A platform that its founder hopes will not only rejuvenate the British high street but bring local benefits to surrounding communities has launched nationally this week, following a successful trial in the north west of England.

Dave Preston, the chief executive of the platform, titled OFFiGO, first came in touch with the Ordnance Survey and Land Registry's Geovation startup accelerator in 2017 by responding to the 'Greener, Smarter Communities' challenge, which sought to address old problems with new technology.


It is essentially a digital portal not just for providing deals in retail stores, but bringing together consumers with independent businesses and local events to boost the online visibility of a high street as a whole.

Geovation provides Ordnance Survey and Land Registry data along with the expertise from those organisations to help startups with their businesses, whether that is narrowing down a unique selling point, or introducing the startups to the appropriate early customers or technology partners.

OFFiGO, according to Geovation, "aims to do online for the high street what Just Eat, Booking.com and Rightmove have done for takeaways, hotels and property".

The platform enjoyed a successful pilot stage in the north-west of England. Cate McNeil, who trialled OFFiGO to promote Christmas markets in Blackpool, found that it brought the markets "far more visitors" than "the other local and national websites and directories". More than 700 adults participated, she said.

OFFiGO CEO Preston said that it even "outperformed major online advertisers, with its click-through rate being 3.9 percent compared to Google's 3.1 percent and Facebook's 0.9 percent".

Speaking with Techworld, Ordnance Survey's Chris Parker, who is the founder of Geovation, said that his experience as a geographer informs his advice to startups.

"My challenge to people always is everything happens at some location," he said. "We can connect virtually everything to that location, and that's what makes it a powerful ingredient, not just a map but a powerful ingredient to think of how you can analyse data spatially. The relationships between things. And that's why OFFiGO works well with that challenge."

Parker added that experts from Geovation and its partners worked closely with Preston to deliver the offering, which, he said, promotes the idea that it's not just what you buy from the shops but what you do at the locations - and the community engagement that comes from a vibrant high street.

"He's worked that together into a very nice offering I think," Parker said.

Senior press officer from Ordnance Survey, Keegan Wilson, added that the organisation, which was officially formed in 1791, is currently working to create a more precise definition of what the high street actually entails - the language and the geography of it, such as where does it stop, start, and how to recognise when you are actually in one.

"Hopefully by designing the language of the high street, there can be a lot more information analysis that can be done," Wilson said.

The beleaguered British high street has taken a knocking in recent years following the boom of online retail, fuelled by transnationals such as Amazon, which are increasingly dominating daily life.

However, it has persisted, and foot-fall remains high. There has been something of a resurgence in recent years with local authority regeneration grants and the rethinking of public spaces and what citizens desire in them. In last year's Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond marked £675 million in total for a 'future highstreets fund' which he claimed would assist councils to draw up "formal plans" to address the transformation of the high street.

Nonetheless, even successful high street retailers frequently complain about high business rates that make it difficult to compete with the online giants.

Retailers that have survived will frequently, in the jargon of business parlance, refer to something called 'omnichannel retail' - in other words, delivering an experiential service to customers that doesn't start and end with the buying of goods, but tracks them through stores and offers other experiences.

However, Parker said that the OFFiGO platform offers more than this, and said that it could not only provide good experiences to local consumers but to also bring benefits to local economies and other pluses for communities.

Geovation is currently accepting applications for the next cohort of startups, closing early March this year. Spaces for the next round will open in July which will be, Parker says, a "geotech and proptech call-in".