LoyalBe's Cormac Quinn on the creation of the Belfast Lockdown Economy

  • This week saw the release of the Belfast Lockdown Economy website, helping to bring together Belfast's local businesses in one place and highlight businesses that are still operating during the lockdown. The site includes a wide range of businesses that people might need during the lockdown, from food and alcohol deliveries to small business services and professional cleaning companies.

    We reached out to loyalBe's Cormac Quinn to find out how the site got started, how the lockdown economy website can help small businesses, and what will happen when the lockdown ends:

    Sync NI: The Belfast Lockdown Economy portal is a brilliant idea, and I see it was inspired by the same thing in Edinburgh and Bristol. Can you can tell me how the initial idea got rolling for the Belfast site?

    Cormac Quinn: Back in mid-March, we could already see the devastating effect that the coronavirus was having on local businesses, based on usage of our app. So to help businesses with their cash-flow, we created an early version of the Belfast Lockdown Economy (although it wasn’t called that), which listed all of the businesses around Belfast that sold gift-cards.

    Then, last week, a friend shared the Edinburgh Lockdown Economy with me and I thought it was a much better idea than just listing gift cards because it benefits consumers as well as local businesses. I reached out to original creators and they were more than happy for us to create a Belfast version - a day later and we were live!

    The site has only been up for a few days, but have you been able to collect any data on whether it's helping to boost local business in Belfast?

    We can’t see whether anyone has transacted with the listed businesses but we have already had thousands of page views and hundreds of people click through to their websites. So, we take that as an indication that we might be helping - even if only a little.

    When the lockdown ends, do you think online portals like this will stick around as a sort of virtual high street for small businesses, or do you expect things to go back to normal?

    It’s hard to say. On the one hand, people will be keen to get back to their favourite spots that they know and love. On the other hand, people might become accustomed to using these types of websites to discover new businesses and services and to order online. It may well be difficult to switch back to the high street for certain purchases, but you can’t get atmosphere in the post.

    There are a lot of businesses right now trying to adapt to the lockdown (and some don't qualify for the UK government support on offer). How can the Lockdown Economy site help them, and is there any other advice you would give them?

    A lot of businesses have had to adapt their models in response to the crisis, mainly by offering collection and/or delivery services. Getting the word out to customers about your business or service is always a challenge; even more so whilst in lockdown. So, if we can help in a small way with that, then the goal for the BLE (Belfast Lockdown Economy) will have been met.

    In terms of advice, it comes back to adapting to survive. Most businesses recognise this and have already done so. It might not be immediately obvious what your offering is, but there is almost always something you can do. For example, we have seen high end restaurants offering home cooking kits and wedding caterers delivering gelato.

    That said, this won’t work for everyone and I think the government could certainly do more to catch those businesses that have fallen through the support net.

    Do you expect the site to be of benefit to loyalBe's core business?

    If we make new connections within the wider business community in Belfast, then that would be great, but that isn’t our primary intention. We’re not charging for this and it will be maintained by volunteers.

    Our core business is loyalty, and we know customers want to support their favourite local businesses. These businesses also need loyal customers to survive and that’s what the Belfast Lockdown Economy is about. It’s also great to use our skills and knowledge to help where we can.

    Last year you got a significant investment in loyalBe, what does the future look like for the company?

    The lockdown has had an impact on us, especially considering that the majority of our partner merchants are currently closed due to the coronavirus. However, this time has given us an opportunity to work behind the scenes on partnerships and offerings that will complement our core loyalty platform. We can’t wait to share these with everyone later this year.

    Is there any message you want to get across to people right now?

    The current situation isn’t ideal, but we really are all in it together. Whilst this is a challenging time for everyone, I always do my best to look on the bright side - many of us are able to spend more time with our families and it is really nice to see communities pulling together to support each other. I hope that’s something we manage to hold on to afterwards.

    Thanks for your time, Cormac!

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

    Got a news-related tip you’d like to see covered on Sync NI? Email the editorial team for our consideration.

    Sign up now for a FREE weekly newsletter showcasing the latest news, jobs and events in NI’s tech sector.

Share this story