Watford becomes UK’s first ‘WhatsApp High Street’

A small business on Market Street which is taking part in the WhatsApp scheme. Picture: Watford Borough Council.

Watford Borough Council is teaming up with WhatsApp, to launch the country’s first ever WhatsApp High Street. The initiative will see companies run ‘their customer communications’ through the messaging service’s free-to-use business application.

Local businesses within Watford will receive training in order to ‘connect’ more ‘easily’ with customers, and ‘manage the challenges’ Covid-19 is currently presenting. This includes providing ‘digital tools’ that deal with questions about ‘lockdowns, curfews and social distancing measures.’ Additionally, businesses can also relay information about amended opening hours, stock issues, reduced food menus and table reservations.

The borough council is working in conjunction with WhatsApp to launch the innovative pilot scheme.  Experts from the messaging platform are delivering ‘training’ to a preliminary group of 12 businesses, based in Market Street. They will learn how the application can be used ‘to support their business.’ Furthermore, training is available to all small companies in the district ‘interested’ in joining the initiative. The WhatsApp Business application has more than 50 million users worldwide, and is currently ‘one of the most popular’ methods for small firms to directly ‘communicate’ with their clientele. This is because many already use the standard version of the messaging service.

Elected Mayor, Peter Taylor from Watford Borough Council, said:

“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.”

Research carried out by YouGov on behalf of WhatsApp, found that nearly 65% of over 750 small UK high street businesses saw a decline in footfall, since Covid-19. Moreover, 43% of those surveyed felt the main reason for the drop in custom, was due to ‘unease over social distancing.’ In contrast, 82% of SME’s (small and medium- sized enterprises) reacted to the ‘challenges’ of Covid-19 ‘by increasing their use of online tools.’ Yet under half of small companies (48%) with less than 10 employees, had also raised their usage of virtual resources during the pandemic. In some cases this could be due to the lack of options available. 

When businesses were questioned about the ’type’ of assistance required in order to ‘function effectively during the pandemic,’ 37% said they needed ‘help with improving customer communication.’ In turn, a further 33% of companies stated ‘the need for digital upskilling,’ while an additional 30% wanted ‘marketing assistance.’

WhatsApp Partnerships Manager, Dan Lenan, said of the new initiative:

“As high streets all over the country struggle with the economic downturn and with the huge challenges presented by coronavirus, it is more important than ever for us all to support local businesses and keep our high streets alive and thriving. Whether it’s helping a retailer fulfil online orders, a restaurant to become a takeaway, or a beauty salon to communicate social distancing rules, the WhatsApp Business App can help people steer their business through these difficult times. We are very happy to partner with Watford to support their business community and to show that digital tools can support their recovery.”

Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business, added that it was ‘great to see small businesses using innovative digital tools like WhatsApp Business to help them adjust how they engage with their customers.’ He added that the ‘collaboration between WhatsApp and Watford Borough Council’ was a fantastic way’ to combine ‘innovation, digital skills’ and support ‘small businesses.’

To see a full list of the participating businesses, and for more information on the scheme visit: https://www.watfordbusiness.com/whats-app 

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