Digital Accelerator Program
The Digital Accelerator Program is an action of Maitland City Council’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery and aims to assist businesses looking to transition from traditional in store retail operations to both in store and online ecommerce sales.
The program will provide eligible and approved retail businesses free access to tailored support services with the goal of assisting them to transition successfully.
The application process is simple and just requires the completion of a short online form.
The program’s objectives are:
- To assist businesses impacted by COVID-19 to remain viable as consumer trends shift towards an increasing preference for online and contactless purchasing.
- To provide practical hands on support, training and assistance to get businesses started or to make further progress on their transition.
- To assist businesses to overcome roadblocks or challenges that might occur, and ultimately to see their online ecommerce store launched and or starting to receive regular orders.
- To develop a plan and to make recommendations to businesses on how they might make the transition.
- To provide practical hands on support, training and assistance to get businesses started on the transition, to overcome roadblocks or any challenges might occur, and ultimately to see their online ecommerce store launched and or starting to receive regular orders.
- To advise businesses on best practise ecommerce operations and digital marketing principles.
- To provide access to digital collaboration space where Council project officers, the Support Partner and businesses participating in the program can chat, share resources, collaborate and help each other out.
Council aims to help as many eligible businesses as possible to participate in the program and be successful in commencing ecommerce sales. It is planned for up to 40 businesses to be provided with an average of 10 hours in support services, and two hours each in Support Action Planning as part of onboarding.
Due to the varying nature of different businesses and what stage they are currently at, the program has been developed to be flexible and responsive to the unique needs of each business. There are however three broad stages that businesses might fall into, and each of these stages would require a different level of support from Council and its Support Partner. These are
- Early/conceptual - aspiring to make the transition to online sales and building an ecommerce website but have not made any tangible progress.
- Mid - started but haven’t completed website or have launched ecommerce but are not getting any sales.
Late - already have a website and doing okay but could do better.
To be eligible to participate in the program businesses should meet the following criteria:
Be a small independent retail business with a shopfront located in the Maitland Local Government Area, and a likelihood that your products will be successful at e-commerce sales.
- Agree to use using the Shopify ecommerce platform or willing to make the transition to Shopify. Where a transition to Shopify is not feasible, businesses may still be eligible receive support however this may be limited in scope.
- A willingness to invest the time, resources and the costs associated with operating an ecommerce business and to participate in the program.
While the program is intended to offer as much support as possible it’s important for businesses which are interested in participating in the program to understand there will be a significant amount of work required on their part for it to be successful. This includes a willingness to do or provide the following:
- Spending time with the Support Partner to develop and implement the Support Action Plan.
- Providing Council and the Support Partner with collaboration access to their website and related third party systems that integrate with it.
- Deciding on branding/design and working with the Support Partner to implement a high quality online storefront.
- Uploading and editing website content such as about pages, the home page, contact details and product collection pages.
- Preparing, exporting, importing, refining and entering high volumes of product information such as images, product descriptions, prices, barcodes, weights, cost per item and other metadata agreed upon during onboarding.
- Deciding on and implementing shipping strategies such as pricing and fulfilment processes.
- Deciding on business policies such as shipping, returns, refunds and other legal information required on e-commerce websites.
- Commitment to learning new skills, subject matter and a willingness to invest time and effort into various self learning courses as agreed in the Support Action Plan.
- Commitment to continuously update website and product information to ensure products are accurate, up to date and reflect the true inventory number.
- Learning how to monitor website usage, user trends, e-commerce sales activity and applying insights to improve the website.
It is important to highlight that while the Support Partner is engaged to provide hands on practical assistance and support on how to do certain steps including helping businesses to learn how to do the above, they cannot build the entire website, upload large volumes of products or take responsibility for large amounts of work that should be done by the business or its employees.
Demand for ecommerce has seen significant growth as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, which has driven a shift in consumer behaviour with more people purchasing online than ever before.
In order to streamline the delivery of the program, Shopify is recommended as the preferred ecommerce platform for participating businesses. Key features include:
- Shopify platform is a hosted solution with the platform fully managed by Shopify. This means there is no need to manage hosting providers or engage a paid developer to apply updates, which makes it considerably easier for a business to get started, but also to manage their storefront on an ongoing basis.
- Simple design and familiar trusted checkout pages which means customers feel more secure when entering credit card details.
- 24/7 technical support is available by phone or live chat.
- Shopify is fast and secure, a crucial factor for the success of an e-commerce store.
- Great community of apps and add ons to help make Shopify fit into your existing business workflow
- Offers a free trial and out of the box setup is available within minutes due to the high quality user interface.
- Extensive learning resources maintained and updated by Shopify make it easier to learn than other platforms.
More information on Shopify can be found here.
The program is free to eligible businesses with the support services funded by Maitland City Council.
There are however some ongoing costs which will need to be met by the business such as:
- Shopify Subscription (Free for 30 days, but then from $29 USD per month)
- Payment transaction fees (just like an EFTPOS terminal)
- Shipping supplies
The program will be managed by Maitland City Council however a Support Partner will be contracted by Council to lead the delivery of the support and advisory services.
During onboarding to the program a Support Action Plan will be developed that clearly identifies the level of support required, a work/task plan, selecting of self learning exercises and a timeline of key milestones that should be met through the program.
It is the intention to deliver the program primarily using face to face by visiting the business premises however Zoom and remote connection may also be used as a secondary method for delivering the support services.