One Eastbourne – what we’ve learned

Sorry to start this post with some sad news. We’re pulling down the shutters on One Eastbourne, our online marketplace for local independent retailers. Our last day of trading is 31 January.

There’s a few reasons for this:

  • there hasn’t been enough interest from local shops
  • sales started OK, but have tailed off
  • the platform choices we made (Shopify and an app to make it suitable for use by many shops) were relatively expensive. As a small not-for-profit, we can’t afford it to run it for long without costs being covered by sales
  • we were promised some public funding, and that hasn’t happened
  • it’s going to take a lot of volunteer time to get from here to where we want to be, and that’s not available in the current lockdown

It’s sad for us as we wanted to help local shops. We haven’t been able to do enough of that so far. There’s an upside though – we’ve learned a lot about what’s needed and we’re starting to think about how to provide that.

What we’re looking at now

The biggest single difference we could make is reducing our monthly outgoings. There’s admin time every week to manage payments, and market the site – that’s not going away. The big cost (relatively) is for Shopify. We needed something off the shelf to get up and running quickly, to help local retailers who were struggling. But there are cheaper ways of doing the same thing, including building our own platform. If we find the right solution, we’ll be back.

We’re going to talk to more retailers, possibly further afield. The site we’ve built feels about right, but maybe we were too local, or too diverse in the products we stocked.

It’s worth reflecting on the retailers who signed up, and those who didn’t. One digitally savvy retailer was so convinced by our ideas and execution, he joined before we launched to help with testing. But other retailers with about the same level of digital maturity didn’t reply to our messages. We’re wondering why that is, and what we can do about it.

We also need to think more about day to day running of a service like this. For example, it’s almost a full time job knocking on retailers doors to encourage them to join. Many thought we were just trying to sell them something – which we kind of are in this project – but it’s not hard sell. We’re actually trying to help. I imagine small shops are inundated with calls like this, and one more from us is just noise.

Add this to the fact we have day jobs, families, and lockdown pressures. The commitment needed for a project like One Eastbourne is hard to make.

Glass half full

This project has reaffirmed our faith in a few ways. It’s important to take a punt from time to time – provided that you can afford it – just to see whether you’ve got the solution to a problem that other people are quietly worrying about.

We’ve lost time and money on One Eastbourne, but we’ve learned a great deal. It’s been worth it overall. In any project, it’s important to know when to stop, reflect and change direction. We’re doing that now.

Have you ever heard about the concept of failing fast? It’s important in the software industry and many others. Try lots of small experiments, and be comfortable with the fact that they can all fail. If you pick the things you’re testing carefully, you’ll learn a lot.

This isn’t any comfort for local retailers who’re facing increasingly uncertain times. We feel for you, and we’ll continue to help the best we can. If you have thoughts or suggestions, please do get in touch.

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