Social Media 'Could Save The High Street'
Britain's struggling high streets could be saved by a combination of social networks and loyalty schemes, according to shopkeepers in Yorkshire.
The market towns of Ilkley and Boroughbridge are fighting back against supermarkets, retail parks and the internet by using Twitter and Facebook along with newcomer Phlok.
Sarah Lyle, who runs Attic womenswear in IIklely and helps organise the town's new initiative, says digitally connecting independent traders to their customers is paying off.
"Social media is amazing, just last week alone it accounted for a quarter of my turnover," she said.
The latest part of Ilkley's social media strategy is Phlok - a digital loyalty scheme that rewards customers with points each time they spend money in any of the 29 independent businesses signed up in the town.
Ms Lyle pays the firm £69 a month, and when customers redeem their points via a smartphone app it puts money back into her account.
The scheme already has more than 40 clusters of businesses signed up across England and Northern Ireland, with four Yorkshire market towns online and more in the pipeline.
Phlok founder and chief executive Paul Graham said the scheme was the opposite of the old message "Use us or lose us" which relies on making people feel guilty for shopping elsewhere.
"What we're saying is: 'Businesses are investing in a system to reward you the customer for remembering they exist' and that's much more positive, he said.
It is a message that has struck a chord in Boroughbridge on the other side of Leeds where 16 independent businesses have signed up to the Phlok scheme which was launched in the town last month.
Like Ilkley, it is seen as a logical next step after traders embraced social media to promote the town.
Organisers have set up training sessions on how to use social media effectively along with a "Love Boroughbridge" website and a business self-help group which meets monthly in the town's Crown Hotel.
Local trader Louise Leong is convinced the new ideas have created a buzz around the town and improved business.
"More towns should be working together like this to keep their economies thriving," she said.