Hardly a day goes by without a headline lamenting the poor health and dire prognosis for the British high street.

The concern is fully justified.

A July PwC report revealed 1,800 high-street stores closed across the UK in the first six months of 2018. This resulted in more than 22,000 job losses. All the while, online trading goes from strength to strength.

“I like to think BrightHouse is bucking the trend when it comes to the high street”

It’s not just the ecommerce titans such as Amazon that are bringing about this change. As retailers, we’ve all invested considerably in digital channels to offer greater convenience and choice to our customers. Whether that’s sales from the sofa, quicker delivery times, customer service on social media or smother e-payment options. People like shopping online and retailers like the lower costs.

However, imagine for a moment that almost 25% of your customers couldn’t shop online.

Not because they don’t have access to the internet or because they’re concerned about fraud, but simply because they are financially excluded from making electronic payments.

This is the reality for BrightHouse and having stores to serve this sizeable chunk of our customer base is obviously vital to us as a business. Perhaps as surprising to some observers is that many more of our customers choose to visit their local BrightHouse store each week. These people are looking for something they can’t (currently) get online – human interaction.

But at a time of increasing property costs, it’s tough to balance those needs while maintaining a sustainable business. So, what are we doing about it?

Heart of the community

For me, the solution is to evolve the format and purpose of the store so a visit becomes more pleasurable and less transactional.

We’re testing a variety of store formats and assessing customer reaction. Last year, we opened the first of a series of smaller ‘digital’ stores in Bridgend in Wales. At 750 sq ft, these are very different to the majority of our stores, which are roughly 2,000 sq ft and traditional in design. However, you still get the same friendly service and even a nice cup of tea. It’s still very much BrightHouse.

In the same vein, in May, we launched our first shop-in-a-shop within a Poundland store in Clacton-on-Sea. This is a small area of the store given over to BrightHouse. It is, in every sense, mutually beneficial. With similar customer demographics, our presence adds value, bringing in customers, while the costs are much less than opening a standalone store. This is very much in the pilot stage but early results are encouraging and more are planned.

“We don’t believe the high street is dead and, more importantly, neither do our customers”

These initiatives help us to continue, in a sustainable way, giving our friendly, personal service to those who want a face-to-face experience. I like to think BrightHouse is bucking the trend when it comes to the high street. Yes, some stores have closed, but we are testing new and innovative ways to keep others open.

We don’t believe the high street is dead and, more importantly, neither do our customers. It remains an important part of their community and their lives. It could be so much more important than a place to shop. It can be somewhere to meet people and make friends.

With that in mind, we understand we need to remain convenient. That means locations that are welcoming, served by good transport links and in close proximity to food shops, the post office and the hairdresser. Ultimately, what underpins our business is our commitment to serving the customer where they want us.

Long live the high street.