Council says website for booking services supports the case for using e-commerce skills in developing business model
The London Borough of Waltham Forest has claimed to have pulled in substantial revenues from its servicestore website, marking an early success for its plans to develop a commercial approach to its web operations.
The council said it has achieved a revenue of £304,000 since the site was launched in April, and is forecasting that the total will increase to £700,000 for the second year and continue to grow in the following years.
The servicestore site provides a channel for users to book and pay for services from the council’s service teams. These include providing a handyman, pest control, waste clearance and gardening.
It reflects the council’s 2020 vision to inject a commercial approach into its work where appropriate.
Paul Neville, director of digital and ICT at Waltham Forest, told UKAuthority that the project had drawn on his experience in working on e-commerce, notably in a stint for Sky TV, before joining the council.
Agile and open source
The site was developed through an agile process – a step towards mitigating the risk – and based on open source technology to keep the costs and low. Also, relevant staff teams were trained in areas such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and digital marketing techniques.
The website was taken to a public beta version in a few weeks then refined to focus on 12 services. The council’s web team is now using SEO data and customer insights to determine which areas to focus on next.
In addition, it used Google AdWords to target advertisements to people in the borough who could be looking for the relevant services. This prompted considerable increases in traffic to the site, hitting 70% and increasing orders by 133% in one month.
Neville said: “In setting up the site we’ve done stuff like digital marketing in a more e-commerce way than you would traditionally find in local government. It’s our first e-commerce site and we’re going to do them better and better. We’re trying to compete with more commercial set-ups.”
“It’s taking that commercial approach, not just for the bits where we want to make money, but where we want people transact with us, like paying their council tax or requesting a new bin or seeking help,” he said. “I see the potential to use the skills from e-commerce for the greater good.”
Wetlands and culture
He added that he aims to create a centre of excellence for injecting some of the commercial skills in web design into public sector sites, and pointed to two other recently launched sites as examples of the design principles: one for the recently opened Walthamstow Wetlands nature reserve, and the site promoting the council's bid to become London Borough of Culture.
The council said it is establishing a local authority trading company to provide the services, and that it aims to use servicestore as the precedent for developing more e-commerce websites. It has a long term vision to work with local businesses, start-ups and other councils to help them use the digital first approach to business.