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WATCH: Save your city centre – by shopping online

Locals app

Could online shopping help boost city centres in decline? Engineering students at Lund University in Sweden want to reinvent city commerce by bringing local shops together through a single app.


Many shopping districts have experienced a decrease in revenue as customers increasingly turn to shopping malls and e-commerce.

When Victor Sandberg wrote his Master’s thesis in Industrial Economics, the idea for the start-up company Locals was born.

“I studied city commerce, and discovered that the future of retail is really in finding digital solutions that capitalise on existing physical stores”, says Victor Sandberg.

The site is an online platform where local shops sell their products. You can order from as many vendors as you like, and Locals then offers home delivery by bike, sometimes as quickly as within an hour.

You can also order at home and pick up your purchase in person, or avoid the queue during rush hour by placing an order on your phone and returning to the store when you have received an app notification.

“One example might be if you are planning a dinner party for that same evening. Perhaps you want fresh meat from the butchers, cheese from your favourite deli, some flowers, and a new shirt to wear? You can have it all through a single online purchase”, continues Victor Sandberg. He highlights the synergy effects of collaborating stores, for instance when it comes to product range and marketing.

Still, there are barriers to overcome. Independent retailers are often entrepreneurs with expertise in their respective fields; meanwhile, they lack skills and knowledge when it comes to IT solutions and e-commerce. The tool has to be easy to understand and time-efficient. Another challenge concerns the inventory, and avoiding selling the same product online and in-store at the same time.

Researcher Anna Jonsson, at the School of Economics and Management at Lund University in Sweden has just released a book based on a recent research project on retail digitalisation and changing business models. She emphasises the changing role of the physical store.

“Our research indicates that the future lies in models where digital solutions are integrated with the physical store. Now that consumers can research purchases online, retailers will have to compete with something other than price alone.

Those who understand how to use their most important resource – their employees’ expertise – will have a better chance at adjusting to the changes from digitalisation. Offering in-depth knowledge that is tailored to the customer is important. It’s all about the customer experience”, concludes Anna Jonsson.