Website and app to be developed for Kirkgate Market
A computer game version of Leeds' historic market will test if the market can occupy a prime retail position in the online marketplace.
The project will use software and technology normally used for gaming platforms to develop a virtual version of Kirkgate Market where shoppers can buy online for collection later.
The project is being funded with £100,000 from the UK's innovation agency as part of an SRBI (Small Business Research Initiative) competition to encourage new ways of attracting people back to UK high streets.
Aiming to bring more people to the market, the 'click and collect' project will help the market respond to consumer demands for more flexibility alongside the £12.3 million planned refurbishment.
The first phase of the project will develop and test a 3D digital mock-up of the market with selected food traders; for example, a butcher, fishmonger and grocer.
Test online shoppers will be able to virtually wander and zoom into the units, discover offers and produce and 'meet' traders.
The finished project will have the look like the real Kirkgate Market with photos of the actual market 'stitched' onto the 3D map to recreate the market online.
Key to the project will be a logistics solution that allows a mixture of produce from a variety of traders to be picked and stored safely and hygienically for collection later - potentially outside of normal market trading hours.
Professor Catherine Barnes, Leeds Metropolitan University, said: "Leeds Metropolitan University is delighted to be supporting the council to bring this innovative shopping technology to life. Our retail and technology experts are at the forefront of the new technologies and will use this expertise to bring Kirkgate Market to life in the digital world to attract new shoppers and delight existing customers.
"We believe that by offering the convenience of online retailing in a market environment could put Leeds and Kirkgate Market in a great place to take advantage of the future retailing landscape."
Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council's executive member for development and economy, added: "Bringing the market alive online within a gaming platform for click and collect shopping is a new and exciting concept for the market. We know people want the quality and value only found in the market but with the convenience of online shopping.
"This will be a truly innovative website and app marrying these consumer demands in a virtual and real environment. The market's traditional values will be supported by e-commerce, bringing more people to the actual market, not just the online version.
"The click and collect concept has massive potential. It could open up a new world of opportunities with traders embracing the digital economy in a way they haven't been able to up until now."
Once the initial mock is completed and tested the project will move into a second phase where all food and food-to-go traders will be brought into the virtual market. At this point, shoppers will be able to make actual purchases, with the expansion of the packing, storing and collection solution. Initially, the existing Shop and Drop store room will be used.
Eventually, with further research and development, its intended that all market traders will be able to trade online with the click and collect service.
While many other retailers offer a similar service, it's believed that there are no other products on the market that uses a gaming platform in this way to produce a digital, photorealistic market site that supports e-commerce.
As people want more flexibility in market trading hours and to be able to buy products online, the resulting website and app will make shopping at Kirkgate Market easier and allow traders to adopt and take advantage of online business.
Being able to monitor shopping trends and habits will allow the market to be more responsive to what customers want and tailor offers or promotions. It's hoped that this would work particularly well alongside cooking demonstrations and other themed events that will be hosted in the market's new event space following refurbishment.
With Leeds City Council and Leeds Metropolitan University leading the development of the product, the market's independent and sole traders will be able to match the convenience of high street and out of town retailers and continue to offer quality, affordable, local produce.
Ultimately, the unique click and collect solution could be used for markets up and down the country.