Shop Appy

In the mid 19th century the Harmonious Entrepreneur Sir Titus Salt built Saltaire, a Yorkshire industrial village that is now a UNESCO world heritage site ( 166 years later, in 2016, Saltaire produced another harmonious enterprise.

Dr Jackie Mulligan, a former Enterprise lecturer who lives in Saltaire, launched, a revolutionary online solution to the problem of local shopping. Her Doctoral research into experience, psychology and behaviour helped her develop the online venture as she began looking at the importance of place on mental health and wellbeing and understanding how shopping locally can impact consumer happiness.

For decades in the UK the independent local retail business has been in decline (Dawson and Kirby, 1979) and in recent years, with the advent of out of town supermarkets and online retailing there has been growing concern over the disappearance of local, neighbourhood shopping facilities and the creation of food deserts (Butler, 2018). As predicted (Kirby, 1982) those most affected are the poor, elderly and disabled who not only have difficulty travelling to the out of town superstores but do not have the resources to purchase and store perishable fresh food items in particular, thereby impacting on their diets. This has been seen most clearly, perhaps, during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The elderly and infirm, those most susceptible to the virus, have been required to self-isolate and, often, have been unable to obtain supermarket home deliveries, either because of the costs involved or the lack of available delivery slots. However, at the same time, some 4 million UK children are believed to be living in low-income households that cannot afford to eat healthily. So it is not just the elderly and infirm that have been affected.

Dr Mulligan’s digital platform, which has won several awards and was named one of the top 40 Digital Retail Innovations by “Retail Insider”, addresses this decline in independent retailing. In the process it helps address the issues of poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), health and wellbeing (SDG 3), inequality (SDG 10) and sustainable communities (SDG 11) as well as reducing the journey to shop carbon footprint, protecting local jobs, supporting local suppliers and reducing the length of the supply chain. It does so by enabling participating local retailers to display their services and products online 24/7, while their customers, the local residents, can select what they want to purchase either by category or from their favourite retailer. Payment is made online, and customers can decide whether they want to click and collect from each shop, collect from one central point or, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, have their purchases delivered.

Both the NatWest Bank and Visa are supporting, the latter with scaling. They do so by providing investment to enable the platform to grow, and digital and brand marketing expertise to help recruit retailers and customers. Visa’s UK and Ireland Managing Director, Jenifer Mundy, says “Where you shop now matters more than ever and ShopAppy provides a convenient way to continue shopping locally while maintaining local communities. We’re proud to support the platform to accelerate its roll-out on a national scale, offering greater support to small businesses up and down the country”.

Now operating in over 150 UK communities, the venture is also supported and promoted by several local councils (e.g. Somerset West and Taunton, Derbyshire, Rugby Borough Council and Basildon) and business improvement districts (BIDs) such as Wolverhampton BID. All of them have experienced positive changes with respect to their independent businesses, towns and retail communities. They have seen their participating local independent businesses and community-owned enterprises trained, promoted and supported to collaborate and grow.

Despite the current pandemic circumstances and trading restrictions, all of the businesses have continued to operate and trade in person, while the platform has also enabled people to browse local businesses and book things – events, tables, rooms, appointments – as well as purchasing products. Thus it caters for whole high streets, not just shops. Most recently, also, it has hosted virtual fairs helping the many pop-up shops and home-based micro-businesses build their local customer base. All of this increases footfall in normal times and a 2014 study by Google has suggested that 18% of online searches result in a physical store visit.

Encouraging people to shop locally in this way does not just preserve independent retailing and the community, but creates jobs, reduces the carbon footprint and helps build local resilience as the New Economics Foundation ( acknowledges. Based on a survey of 500 local businesses with fewer than ten employees, research by Visa and the Centre for Economics and Business Research ( suggests that £3.80 of every £10 spent is retained in the local area. At the same time, the New Economics Foundation ( contends that in the UK for every £10 spent in a local business an average of £25 is contributed to the local economy. In contrast, every £10 spent in a multi-national business contributes only £2.50.

In November 2018, Jackie won the NatWest Bank’s prestigious GB Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Commenting recently, she said, “we are very much focused on community and anything that contributes to sustainability…”


Butler, P. (2018). ‘More than a million UK residents live in “food deserts’, The Guardian, 12th October.

Dawson J. A. and Kirby, D, A.(1979). ‘Small Scale Retailing in the UK‘. Farnborough: Saxon.

Kirby, DA (1982). ‘Retailing in the Age of the Chip;, Service Industries Review, 2, l, 9 to 2l.

Professor David A. Kirby and (2021). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Professor David A. Kirby and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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