One Co-op, one website

The Co-op is an organisation made up of several business areas. There’s Food, Insurance, Funeralcare, Electricals, Ventures and Legal and at the moment each one has its own website that sits separately to the rest of the organisation. Historically, this has worked because each site serves a very different purpose, but as the Co-op changes we’re finding this inefficient as well as expensive.

One site will mean more familiarity

At the moment, our sites are maintained and hosted by various external companies. Moving them onto one platform that we manage ourselves makes sense financially and it also gives us more autonomy to maintain and update content which will be better for our customers and members.

Bringing the businesses together on to one, internally-maintained platform will mean there are more visual similarities too. Each business area will use our Co-op design system which will reinforce the Co-op feel – something that’s difficult to do when each site is looked after by external companies.  

Better for customers, better for business

Co-op Digital’s role has always been to make things simpler, faster, more efficient for our users (that’s our customers, members and our colleagues too). We spoke to users to find out if we can improve their online experience with us and find out what their expectations might be. Expectations and needs can, of course, be very different.

The research told us that members expect to see all their interactions with the Co-op in one place. For example, if they’d visited our Membership site to find out about their rewards, there’s no easy way to move from there to another Co-op service. At the moment, users tend to leave whichever one of our sites they came to, to go search again for another one of our sites. Users felt that having everything in one place would improve their online experience with us.

It also makes sense from a business point of view. Unsurprisingly, analytics tells us we only see 1% of traffic from our Food site go through to our Electrical business, however, having everything together gives us more of a presence and helps remind customers we do more than just the thing they came to the site for.

We’re starting small

This is a big job and it’ll take a significant amount of time to bring everything together. We’ll be checking in with our users along the way and testing what we’ve built with them to make sure the information architecture works for them.

As always, we’ve started small. Coop.co.uk is the homepage for the Co-op and today we’ve put Co-op recipes live under the coop.co.uk/recipes url. The recipes used to live on dinner4tonight.com – but taking ownership of the content under a url that’s more obviously related to us is important.

Working closely with our business area experts

Co-op Digital has been working alongside subject matter experts from different business areas. Without their knowledge and expertise, it’d be impossible to design and build the right things for our customers.

As the team’s got bigger, we’ve split into 4 streams to focus our work. They are:

  • strategy – based on research, decide on and build new things with business units
  • iterate – improve the designs by testing with users and looking at metrics
  • content – creating and managing content and working with the wider organisation to align it
  • ‘engine’ – the technical team that develops and maintains the platform that hosts the site as well as builds reusable back-end components to make it easier to create and scale sites quickly

Gradual and iterative improvement

We’re now working on adding wines and Christmas products to the site in a similar way we did recipes. They’re just a small part of what the Co-op offers but we need to bring everything together gradually while we test our work with users to check we’re making customer-centred decisions.

Over the next year, we hope to bring more of the Co-op businesses under the same same coop.co.uk/ url.

Nate Langley
Lead product designer

What we mean when we talk about service design at the Co-op

I wanted to write this post to explain what service design is at the Co-op. Service design helps build more inclusive teams as well as products and services that meet user and business needs.

What we mean when we say ‘services’

To understand what service design is, we need to understand what a service is. A ‘service’ is something that helps someone complete a task, like finding information or getting something done.

At the Co-op we help our customers do lots of things, for example, we help them:

We also help our colleagues. For example, we help:

  • Food colleagues find out how to do something in stores through the How do I? website   
  • Funeralcare colleagues spend more time face-to-face time with bereaved families and less on admin through Co-op Guardian
  • Food colleagues check information about when they’re due to work with the Shifts website

These are just some of the services within the Co-op. Some of them are customer-facing, some are colleague-facing, some include elements of both. Some tasks can only be completed online, some can be done entirely offline, but most will include a mix of both.

Service design at the Co-op

And that’s what service design is at the Co-op: it’s designing the sequence of interactions a user has with us. It’s a holistic approach which considers the end-to-end experience, online and offline.

A Co-op service begins the first time a potential customer interacts with us (whether that be online or coming into one of our stores), or at the point a colleague is asked to sign up to one of our online services. The service goes right through to them achieving what they set out to do.  

Digital teams can’t design services alone

In Co-op Digital we refer to service design constantly, but we don’t own it.

Service design includes colleagues from all around the organisation – those from legal teams, marketing teams, colleagues in customer-facing roles, as well as those who speak with customers from our call centre. And everyone in between too.

We cannot design good services that meet the need of our users without the expertise from around the organisation.

Mapping out the service to see the big picture

When we design or iterate a service, we map out each interaction, by each type of user, chronologically. This is service mapping.

We try to understand a customer’s mindset when they come to use a service. What task do they want to complete? For us to design an experience that meets their needs we need to know where they’ve come from, why they’re here, and what they’re here to do.

Service maps:

  • show the whole user experience, visually
  • join up multiple user interactions and channels, beyond digital
  • show the end-to-end experience from awareness through to completing a task

An inclusive way of working

We have walls dedicated to service mapping which we update to reflect anything that has an impact on the service, like if we’ve learnt something new in user research or if the business strategy changes. We map services openly like this so that everyone can see what’s been worked on.

Service maps help teams work better because they:

  • align product teams around a shared understanding of their users’ journeys
  • communicate the user journey to stakeholders
  • help everybody see problems at a glance
  • help the team empathise with the journey their users are on
  • allow anyone to contribute their knowledge of how a service works, or ideas to help improve it with a post it
  • put research and data into the context of the wider service

Photograph of the pharmacy service map and the team and stakeholders crowding round

This photo shows our pharmacy ‘blueprint’ (a type of service map) created by Louise Nicholas and Derek Harvie. It maps the stages of the service, and customer interactions and operational touch points.

photograph of illustration by Jack Fletcher of a Membership storyboard illustrates customer interactions throughout the service, online and offline.

This is Jack Fletcher’s Membership storyboard which illustrates customer interactions throughout the service, online and offline.

A way to make better decisions

User research helps us identify problems. Highlighting them on a service map within the context of a user journey gives us a visual prompt about where we should focus our efforts. Being able to see problems, clearly, helps us prioritise what we need to improve.

Service design also helps us see where operational inefficiencies are and therefore where we can prioritise commercial gain – business goals are as important as user needs.

We use service maps to make better decisions because they help us:

  • highlight pain points and problems
  • spot gaps in our knowledge and the service itself
  • find opportunities to improve the experience
  • raise business inefficiencies
  • prioritise what we should try and fix first
  • pivot as a business to focus on the right things for our customers, members and business

photograph of Store Hub service map designed by Kathryn Grace

Here’s the Food business’s ‘Store Hub’ service map designed by Kathryn Grace. It shows the reality of how colleagues in stores use systems and processes.

We need everyone’s knowledge and expertise

For it to be effective, the whole team should participate in service design. At least initially, a designer will lead the work, but the whole team needs to contribute for it to work. In a discovery, service design will shape how your service needs to work. In later phases, it should inform iterations and strategic direction.

For anyone working at Co-op, the research, content and design teams will be hosting a showcase of our ways of working on Monday 10 December. Come along if you’re interested in finding out more about service design, all welcome. Location to be announced.

Katherine Wastell

Head of Design

We’ve added user research guides to the design system

We recently added 4 user research guides to our Co-op design system. The guides cover:

  • how to plan and prepare for research as a team
  • how to choose the most appropriate research method, and how to use it
  • how to analyse your findings, turn them into something actionable and how to share with the rest of the team
  • a list of useful research tools

We’re committed to user-centred design. We start small, we test for user value and we work iteratively – research and reacting to feedback is vitally important to us.

But it’s not easy to do good research and by ‘good’ we mean using the appropriate method and ensuring the way we do it is planned, thorough and unbiased.

You need skilled researchers.

Helping teams help themselves

We have a superb small team of researchers at Co-op Digital. We have varying background, skills and strengths which means asking for advice on how to tackle something is always interesting and useful. But we can’t cover all our projects, at all product phases, all the time. There aren’t enough of us.

So in a few cases, we set the direction and encourage teams to do their own research, with us there as support.

Sharing the knowledge

The idea came while I was writing a research strategy for a team working on a particular scope of work. I realised the strategy could be adapted into more of a ‘how to do research at the Co-op’ guide. For years, in an unofficial, internal-channels-only type way, several researchers had been writing guides on things like ‘how to recruit users / gather informed consent / write a survey’. It made sense to pull this useful work together and make it open and available in our design system.

Presenting guidance in this way means that instead of individual researchers writing a strategy for a team now and then, we can give more general advice.We want to make sure people are doing good, useful research in the right way and we can now add value to any digital team by giving them a ‘best practice’ resource.

We’re working on it

As always, the plan is to iterate and add more guidance as we go. We’ve been looking towards the GDS service manual as an excellent, detailed resource for planning research.

As we come across a method that we don’t have a guide for, we’ll write one up. For example, the next time one of our researchers needs to conduct a diary study they’ll write that up.

We know we need to improve how we help people choose the appropriate method so that people don’t just fall back on conducting usability testing in a lab or face-to-face interviews. As Vicki Riley says in her post, matching our research approach to the project is really important.

We’d like your feedback on it too so if you have any, leave a comment.

Simon Hurst
Lead user researcher

Introducing local.co.uk – Co-op’s new marketplace

We’ve recently launched local.co.uk – a marketplace that connects independent businesses to customers across the UK. We’re doing this because we want to give small businesses a fairer way to trade and help make communities across the UK stronger.

We built the service in 13 weeks and we’re proud of what we’ve achieved. But we know it’s far from perfect – there are parts of the service that could be smoother and features that we want to improve and introduce.

We launched it when we did so that we could learn quickly from real users and make the service valuable for them.

We’ve done a lot and learnt a lot.

This video shows how we created local.co.uk (2 minutes 26 seconds) 

Karen Lindop: we’re hiring! Plus our ‘Federation Presents’ events

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to our update on what’s happening in the Digital team.

Firstly I want to welcome some new people to the team. Caroline Hatwell, Matthew Edwards, Lucy Bridges, Devon Gillespie, Lowri Davies, Kyle Welsby, Dominic Jefferson, Danny Wilson, Mark Pittam and of course Kim Morley who returns to cover Cara’s maternity cover. Welcome to you all, it’s great to have you here.

I also want to congratulate Carl Burton who won Disruptive Leader of the Year last week at the Tech Leaders Awards for his work on Guardian for our Funeralcare Business. It’s really well deserved, we’re all proud of you Carl as well as the whole team, past and present!

We host lots of different groups and organisations events in The Federation. Anyone can use our events space, and you can find details of all upcoming events on the website and we’ll add the link to our blog.

We’ve also been running a series of free events called Federation Presents which has been designed to explore ethics in the technology industry and society and using technology for good. We have collaborated with experts from around the world to talk about our industry’s big issues such as surveillance capitalism, racial and gender bias in machine learning, ethical business models and the future of work. This week we held one on Toxic Tech, and our next one will be in December – keep an eye open for more details.

Co-op’s interim results came out last week, I’d encourage you to have a look. There’s some great progress in 6 months by doing things #TheCoopWay.

Within the interim results we announced that we’ve acquired Dimec who are a healthcare technology start-up who have developed a platform which enables patients and their GPs to interact and better manage their prescription needs. Dimec will give us the online structure from which to build a new range of health and well-being services for our members. Excitingly, we’re looking for a Head of Product for this new business, if you’re interested the link to apply is on our blog.

We’re also looking for software and platform engineers, BA’s and front end developers, again the links to apply are on out blog.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter. See you soon.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations

We’re testing digital offers for members

Back in March, we posted about running a discovery to find out what would be possible with digital offers for Co-op members. That was 6 months ago and a lot’s happened since then – here’s an update on the work Digital have been doing with the Personalisation team in Co-op Food.

Quick research recap

Our work on digital offers is an extension of the work we did last year when we tested out an app for members. One of the reasons that this turned out to be a no-go was that lots of our stores don’t have tills that could scan the app.

However, we did find that people like the idea of having something on their phone rather than carrying a membership card around with them. Research said this was true of offers too. At the moment, members receive their personalised offers on paper from the till, just before their receipt is printed. To take advantage of money off they have to take, keep, bring back, and then remember to use the paper coupon next time they shop with us.

Quite an arduous process.

What we’ve done so far

With that research in mind, the Food teams have been hard at work changing the offers platform to make sure we can offer digital offers, and we, the Digital team, have built a website and an app that will present the offers to users each week.

Here’s how the website is looking:

Digital offers member website

Here’s how the app is looking:

How the app looks. Scrolls through offers.

Now it’s time to test

Next month we’re going to test the service on a website and on an app with real users. We’ve recruited 12,000 members to be involved though our ‘Member Voice’ programme. These are engaged members that shop with us regularly, and who understand that things might not always work the way they expect them to.

The most important outcome right now

The main objective of this phase is to make sure everything works as it should, technically. Our aim is for:

  • members to be able to choose offers through the website and the app
  • members to be able to redeem the offers in store
  • all the data to flow to the right places, for example, offers show up in till transactions which can be fed back into Finance which funds the offers

We’ve worked with the teams in Food and Retail IT to build the service in a way that doesn’t rely on changes to our tills. Once a member has chosen an offer, it’ll be loaded onto their membership card, and redeemed automatically when the card is swiped and the matching product is in the basket.

For this phase of work, we’ve focussed on making changes to the system that produces paper coupons to support a digital offers service. Regardless of how the service will eventually look, these things need to talk to each other before it will work for customers. Once we get this part right, we can build on and improve things such as the more commercial aspects – for example, how many offers would we give, how frequently they’d change and whether there’s a type of offer that works best.

Learning as we go

Testing with real customers in real stores is so important for us, as it will inform what we build next. People tend to get overly excited about money off their shopping in research sessions, but observing what people actually is the most valuable.

We’ll analyse the data we get back to measure how members are using the service, and gather feedback to learn what works for them and what doesn’t .

Around 20% of the 12,000 test members have agreed to participate in further research, so we’ll gather more feedback after the trial through surveys, phone interviews and face-to-face sessions.

Fixing things before moving forward

Before we go bigger with this, we need to fix some things. The priorities in our backlog are:

  1. Make digital offers available to all members – existing ones and brand new ones too.
  2. Make it easier to find and upload images for offers – at the moment, new photographs sometimes need to be taken.
  3. Look at the data trends to work out how we can keep offers varied and interesting as well as personalised.

Of course, we’ll also use the feedback gathered in the trial to prototype and test different ways we could present offers to members. We want to build a service that’s simple and intuitive to the point it doesn’t need explaining at all, but has the depth and value to keep people coming back to use it week on week.

We have lots of ideas here, but until we’ve tested them with real customers we have no idea what will work.

One Co-op

This alpha is a great example of different Co-op teams bringing their expertise together and working collaboratively.

The Personalisation team in Food are experts in creating the right offers for the right members, so they’re leading the thinking on new offers for new channels. The Retail IT team have made the changes we needed to our offers platform in a way that ensures the customer’s experience at till is protected. And the Digital team have built a new service that’s fit for the future, with a front end that the user will interact with.

We’ll post on what we learn from testing at the end of the year. Watch this space.

Joel Godfrey
Product manager

Why FAQs aren’t the answer you’ve been looking for

I was recently sent an email with a very polite request asking me, as the content designer on our team, whether we could add frequently asked questions (FAQs) to coop.co.uk.

The request was well intentioned. The sender had seen someone asking a question about one of the Co-op’s services, and naturally had wanted to help them. Alongside that, there were perceived business benefits to adding FAQs too: reducing the number of calls colleagues would need to answer.

As content designers, we balance business needs with user needs but we always put the user first. We give people the information they need, clearly, once, at the point they need it. We consider where the user is and what they’re trying to do.

Every situation is different, but we can advise Co-op teams if they’re receiving lots of questions about their product or service. However, this post outlines general reasons for opting against FAQs.

FAQs don’t solve the real problem

Imagine if you ran a walk-in barber’s shop. As a competent small business owner you’d have the opening times on your door and on your website. But I imagine that the most common question a barber is asked over the phone is:

“Are you open on x day at y time?”

You might want to reduce the calls like this coming in but the people phoning you up aren’t calling because they looked at your opening times on your door or website and didn’t understand when you’re open or not. They weren’t outside your door or on your website in the first place, so adding your opening times into a FAQ section on either of these places won’t stop the calls.

FAQs are unlikely to answer the exact question a user has

FAQs force users to navigate (or, wade through) your content by questions they may have, rather than look for the information that they know would answer it.

Recently, a local paper presented an ‘all you need to know about our exciting running event, including start times and route’ as FAQs. The content gave lots of information presented as ‘answers’ including what the route was, whether it had changed since last year, where you could park, where the toilets were, where the finish line was. But all those ‘questions’ (and many, many more) could be answered simply and clearly by a route map. This would have been a clearer, quicker-to-grasp way to present the information.

Time-consuming hard work for users

Using the same example, I wanted to know what time the run itself started.

I had to scroll through reams of information in the FAQs before finding out that: “Runners must be ‘in their pens’ at 10.30am”.

As a spectator, I’d presumed the FAQ would be: “What time does the race start?” The FAQs writer seems to have chosen to answer the question from a runner: “What time do I need to be in my pen?” The ‘answer’ available was certainly related to my question but only really gave me half an answer. And I’d read a lot of information I didn’t need.

A user can only guess what you’ve chosen to be an FAQ. This means every user has to look at every question and answer to find out if it answers their need. Even if their query is covered it’ll take a long time.

If it isn’t covered (or they don’t see the information they need), they’ll phone you up anyway. And they’re more likely to be annoyed.

Like all content, FAQs need maintenance

Often FAQs repeat information found elsewhere, but as a ‘quick’ or more ‘friendly’ summary. But once you start duplicating information, even if you remember all the different places that information is located, you’re increasing the work you have to do in future.

The FAQs I was asked to add concerned a page that already contained a PDF manual of how to use the service in question, and that did (in a more detailed way) answer the same questions. Attempting to summarise or simplify main problems has a need, but the problem was one ‘answer’ gave a completely different process to that in the manual.

Iterate the content you already have

All content should have an owner – someone committed to updating it for factual accuracy as well as keeping an eye out for if it still meets user needs. If you find that the same questions are being asked regularly, revisit your original content.

You’ll find one of 2 things:

  1. The information is missing.
  2. The information is in the wrong place.

If it’s missing, add it in in clear language in the place that would make sense to your user.

If you think you’ve already given the answer to the question, then it’s either the wrong answer, or it’s in the wrong place.

Put your effort into working on that. Start by asking the people who are asking the questions if they’ve seen the original information. If they have, it needs work because they didn’t understand it. If they haven’t, it’s in the wrong place.

If it’s in the wrong place, consider where else it could be placed. Where are your users before they’re asking the questions. For example, it may be that you should add information into a welcome email not a website. Perhaps you should put it out on social media?

And finally, talking to a content designer is really a good first step. You can email the Content community.

Tom Adams
Lead content designer