A scheme launched late last year is helping post offices to fill the gap left by the demise of local high streets by turning them into one-stop shops to further support communities.
Significantly, the ‘Branch MOT’ scheme, launched in the final quarter of 2022, also generates potential savings of at least £12,615 per year for the branches based on simple changes to streamline efficiencies and maximise retail opportunities.
Some 2,781 branches so far have had a Branch MOT, which aims to ensure postmasters can not only run successful post offices but thriving retail businesses within local communities too.
The scheme has prompted more than 41 per cent of postmasters to make changes following their personalised recommendations, and a majority of postmasters, 60 per cent, said the reviews have been valuable.
The scheme has been recognised as being vital in helping Post Office carve out a valuable and essential space in the retail sector, where face-to-face customer service and ‘local localism’ – a phrase coined by Martin Roberts, group chief retail officer at Post Office – are championed.
Since being appointed in February last year, Roberts has set about using his extensive experience to transform thousands of post offices across the country into one-stop shops for communities. He has built out Post Office’s in-house retail expertise and launched a number of initiatives, including the development and rollout of Branch MOTs, which are part of a ‘Commercial Excellence’ programme.
“Branch MOTs are in-depth reviews of our post offices. Area managers visit branches and craft high-level recommendations for each branch to enable postmasters to make positive changes, where needed, based on transactional, commercial and product-level data alongside real-world projections such as location, footfall and staffing,” Roberts said.
“They let our postmasters know we care about them and creates a sense of family and unity at the heart of Post Office. Well over two thousand visits have been completed. Visits are happening every week and they are helping postmasters. It’s a privilege to lead a great team of people across the business focused on delivering for postmasters and our customers.”
Although consumers are increasingly ‘online’ and digital-focused, Post Office has found they still value and consider face-to-face customer service essential.
Roberts said: “Our postmasters are very heavily involved in the community and so the customer service provided is important to Post Office and is a priority. If you look at some of the big retailers and supermarkets, they’ve pulled away a little bit from the community.
“Our postmasters understand their customers and have often known them for decades allowing them to build trusted relationships and I think that’s where you get lifetime loyalty and I’m a big fan of developing lifetime loyalty. I want communities to thrive.”
Personal and local retail is a space the Post Office is perfectly placed to ‘own’ whether that’s through the travel money services offered, ‘Drop & Go’ option for packages, or the banking services and convenience store offerings.
“Many of our post offices offer a fantastic retail blend of essential services including banking and also sell everyday products you would find in a supermarket: they have become one-stop shops,” said Roberts.
An example of ‘local localism’ at its best is at the Moulton Post Office in Suffolk. It has transformed its retail offering to turn the branch into a thriving café and more recently a four-bedroom Bed & Breakfast complete with jacuzzi baths.
Since taking over as postmaster of Moulton Post Office in 2020, Hugo Harley has doubled the size of his branch and ensured it is now at the heart of the community it serves.
The branch also benefitted from a ‘Branch MOT’ in the last 12 months with discussions about maximising opening hours and efficiencies. New mail products and services including click and collect parcel services with Amazon and DPD have also proved to be valuable additions to Moulton Post Office with a high take up. There has also been a 10 per cent rise in customers opting for Special Delivery of their items.
In addition to providing the parcel, delivery, bill payment and banking services found in all post offices, the branch also sells a wide variety of kitchen cupboard items. The café is stocked with locally produced or in-house made sandwiches, snacks, coffees and ice-creams.
The tables and chairs outside the branch are always filled with customers who have popped in for stamps or a parcel service and stayed for a coffee and a chat.
“The desire to shop local has remained post-pandemic and with so many shops on local high streets closing, our post office has become even more important to the community,” Harriet Mills, manager of Moulton Post Office, commented.
“Working with Post Office we’ve been focused on ensuring that you can buy anything you need in our post office and complete most transactions – with the range of services and local produce on offer always increasing. We sit firmly in the heart of the community and are getting busier with each week that passes as residents recognise how they can get all the essentials that they need from us.”
Post Office has also been enhancing its Branch Hub, an online performance tool for postmasters, which allows Postmasters to see how their products are performing, benchmark that performance over time and with peers and link revenue with sales data.
Post Office said this tool has seen significant increase in usage this year, with 22,600 visits to the site in the last week of July alone and almost 90,000 visits across the whole of August, as postmasters look to keep close tabs on how to develop and maximise opportunities for their businesses as they head into the busy Christmas period.
For Roberts it is vital Post Office continues to thrive and remains central to communities by adapting to their needs.
“As the UK’s retail sector continues to evolve, driven by the changes in the way consumers spend and the changing face of local high streets, so Post Office has evolved,” he said.
“The changes in place will ensure Post Office is future-proofed and our branches are at the heart of local communities providing face-to-face access to essential retail services.”