New app helps shops in Roeselare reach more customers

Summary

The city of Roeselare has launched a new app that aims to give brick-and-mortar stores more online horsepower

Going digital

Local town centres are under threat, not only from suburban strip malls and shopping centres, but also the mall that sits on a table in virtually every home in Flanders: online shopping.

“Small retailers are under pressure, it’s true, but instead of going along with that trend, we’d rather come up with creative solutions,” says Kris Declercq, alderman for economy and town planning for the city of Roeselare in West Flanders.

One of those solutions is giving brick-and-mortar shopkeepers the tools to integrate online shopping into their businesses. The project is called Innovation Boulevard, and it can be seen as a virtual retail city, mapped onto the real shopping city on the ground.

With a little over 1,600 commercial premises and 265 food and drinks businesses, Roeselare lays claim to the title of the retail heart of West Flanders. “Trade is in the DNA of our city and has been since the middle ages,” Declercq says. “Our strong reputation as a shopping city reaches far beyond the local area.”

But the sector is being pressured by e-commerce and by the arrival of chain stores that are pushing aside smaller, locally anchored businesses, he said. “The customer has also changed: more impulsive buying habits and more demanding of a made-to-measure service. They demand a total shopping experience.” 

Virtual flyers

The Innovation Boulevard project sees smart and innovative shopping as one of the five main pillars of the city’s retail plan. The others are urban development, marketing, mobility and parking policies. “With Innovation Boulevard, we want to combine new digital possibilities with the unique experience, conviviality and authenticity only a real shop can offer.”

This is a major step in the direction of the shopping of the future

- Manu De Meester of Unizo Roeselare

Part of the plan is the Smart City App called Citie, developed in conjunction with digital communications company Digitopia, based in Wijnegem. The app offers a virtual loyalty card for all the retail businesses in town and allows numerous online interactions such as placing an order at a restaurant (and paying for it) before you arrive, finding parking information before setting out, paying for parking and so on. 

The app, available for Apple and Android, also contains news about events, opening hours and mobility, such as roadworks. Retailers can send out virtual flyers for promotions that can be delivered the moment a shopper with the app enters the store, and customers can collect virtual tokens for discounts in shops taking part in the scheme.

The app has the support of Unizo, the organisation that represents the self-employed in Flanders. “We would encourage everyone to join up,” said Manu De Meester of Unizo Roeselare. “This is a major step in the direction of the shopping of the future.” 

Photo: Ooststraat and Noordstraat are Roeselare’s biggest shopping streets
©Extensa

Unizo

The Organisation for the Self-Employed and SMEs (Unizo) represents and defends the interests of self-employed entrepreneurs, freelancers and small and medium-sized businesses in Flanders and Brussels.
Name change - Until 2000, Unizo was known as the Nationaal Christelijk Middenstandsverbond (National Christian SME Association).
Customer Day - “Dag van de Klant” is a time-honoured Unizo tradition celebrating the bonds between small businesses and their customers. Customers typically get a token of appreciation from shops on the day, like chocolates or flowers.
Staff - The majority of Unizo members (70%) employ between zero to four people.
120

affiliated sector organisations

276

local entrepreneurs’ associations

85

members