Digital solutions for visitor experience and local community building
Torsby is a rural municipality located in the Värmland County in west central Sweden. Along with local partners – Värmland County Administrative Board and Compare – it aims at fostering innovation and growth for businesses and associations, and bringing digital solutions to improve the visitors’ experience.
As part of COM³, Torsby has been testing various innovative digital services that promotes local shops and businesses.
Photo: Peter Gunnebro
The municipality of Torsby is the largest municipality of the sixteen municipalities in Värmland County. It covers nearly one fourth of the total area (24%) in Värmland. Torsby is an extremely rural and sparsely populated and faces many challenges such as long distances, depopulation with a growing elderly population.
Many of the rural businesses and associations are unaware of the digital opportunities that exist and could help them reach new markets and new target groups. Therefore, it is difficult for them to use digital technologies in their business operation. They want to digitize but don´t know how since they lack the expertise. The cost of digitizing one´s own business is also deterrent for a small rural company. At the same time their revenues are decreasing since the customers in the area no longer are choosing local stores for shopping.
Poor internet access and limited coverage is another challenge during larger public sport and leisure events that Torsby hosts both in the centre of Torsby as well as out in the countryside. In this case. some payment service solutions cannot work fully and cause loss of income for the local businesses. Better internet coverage would also allow organizers to play music at the events.
Improving the visitors’ experience for certain remore destinations and resorts is also a priority of Torsby.
Problem solving process
The challenges were already identified and the collaboration between businesses association representatives from the municipality and the project was already in place from day one, so the concertation process was easy.
The municipality was in contact with different suppliers to find the best cost-effective solutions, technology and payment service solutions for a local e-commerce platform. Design thinking workshops and tests of different Wi-Fi solutions and digital solutions have been used for troubleshooting. The project manager in Torsby has also contacted other municipalities to find out how they had solved different problems and the technology behind their solutions.
Some solutions presented were very costly but thanks to a very creative and dedicated project manager the solutions that are being used are simple, robust and cost-effective.
The COM³ pilot in Torsby has mainly been about improving various digital solutions for businesses and associations. Since the internet access was not enough for the many larger public sport and leisure events that take place in Torsby, the concept included the installation and configuration of access points both in the centre of Torsby as well as in the countryside, where large events are held on a regular basis. Höljes for example, hosts every year a world-cup event with about 35 000 visitors during a weekend in July.
The Wi-Fi connections have been coupled to digital services that promote local shops and provide a better visitors’ experience for those attending the events. The goal was to bring tourists closer to local citizens, businesses, and associations. In this way, it was possible to solve the problem with charging customers using digital payment services. For local merchants, the Wi-Fi connection in the center of the town allowed them to organise marketplace events and play music for instance.
To improve the customer experience and to attract visitors to Torsby, the COM³ project also participated in the creation of a unmanned self-service grocery store at the ski resort Hovfjället and the small village of Vitsand, which haven´t had that kind of service for many years. This new service is highly appreciated by the locals in Vitsand and tourists at the ski resort in Hovfjället.
The store provides with the essentials and is opened with the use of digital e- identification.
Solar benches have been placed in town centre where one can charge one´s mobiles while resting!
Results and outcomes
The pilot enabled fourteen buisnesses to learn about e-commerce and try out the use of a common e-commerce platform, iTorsby during two years. This has resulted in that many of the businesses have developed their own e- commerce platforms and hopefully there are more to come.
The website iTorsby was very appreciated by the locals during the pandemic ones it came in place. Hopefully the locals will continue to use the website and shop locally, and that the website will continue to evolve.
The pilot invested in a speaker system used in combination with the setup of Wi-Fi hotspots which is frequently used by businesses and more so by the different associations when hosting different sports events and marketplaces for instance.
To improve the customer experience and to attract visitors to Torsby, the COM³ project also delivered a technical solution to an unmanned grocery store has opened at the ski resort Hovfjället.
When testing the common e-commerce platform, iTorsby there were many lessons learned for everybody involved in the construction, design and technical solutions of the platform so it suited the needs of the businesses. Finding the best most cost-effective solutions take time and sometimes you find the best technology for solving the problem at the local electronic store!