also seems to be a growing feeling among communities that we need to support our local small shops and cafés now more than ever – and that there is really good food out there that we could be enjoying.

Why we love The Local Shopper

1. Meze for dinner?

If you live in the Edinburgh area, you can browse through 130-plus suppliers on the site and quickly access their website and social media details. From there, you can get in touch to order a delivery, or collect your order, depending on the service they offer. Fancy some fresh bagels or coffee? Or how about Greek meze for dinner?

2. It’s simple and free

For independent food and drink businesses in Edinburgh struggling because of the lockdown restrictions, it’s a simple (and free) way to advertise your services.

3. Tech for good!

The whole Local Shopper project was pulled together in less than a week by friends and colleagues volunteering their services. They deserve a lot of credit – and thank goodness someone ordered that lemon tart. Do you know of any Edinburgh or Lothian-based businesses who would benefit from this? Please help spread the word!