Simulating in-store experiences with physical prototyping

The Customer Experience (CX) team has been working with our Co-op Food colleagues to look at how we can improve customer service in our stores. When the CX team help the wider Co-op business solve problems, our process usually involves prototyping. Because we often work in the digital space, our prototypes are often on a screen too.  

This challenge however focuses on in-person experiences in our stores. So, for this piece of work, testing in a physical space and in a more tangible way felt more appropriate. 

Before trialling in a store, we wanted to test our ideas in a low-risk environment where we wouldn’t be in the way of day-to-day store life but where we could still involve colleagues who bring other expert knowledge.  

We used a ‘desktop walkthrough’ method to simulate the in-store experiences. 

We are writing this post to share: 

  • why we chose the desktop walkthrough method as a prototyping tool 
  • how we used it to get a better understanding of our trial logistics 
  • what we learnt about using a less familiar method 

Exploring the problem with a team of experts 

To discover how we can improve customer service in store, we needed to understand the current customer experience and identify pain points.  

We formed a small team of colleagues across Food Operations, Insight and Research, and store managers to help us focus on the right things. Each discipline has its own perspective and involving the right people means we’re more likely to focus on the right things.  

Defining the problem and prioritising 1 concept to tackle

Based on our research, we identified 3 areas we could explore that would help our customers receive (and our colleagues to be able to provide) better service. They were: 

  1. Technology – how might we use new and existing technology to make improvements across different parts of the customer journey? 
  1. People – how might we help our colleagues to prioritise service through training and recognition? 
  1. Insight – how might we make better use of the insight we have on our customers, colleagues and stores to make improvements to customer service? 

We chose to explore the ideas focused on people because we identified the most amount of value, opportunity and feasibility here. We specifically wanted to look at how we might recognise colleagues who were great ‘customer service advocates’ in stores.  

We defined our hypothesis and used it to develop a plan for our trial in a real store. We established the basics of good customer service, and we defined the role of a customer service advocate.  

Choosing an inclusive and lightweight way to test  

To choose the right prototyping method for the scenario, we revisited what we wanted to learn. Our learning objectives were to: 

  • get a shared understanding about the end-to-end customer experience 
  • understand the important interactions between colleague and customer journeys 
  • identify other problem areas so we can address them 

We decided to try a desktop walkthrough because: 

  1. It brings experts from different areas together, in one room, without distraction so we could explain why we had arranged the walkthrough and what we planned to do afterwards in real stores. Each person has a unique perspective and can raise challenges the rest of the group wouldn’t necessarily consider. 
  1. We could figure out our next steps without getting in the way of or taking time away from in-store colleagues. 
  1. We had a hunch it might help us realise things relating to the physical space we otherwise likely wouldn’t have with a different method. For example, shelving and fixtures tend to be tall and make it difficult for colleagues to see each other providing good service.  

The set-up 

As the name implies, the walkthrough takes place at a desk. The Format team shared a generic store floor plan which we printed out and laid on the desk. Then we added 3D card shelving, tills and self-checkouts on top of the paper layout to recreate a mini-scale, realistic-as-possible store. We used figurines to represent colleagues and customers. 

photograph shows 3D card shelving, tills and self-checkouts on top of the paper floor plan
We added cardboard tills, self-checkouts and shelving on the floor plan.

Walking through scenarios 

We chose to walk through common scenarios for store colleagues. For example: 

  • opening the store  
  • navigating around the store at the times when there are fewer colleagues on the shop floor  
  • operational tasks such as unloading deliveries or scanning gaps on the shelves – times where a colleague is less available to directly help customers  
  • customer interaction trade-off scenarios like helping a customer to find an item while being asked over headset to pack a Deliveroo order 
image shows the full floor plan and has figurines at either side that represent customers and colleagues
We grouped customer and colleague figurines around the floor plan as we walked through scenarios.

We also took note of real colleagues’ shifts, lunch breaks and list of tasks too so we could get an idea of how busy the space would be. Weaving this into our walkthrough brought an additional layer of understanding for the people in the room. 

A desktop walkthrough meant we got a bird’s eye view of colleagues moving through our model store for the duration of their shift. It also helped us see where, when or why colleagues interact with customers. 

image shows the back of a colleague figurine facing the store floor [plan and other figurines in the distance
Customer team member number 3 is in the stockroom dealing with a delivery here

Building value for our CX team and the wider community 

Our desktop walkthrough was a quick, cheap way to prepare for an in-store trial. Bringing our ideas to life in this way meant we picked up on things that might not work in stores and we could adapt our concepts without wasting time or money. A lot of this was down to 2 ex-store managers who joined us for the walkthrough – their input was invaluable. Their first-hand experience of working in – and running – stores meant they could sense-check our assumptions which made the scenarios we walked through far more realistic. We made changes to our experiment plan based on their insight and we believe this contributed to the success of our first store trial. 

Since our desktop prototype we have progressed to trialling our customer service advocate concept in stores and continue to learn and adapt. 

Steph Clubb, Lead CX visual designer  

Hannah McDonald, CX strategist 

Improving customer experience with content design: how we joined up services in different business areas

If someone is arranging a funeral, we know that they often also need probate. Probate is the legal process of dealing with someone’s money, property and possessions after they have died.  

Co-op offers both services but they are operated by 2 different Co-op businesses: arranging a funeral is owned by Co-op Funeralcare, and applying for probate is owned by Co-op Legal Services. But the way we’re organised internally is irrelevant to customers – what matters to them is a cohesive journey and a frictionless experience. 

We wanted to join up the services to create a seamless experience that helps our customers understand what they need to do, and get what they need. 

Bringing the services closer together 

We started by understanding the existing customer experience. We spoke to people who had recently arranged a funeral, and learned that many did not:  

  • understand probate or whether they needed it  
  • know that Co-op Legal Services offered probate  
  • know that they could get the cost of the funeral covered if they used Co-op Legal Services for probate

We wanted to help people understand if they needed probate and, if they did, make it straightforward for them to get it. We also wanted to make it clear when probate wasn’t needed, to reduce stress and avoid wasting people’s time. 

And we could do this by: 

  • understanding what the existing user journeys were 
  • learning from customers and colleagues 
  • explaining probate at the points where it was most relevant 
  • making it clear what probate is and when it’s needed  
  • using clear, understandable language  

Understanding what exists  

Helen Lawson facilitated a content audit. That’s a thorough analysis of the existing content to help us identify the points where it’s relevant to talk about probate. We are a business and although making money is one of our aims, it doesn’t mean shoehorning sales opportunities into a user journey at inappropriate times. We wanted to understand where it was genuinely in the customer’s best interest to know about probate. For example, when we write about costs, we could explain how Co-op Legal Services could cover the cost of the funeral upfront if the customer uses them for probate. 

We had to be deliberate. We understand our funeral customers are often distressed and have many competing priorities. We knew we didn’t want to get in the way of them completing the task they came to do – arranging a funeral. If we did, we’d make the process more stressful and more time consuming, and we’d increase the risk of them leaving the site and going elsewhere. So, to avoid getting in our customers’ way, it was just as important to decide where not to put the content. 

It was a collaborative effort. We relied on: 

  • the knowledge of people who dealt with our Funeralcare customers 
  • the expertise of colleagues in Funeralcare and Legal Services 
  • insights from research with people who had recently arranged a funeral 
  • our skills in content, design, data and customer experience  

Designing the content  

Probate is complicated. To make it understandable, and not get in the way, we need to be clear and get to the point fast.  

We explain what probate is in clear English. 

image text says:
Co-op Legal Services could pay for the funeral from the estate
If you instruct Co-op Legal Services to carry out probate, they could cover the cost of the funeral up front. Probate is the legal process of dealing with someone’s money, property and possessions after they have died.

They get the money back from the ‘estate’ (the things that the person owned), later.

Not everyone needs probate. It’s unlikely to be needed if the person who died:

did not own a house in their sole name
had less than £20,000 in the bank
Probate can be complicated. There are usually legal and financial matters to sort out and it can take months to finish everything that's needed.

Check if you need probate

We knew we couldn’t assume that our customers had any prior knowledge of the subject matter. Many may never have had to deal with a funeral before, and even if they have, that might not have involved dealing with probate. If we use complex terminology without explaining it, we risk overwhelming, frustrating, and alienating people. So where we could, we used clear English, to make it easier and quicker for people to understand. Where we had to use legal terminology, we explained it in understandable terms. Doing this makes us more inclusive. 

We explained when probate might not be needed.  

We did this to help get relevant information to people quickly– so that the people who don’t need probate don’t waste their time calling us. And the people who do need it, are directed to call us – that means we get the right help, to the right people. It saves our customers, and us, time. 

We also did some other things across the Funeralcare journey: 

  • broke up the text with more sub-headings and into smaller paragraphs which are easier for people to read  
  • used bullets for lists so people can scan them more easily 
  • linked out rather than duplicated content – reducing content maintenance costs as it only has to be kept up to date in one place 
  • moved relevant actions up the page, so we can help people earlier in their journey, without overwhelming them with content  
  • included links to the bereavement notification service, which is a free service for people who arrange a funeral with us, so especially relevant to our audience 

It worked 

As a result of the content changes on the webpages, 35% of all Funeralcare traffic now check if they need probate as part of their journey. 

The most effective services are those which are focused on the customer’s needs and those which are not bound by departmental silos. By focusing on making the customer’s experience better, across whatever channels and departments that involves, we can create services that help people, increase loyalty and make our business more successful. 

Joanne Schofield

Lead content designer

Our Engineering team’s priorities

In February, we published a post explaining how and why we’ve restructured. It focused on our colleagues whose expertise lay within Design, Product, Delivery, SEO and CRO who we now call the Co-op Experience team.  

Earlier this year, the Experience team moved into Co-op’s Digital Technology function. Engineering is one of the disciplines that sits within Digital Technology. Experience and Engineering often work together in multidisciplinary teams to bring the right combination of expertise together, at the right time, to create value for Co-op customers, colleagues and the business through our products and services. 

Alongside this, Engineering has its own specific aims that ultimately support an improved, seamless customer experience. 

Here are our priorities for the next year. 

Make it easier for engineers to get on with it 

Many organisations that build web and cloud-based products and services have internal platform teams focused on improving engineering productivity. Co-op is no exception. We’ve recently brought an Engineering Productivity team together – a team of engineers who protect the rest of our engineers’ time by removing challenges that get in the way of us delivering value for customers and colleagues. They’ll do this by identifying where we’re duplicating effort across the engineering community and as far as possible, they will create standardised approaches.  

Our Engineering Productivity team will harvest, build and curate a collection of engineering resources that help to accelerate the creation of new products and services. These will sit alongside the existing Experience Library and Front-end Toolkit already curated by other parts of Co-op Technology.   

Examples from the Engineering Productivity team’s roadmap include: 

  • common build pipelines so we can remove maintenance responsibilities from engineers, and make it easier to spin up new teams 
  • identifying useful common components, such as automated security testing in the build pipeline, and productionising them to make them available to all engineers across the estate 
  • how we bake standards into artefacts so that teams spend less time checking compliance 

We believe that by reducing the cognitive load for engineers, they’ll be able to focus on solving new problems rather than spending time on problems that have already been solved elsewhere. 

Developing ‘product mindsets’   

It doesn’t matter which multidisciplinary team our engineers are part of, or whether they’re responsible for foundational platforms, business platforms or products, everyone needs a product mindset. We want to develop and embed this thinking more. Here’s why.  

Since the early days of Co-op Digital, our engineers have been working closely with Design, User Research, Delivery and Product as part of multi-disciplinary teams. Together, we have been focused on delivering customer value through early delivery, rapid feedback loops, and test-and-learn to create effective, usable products and services that perform well. Because we’ve approached things with the same ‘product mindset’, we’ve met the needs of both internal colleagues and external customers. We’re looking to apply this mindset across our wider technology estate. 

We consider platforms to be like inward-facing products and a good example of this is the Co-op’s Food E-commerce business area, which has become particularly important since the start of the pandemic. Within it, is our On-demand groceries service which lives on the coop.co.uk platform, as well as convenience and delivery options to order Co-op products through Deliveroo and Amazon. We have multiple product teams around the Food E-commerce space providing value directly to our customers. These product teams draw on services provided by a set of platforms teams which do things such as integrating external marketplaces and courier apps; doing the background work in terms of search functionality and data loading; or providing standard e-commerce functions such as baskets and product information. These platform teams, such as our Unified Commerce Platform, focus on the needs of their own internal customers, such as the Online Shop team, and evolve their own roadmaps to meet the needs of those internal customers. 

The Co-op Food E-commerce business is just one example of how we are adapting the way we work to put our customers, whether external or internal, at the centre of our engineering delivery.   

Continue to support engineers in a very varied landscape 

Co-op was founded in 1844 so it is a really old business. We have many business areas, and there are multiple products and services within each of them. Those products and services have been created at different times – some with the foresight that the internet era is here to stay, others not so much. This means that our engineers can find themselves working across a large and varied portfolio containing a variety of challenges from early-stage discovery work on greenfield products through to heavy lifting work on some of the more established systems which power our £10 billion turnover retail food business.   

We try to ensure that our engineers have a broad toolkit of technologies, techniques and practices which they can draw on to do the most effective engineering they can on the systems they are working on. Some techniques such as test-driven development are very much core practices, whereas the use of other techniques will vary based on the context. Teams might use a mix of ensemble programming, pair programming or pull requests based on things like the system they are working on; the makeup of the team, and the work they’re doing.  

Our teams can adapt their ways of working over time as the team context changes. As long as they conform to our software development standards they can work in a way that is most effective for their context. 

One of our priorities is to equip our engineers with a broad toolkit of techniques and practices that they can choose from to address the specific challenges they are facing. They can improve their toolkit through our Engineering Community of Practice sessions, code club or video club. 

Increase pastoral support 

We’ve recently made changes to alter the Engineering team’s structure. We’ve moved away from a set-up where almost everyone had line manager responsibilities towards a more simplified structure. We’ve done this because we found that those people were effectively doing 2 jobs: engineer and line manager. This isn’t necessarily the direction that everyone wants to go in and although managing others helps grow people skills, changing context is hard. So, we’ve introduced Engineering Managers. Their role is 100% focused on people, their development and helping them map their careers. It means one-to-ones are now more productive because line managers (now Engineering Managers) are no longer juggling 2 jobs. 

Danielle Haugedal-Wilson

Head of Engineering

We’re hiring talented and enthusiastic people with all levels of experience. Read more information on our jobs page.

The similarities and differences between content design and other content disciplines 

Before we became part of the Co-op Content Design community, Marianne worked in marketing and communications, and Mary was a copywriter. Like most content designers and content strategists at Co-op, we moved into this discipline from roles that also demanded strong writing skills. At Co-op, we work alongside many disciplines that also depend on well-crafted written words, for example, the Brand, Marketing, Communications, and the PR teams.  

We’re writing this post to unpick some of the similarities and differences between content design at Co-op, and our experience of other content disciplines. We hope that by sharing this we can improve understanding of how these disciplines can relate and even overlap, but also highlight the things that are specific to content design within multi-disciplinary teams. 

photograph of marianne and mary looking at post-it notes on a white board
Marianne and Mary in a workshop.

What content design means at Co-op 

Content design is about putting the right thing, in the right place, at the right time and in the right format. 

That’s how our Content community defines what we do. 

For us, good content design:  

  • meets a user need (this means it has a well-defined purpose and fulfils it) 
  • is accessible to everyone 
  • can be understood by everyone  

Content designers zoom in and look at the details. For example, we choose the words that create long or short-form content. But we also look at a wider context. We decide whether we need to create content at all. If we conclude that we do, we ask where it should live, and in which order and format it should be presented so that it clearly conveys meaning to the reader.  

If it’s not accessible, it’s not good content design 

Accessibility underpins everything we do in the Co-op Experience team. It means we build products and services that everyone can use, including people: 

  • who have a disability or condition 
  • with English as their second language 
  • with low literacy 
  • who are not confident using digital technology 

This means designing content that everyone understands, and navigation that everyone can use. Co-op has an accessibility policy and accessibility guidelines

As content designers, we choose words that are clear not clever. 

That can take some getting used to when you’ve worked as a copywriter. We had some bad habits to unlearn from previous roles. For example, we would often plaster over complex processes with words and phrases like: 

  • quick and simple 
  • this only takes 2 minutes 
  • you’ll need your NHS number handy 

We were assuming a certain level of speed or ability. In reality, what’s easy for one user might be difficult for another. User research told us that putting your phone down, climbing upstairs and rifling through old letters to find your NHS number was not ‘handy’. Some people might struggle to do this at all. Deleting one word can make all the difference and, in this example, it makes more sense to more people if we leave ‘handy’ out.  

Joanne Schofield digs deeper into this idea in her post We are not our users: we should not tell them how to feel

You’re the expert, you own it 

Before becoming content designers, we worked in teams according to our specialism at the time. For example, a communications team is usually made up of several comms specialists and there’s usually a hierarchy within it. It’s the same for digital marketing experts, PR people, or editorial teams. 

At Co-op, it’s different. Here, our expertise sits alongside other sets of expertise and we’re part of multi-disciplinary teams that include service designers, interaction designers, researchers, delivery managers, front end developers, engineers, business analysts. We also work with subject matter experts like store managers in the Co-op Food business and leaders of community projects. 

We each bring our different but complementary skill sets to the team, and we work together to deliver a cohesive customer (or colleague) experience. Often, there will only be one expert in a certain discipline per team. This means we’re empowered to make decisions on the things that fall under our remit.  

Support from the content design community of practice 

As content designers, sense-checking and support comes from our community of practice (CoP). This is a safe space for others in similar roles across different product or service teams. 

At Co-op, the Content CoP gets together twice a month. We learn by sharing, seeing or discussing content in different contexts. This often involves content designers asking for feedback on presentations or prototypes through a ‘content crit’ (group critiques), or we talk through case studies to share what has been successful. CoPs provide the kind of support that content creators might experience from their team in a traditional editorial or writing role.  

“Meeting twice a month with likeminded content people is brilliant, and taking part in content crits has helped me become less protective of my work.” 

Sophie Newbery, content designer, Funeralcare 

All good content is grounded in good research 

Whether it’s content marketing, PR, video journalism, or magazine feature writing, successful content depends on thorough research and a good understanding of your audience. We work alongside dedicated user researchers whose role is to help the team learn about our users so we can design the right thing for them. 

Together we: 

  • facilitate usability and accessibility testing 
  • observe and take notes in research interviews 
  • go through all the research findings together 
  • build service maps to understand the customer experience 

Content designers at Co-op gather data and evidence from many sources. We do quantitative research with tools like Google Analytics and qualitative research by listening to and observing our users. We combine this with desk research, market research and insights from focus groups – methods that we learnt from our marketing and communications roles. 

“The Co-op’s Experience Library is a collection of guidelines, tools and resources to help us create better customer experiences at Co-op. Everything in it has been researched and iterated based on research findings. This means we can be confident that the advice, templates and patterns that the library provides can be used as foundations for teams to meet their colleagues’ and customers’ needs.”  

Jo Schofield, lead content designer 

If content doesn’t succeed at first, we iterate 

‘Iterating’ means improving content in-line with regular feedback from users. 

The beauty of digital content is that you can track, monitor and improve it. This is an example of iterative design and it’s a luxury that other disciplines do not have, for example, any mass-produced printed material.   

Small changes can make a big difference to the reach or the impact. 

In 2021, for example, we were challenged with how Co-op can support grassroots community groups beyond funding. We identified an opportunity to join up 2 different services that already exist: 

  • Co-op Local Community Fund, which meets the need for funding 
  • Co-operate, an online community centre, which meets the need for finding volunteers and raising awareness of their group 

When applying for funding, users now promote their group on Co-operate at the same time. 

One risk with joining up 2 forms was that users would promote their group on Co-operate and exit the journey – without continuing to apply for funding, which was their main goal. 

To help the user, we added content at crucial points to explain where they were in the journey: 

Thanks for adding your group to Co-operate 

Next, apply for funding 

To apply for the Co-op Local Community Fund, complete the next 8 steps. 

We guided around 10,000 applicants through the form and achieved our target of onboarding all applicants to Co-operate. In this year’s iteration, we’re exploring whether using a visual to demonstrate progress helps support the content: 

The fund happens every year. We’ll continue to iterate and improve on the journey each time, based on what we learn from data and evidence. 

There’s still so much to learn 

We’re always developing our craft as content designers and we’re still learning every day. We’re both glad we made the change to work in an environment that puts people and accessibility first. 

Our Content community of practice (CoP) meets online every fortnight. If you’re a Co-op colleague and would like to join us, contact us for an invitation.   

Mary Sanigar, content designer and former copywriter  

Marianne Knowles, lead content designer and former marketing and communications writer 


Reading we recommend

It’s an ‘Experience Library’ (because ‘design system’ implies it’s only for designers)

Screen grab of the Experience Library homepage highlighting part of the copy that says: the experience library is for anyone working on products, services and communication at co-op

Our Co-op Experience Library is a reinvention of our design system. It’s got guidelines, tools and resources to help us create better customer and colleague experiences – things like online interactions, content guidelines, team activities and accessibility standards. 

It is for anyone working on products, services and communications at Co-op. It’s not just for designers.

Although it started as a place to help digital designers create online experiences, we changed the name from Design System to the Experience Library to reflect the range of:

  • subjects that it includes 
  • people who can benefit from it

How design at Co-op evolved

In 2017, when Co-op Digital was in its infancy, we launched a ‘design manual’. At the time, the Design team was growing quickly and designers were joining from very different backgrounds and had very different approaches. The design manual included the foundations, elements and components that designers need to design accessible, consistent digital products and services for Co-op – things like colours, fonts, buttons, banners, check boxes. The design manual meant that designers could focus on meeting user needs rather than on making basic design decisions. As a result we could release things faster.

Over the next year we wanted to understand how useful the design manual was for our designers, content designers and researchers. Through research, feedback and analytics, it became clear that although it was being used, it needed to be more comprehensive. In July 2018, we launched our design system which included a pattern library, a content style guide, guidance on our design thinking, principles and resources like Sketch files and brand assets. 

We treated it like a digital product. We knew it would never be finished and we added to it and iterated parts when needed. 

Fast forward to 2021 and the release of the Co-op Experience Library. 

The design system’s focus was on ‘online’ products and services. But users don’t just interact with the online part of a service. Their end-to-end experience often includes different channels and interactions. So it makes increasing sense for the Experience Library guidance to cover more – across services and be channel agnostic.

For example, many of us write on behalf of Co-op every day. We communicate with customers, members and colleagues through lots of channels and many of them are not just online. For example, posters in stores, presentations, communicating to customers.  If we talk about things in a consistent way we create familiarity. People are more likely to understand that they’re interacting with Co-op and trust us.

So we broadened our content guidelines to   go beyond online journeys. And in doing so, we opened up the Experience Library to a wider audience, saving time for everyone who communicates on behalf of Co-op.

It can also help teams work better together

We work closely with the Digital Skills team. They help teams outside of digital disciplines to understand agile and design methods. They coach teams, run masterclasses and develop resources to help show the value of user-focused, iterative development and the various techniques teams can use to design and deliver products and services. At the end of the masterclasses, teams across Co-op have access to tools, activities and techniques that they can use to help them work together and solve problems.

So it makes sense for these tools, activities and techniques to be available on the Experience Library. Helping teams work together better means Co-op can make colleagues and customer experiences more effective and efficient.

Why this is important

The Experience Library has continued, and will continue, to grow. It now also includes information on accessibility, form guidelines, search engine optimisation and brand guidelines.  

And this makes sense. We are all responsible for creating value for our colleagues, our customers and the Co-op business. All our teams and business areas are interlinked at varying levels as we inevitably try to achieve these goals.   

Collating these resources from across Co-op and presenting them in an open, central place, in an understandable way, enables delivery. It means colleagues can: 

  • save time, using proven and evidenced shared standards
  • focus on meeting their customers’ needs
  • get on with their work and feel confident they’re making the good choices 
  • learn and upskill in new areas 
  • collaborate and, in doing so, reduce silos across businesses
  • have more inclusive conversations within their teams
  • solve problems
  • point to evidence which gives weight to decisions when they need to persuade stakeholders (for example, they can point to evidence that shows why abbreviations, acronyms and initialisations can be confusing) 
  • feed back on and help improve the Experience Library
  • get involved and contribute to the Experience Library

And this, in turn, helps Co-op:

  • create coherent and accessible experiences for customers and colleagues
  • save time and money by operating more efficiently
  • become a familiar and trusted brand
  • increase loyalty 
  • work in the open, and in doing so, recruit new people

Get involved

Get in touch if you work on something that could help colleagues across the business do their jobs more efficiently. This could be things like how to communicate to a particular audience, how to understand analytics, or how we can improve our sustainability.

By sharing best practices across Co-op, we make things better for our customers and colleagues.

Joanne Schofield

Lead content designer

How and why we redefined our purpose at Co-op Experience

We recently reorganised our teams and expertise so that people with interconnected, complementary skills could work more closely together. We also became the ‘Co-op Experience’ team. You can read about the details in Adam’s post.  

We now have teams and disciplines working together who didn’t necessarily work together before. Because our structure has changed, it’s more important than ever to be clear on our purpose. By ‘purpose’ we mean why each colleague and team is here, and how we’re all contributing to the overarching Co-op mission: ‘co-operating for a fairer world’.  

Working in the open so we’re all aligned 

At the end of last year, we began a piece of work to articulate our purpose. Putting it into coherent words means there’s no room for misinterpretation and we felt this would help each product team, each decision-maker and each individual move in the same direction. 

If we were in the office more often, we’d make posters and pin them up, but for now we’re publishing our purpose on the blog as an easy-to-reach reminder. 

A purpose for everyone, by everyone

Defining our purpose took several sessions over several weeks, but each step of the process was essential. We started small within the Senior Leadership team (SLT) for practical reasons – it’s much harder to facilitate a workshop with hundreds of people. But, our purpose governs the actions of everyone in the Co-op Experience team, so it was essential to give everyone a chance to feed into it. The best way to help everyone unite behind a shared purpose is by sharing a first draft for feedback. 

Here are the steps we took: 

  1. We held a workshop with the SLT within (what was) Digital Product and Design to think about why our team was formed and our role within the wider business. We worked through 3 questions initially which we borrowed from a Hyper Island toolkit
  • What is our job as a team? 
  • What’s our goal? How do we know when we’ve done our job? 
  • What benefit are we bringing to the company and the world? 
  1. We then analysed outputs and held several sessions to focus on the things we felt were lacking from the current purpose, and what we’re trying to achieve as a team. We also noted specific words which resonated (more on this below). 
  1. Then we opened things up. We used a slot at our fortnightly All Hands session to talk the wider team through the importance of having a purpose and our thinking so far. We presented an earlier version of our purpose and asked for feedback from (what was) the Digital Product and Design team. 
  1. We iterated again and presented a refined version of the vision back alongside some behaviours we used to bring the purpose to life. 

Choosing our words carefully 

During the workshops, we kept coming back to certain words that stood out as being particularly relevant to us. These were: 

  1. Expertise – we’re pleased to work alongside people with a range of expertise who each play their part in adding value to our customers and the business. (Adam’s post explains our experts’ skillsets).  
  1. Craft – this is closely linked with ‘expertise’ but it’s more about how we create things. We feel this word highlights the skilful and rigorous process behind creating, fine-tuning, optimising, and constantly iterating products, services and experiences.

We wove both words into the wording of our purpose. Here’s where we got to: 

We’re experts who care about the craft of building valuable products and services.  

We partner with experts within Co-op to focus on the outcomes that matter most to create value for our customers, members and communities, and in turn our Co-op. 

Encouraged behaviours tell us how we’ll fulfil our purpose 

While we were working towards articulating our purpose (the ‘what we are here to do’), we found ourselves considering the behaviours we need to encourage – in other words, the culture we need to nourish – to be able to do what we are here to do.  

We ended up with a set of 3.  

  1. Experimentation – we believe that giving people permission to experiment will help us learn more, more quickly and add more value.  
  1. Humility – so that everybody feels comfortable to contribute in a blameless environment.  
  1. Bravery – so that we can continue to support new and traditional business areas adopt practices that will help them thrive.  
Expanding on what we mean by ‘experimentation’, ‘humility’ and ‘bravery’ at Co-op Experience

These behaviours are Co-op Experience team-specific whereas our Ways of being are a set of expected behaviours across the whole of Co-op. 

We’ll revisit our purpose shortly and we won’t shy away from adapting it when we need to. We’ll share the work we’ve been doing on the Co-op Experience strategy shortly.

Lucy Tallon

Head of Design

Co-op Digital is now the ‘Co-op Experience’ team

The group of teams that most people know as Co-op Digital is now called ‘Co-op Experience’. This week, we brought the following interconnected and complementary expertise together under this new umbrella:  

  • Design, Content and Customer Experience (CX) – those who create strategic visions for future Co-op experiences and design journeys that deliver positive outcomes for customers and colleagues 
  • Product – those who align the customer and business strategies to set priorities that drive the outcomes we need to achieve  
  • Delivery – those who craft a culture and environment for a team to deliver better experiences 
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – those who create the very first interaction our customers have with our products and services 
  • Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) – those who carry out experiments within an experience to achieve better outcomes for customers and the business 

The reorganisation will give us more opportunities to work more closely. For example, it will be easier to embed experimentation and measurement from our CRO experts deeper into our product teams; and our Content Design community and SEO specialists have many complementary skills we can explore. Ultimately, our goal is to strengthen the team so we can improve customer, colleague and community experiences. 

We sit within the Digital Technology area of the Co-op and continue to work alongside our engineers in multi-disciplinary teams.

Restructuring to reflect (and enable more) growth 

Co-op Digital was set up back in 2016. Since then, we’ve grown exponentially and it’s been essential to reconsider our structure so that we can continue to grow and maximise the value we deliver in our products and services. As with all organisations, what worked to get us here won’t necessarily take us to where we want to be.  

The thinking behind the changes 

Our team name should indicate what we do. We’re still ‘digital’ in how we work, but the multiple possible interpretations make the term unhelpful.  

Our focus is on outcomes (the overarching aim) rather than outputs (for example, a straight-forward delivery checklist of features). An outcome can be achieved in many ways, and the solution is not always digital.  

Here’s a real example from our Membership team. 

An output is an instruction, such as: add Apple Pay to the Co-op Membership registration flow.  

It doesn’t give us much opportunity to explore how much value it may add. Its success can only be judged whether it was delivered. (It was? Ok, check ✅) 

However, we focused on an outcome. We wanted to: increase conversion by 10% in our Membership registration flow for new, in-store customers.  

The team wasn’t dictated to and instead, it was free to explore different solutions that may have been quicker, cheaper and more impactful than simply adding Apple Pay. 

In this particular case, we delivered the outcome by iterating paper leaflets in-store. The solution did not involve ‘digital’ at all. 

Our work is not bound by screens and apps. Crafting valuable services and positive experiences for our customers, colleagues and communities is the highest priority for this group of teams. This is why ‘Experience’ now better reflects what we’re striving for. 

Adam Warburton

Chief Product Officer 

Life as a QA at Co-op

I’m Rich, I’m a Quality Analyst at Co-op in our engineering department, where I’ve been working for the last 3 and a half years.  I’ve been a QA (aka Tester) for around 16 years, which when I look at it in writing makes me feel old as dust! People choose to work at Co-op for a number of reasons, but for me it happened after a friend approached me and said ‘you’ll love how we make software’.

Why QAs are different at Co-op

As a QA it’s easy to feel like your role is an afterthought in the engineering process. You build your product and then someone sits in a corner isolated and tests it, right? But after speaking to my friend and going through the interview process at Co-op, my head was turned and I learned that things were very different here.

QAs work as part of the team, right from the start. They are seen as coaches of quality and involved in the development process from the initial problem space, through to elaboration, design, development (with testing throughout) to release. Our goal is to embed quality into every stage of the development lifecycle, reduce feedback loops, and do the right thing for the right reason.

I’ve never had to sit in a corner and wait for a developer to just send a piece of work at me I had no idea about with a mandate of ‘test this’ or ‘put some automation round that’.  Everybody appreciates the part testing plays and how important it is to get it right.

Part of a community

We have a number of vibrant communities within engineering that come together regularly to help better each other. We share what we are working on through show and tells, pass on knowledge with lightening talks, we have a code club (where people come together and do katas), book club, video club. I’ve never worked anywhere that has such an inclusive collaborative approach to software development.

As a rule, we mob – this is where the whole team works on the same thing, at the same time, in the same space, and at the same computer. I spend a lot of my time as a QA challenging developers as to why we are taking a certain approach, getting them to ask each other ‘are we doing the right thing here?’.

Something to be proud of

When I first joined Co-op, I was working on our funeral arrangement application for our frontline Funeralcare colleagues. Our team’s job was to make software and implement features that made our colleagues’ jobs easier – saving them time which they could better use to support grieving families.

This was amplified even more in recent times due to the challenges faced because of the pandemic. The new app features that the team delivered for our colleagues during this time were vital to their roles and to keeping our colleagues safe. Throughout the peak of the pandemic our core application had zero down time, something we can be extremely proud of.

Looking forwards

For me personally, Co-op is a fantastic company to work for, because our purpose is much more than just making money. We’re dedicated to building a greener future, to helping local communities, charitable causes, and having a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We make software the right way, for the right reasons. And I’m lucky to work with some superbly talented, kind and thoughtful people in a place where everyone can be their true self.

We’re hiring at the moment – so to see all of our new vacancies and register for job alerts click the button below.

Hello from Engineering

I’m Gemma Cameron, the Engineering Practice Lead. I look after the Engineering Practice and Community; making sure we have great engineers at Co-op. We’re going to be sharing more content about the products and services we’re working on throughout 2022, but from more of a technical angle. They’ll be a little different to what we’ve previously shared on the Co-op Digital blog, but just as insightful. All of our Engineering blog posts will be tagged in the engineering category, so you can easily find them too.

Engineers play a huge part in our Technology team.

Our community is made up of Quality Analysts, Frontend, Software and Platform Engineers who work remotely from all over the UK (or in our Manchester / Eastleigh offices if they chose to). We work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary, agile product teams and currently have around 60 engineers across 15 different teams.

In our Mega CoP, we have an update from our Head of Engineering Danielle Haugedal-Wilson, lots of breaks for cups of tea, breakout sessions, lightning talks, and group chats. The group chats are a recent addition from us all working remotely. With small groups of 6 or so engineers, which changes every month, we get to know each other and what we’re working on. This helps us connect across the community on a more personal level, and helps put names to faces. We do this over Microsoft Teams and tend to use Slack more for chatting asynchronously.

Looking back on 2021

As the year closes, we celebrated our last Engineering Community of Practice get-together on 17 December. We wore our festive hats, we had a panto, a brew and a natter, some coding fun and even poetry! All entirely remote.

Join us at Co-op

We’re currently hiring Engineering Managers to join our community, so if you’re an experienced engineer who wants to concentrate on career coaching (line management), recruitment and technical training of teams, click here to find out more and apply. This is an engineering leadership role where you’ll also be involved in shaping and setting the strategy and direction for Engineering at our Co-op.

We’re growing our Engineering community in 2022, and are looking to hire over 50 new colleagues from apprentice up to leadership level. If you’re interested in working with us, head over to our Work With Us page to see what’s available right now, or fill in this form to register your interest and we’ll let you know when new roles are advertised.

2021: remote-first, but business as usual 

This time last year, I think we all imagined that working from home so regularly would be temporary. But here we are, a year on. The Digital Product and Design team is not fully remote like we were for most of 2020, but we are a remote-first team now.   

Although this has had its downsides, we’ve navigated the shift well. We’ve continued to iterate our processes and adapt our tools and, if anything, we’ve become a more flexible, pragmatic, impactful team. This hasn’t been easy though, and while we’ve continued to deliver for Co-op customers and members, we’ve also had to deliver for each other. We check in with each other more often to help balance the stresses and strains of the outside world with the ones inside Co-op.  

Our colleague happiness survey, Talkback, shows 90% of colleagues feel they can have open and honest conversations; 95% of people feel we have an environment where they can be themselves, and 98% feel their manager role-models a healthy balance between their work and home life. These results reflect the open, honest culture we strive to create – we all contribute to this culture, so we can all be proud.  

To everyone in the Digital Product and Design team, and to all our close collaborators across Engineering, Delivery and the wider Co-op, thank you for all your hard work and kindness this year. It’s been tough but rewarding, and there’s a lot to look forward to in 2022. 

Adam Warburton

Chief Product Officer 


Operational Innovation team 

In Operational Innovation we use technology to simplify tasks for Food store colleagues.  

After months of remote research, we’ve loved getting back into stores and speaking to colleagues in person ❤️  

This year we: 

  • released several improvements to the Date Code app, reducing the number of date checks colleagues need to carry out 
  • launched the News and Mags app, to save 2.7 million sheets of paper and reduce leakage in newspaper and magazine returns  
  • started new discoveries into the even more thorny store problems such as leakage, colleague safety, and deliveries 

We also became a permanent part of the Retail Support Centre following the end of the Leading the way programme. Thank you to all our colleagues past and present who helped us get here! 

Elisa Pasceri (Lead designer) and Rachel Hand (Lead user researcher) 


Online Services team  

We exist to help teams: 

  • create, test and iterate quicker 
  • create coherent experiences  
  • save time and money  
  • focus on meeting their customer’s needs 

This year: 

We’ve optimised journeys 

We’ve used search engine optimisation (SEO) and experimentation to improve user journeys, get more people to the site and meet business goals across Co-op. We’ve:  

  • used a/b testing to deliver £6 million in incremental revenue 
  • helped 26,000 new members sign-up 
  • increased web enquiries by 7,000   
  • understood what people are searching for to increase traffic from unpaid sources (organic sources) by 40%  
  • used a Google Maps location management tool to generate 20,000 new calls a month for Funeralcare 

And in 2022 we want to do even more using paid activity, store roll-outs and bolder tests that will give us more insights. 

We’ve built, maintained and enhanced Co-op’s digital foundations 

This includes: 

  • designing and building our own blog on coop.co.uk to make it easier and quicker for us to update and maintain – saving Co-op money and improving our search engine optimisation performance 
  • making our cookie banner clearer and more transparent for users so they can make informed choices  
  • changing and improving how and where we host coop.co.uk making it scalable, quicker and more reliable  
Our new blog on coop.co.uk

We’ve launched the Experience Library

Our Experience Library

The Co-op Experience Library is a collection of guidelines, tools and resources to help us create better customer experiences at Co-op.  

It’s a reinvention of the Co-op Design System, iterated based on what we’ve learnt from colleagues. By understanding how the design system was being used we were able to: 

  • learn what was missing and focus on what was needed 
  • work with other experts, teams and business units to include a broader range of topics, for example new accessibility and search engine optimisation sections  
  • communicate in the open, share what we’re doing and regularly get feedback from colleagues 

It also helped us prioritise what to work on next: form guidelines and patterns.  

Blog post: Introducing the Co-op Experience Library 


Digital Engagement and Loyalty  

The Digital Engagement and Loyalty portfolio (previously Member and Customer) re-organised ourselves this year, adding Co-operate to the fold and building a new team around improving the membership experience. We’re now 5 product teams (Co-op App, Personalised Offers, Co-op Account, Co-operate and Membership Experience) working to make Co-op a brand that inspires loyalty.  

We’ve delivered valuable features… including the most-requested feature in our app reviews (adding your membership card to your digital wallet), an easier way to become a member (paying via Apple/Google) and ensuring Co-op Accounts are accessible to all (earning a zero issues report in testing).  

We’ve contributed to the success of the wider business… by delivering millions in incremental sales via the personalised offers programme, driving 10% of ecommerce sales via a new in-app promo, and making it easier to checkout online, so that signed-in users spend more and convert 35% more often. 

We’ve helped deliver Co-op’s vision of co-operating for a fairer world by making it easy for 1.2 million members to select a local cause to support with just one click. We’ve also: 

  • connected the Local Community Fund with Co-operate, our online community centre, to help more than 10,000 local groups apply for funding and access wider support 
  • introduced a new volunteering service to help people find opportunities locally  
  • encouraged almost 250,000 people to engage in communities 
  • showcased relevant opportunities to participate and support our community missions locally 
Our new volunteering service

And we’ve paid down important technical debt… by switching our identity provider (a huge endeavour that’s reduced fraud, whilst causing barely a ripple to the user experience) and introducing a new Membership API Gateway that makes the way we share membership information easier to maintain, more secure and quicker to extend when new opportunities arise.  

Looking forwards to 2022 we’ve been working with our stakeholders across the business to set shared objectives and priorities. We’ve been using decision stacks to unite teams from different areas (including marketing, commercial, CRM, and data science) around a set of priorities with KPIs that we think will have the greatest impact. It’s been fun to work with colleagues with different perspectives and build diverse thinking and expertise into our plans.


Customer Experience Strategy team 

We set up the Customer Experience (CX) Strategy team. We’ve been well-received so far. 

Delivering financial value through CX strategy   

We identified the funeral arrangement to probate journey as somewhere we could prove the value of our CX strategy. Why? Because you never need one without the other.  So, we moved probate to the right place in the online Funeralcare journey and improved the content. 

Comparing the 16 weeks since the content went live to the previous 16 weeks, there has been:  

  • 49% increase in probate leads  
  • 50% increase in bookings (where we quote for probate)  
  • 55% increase in number of probate sales – an extra £140k per year 

Enabling teams to move from strategy to delivery  

We’ve been supporting teams in the wider organisation to adopt a customer experience approach to designing services. We’ve been documenting them too so that guidance and support will be available after we leave the project. 

We’ve co-designed various tools with Co-op Power including:   

  • A service design toolkit for the Power product development team 
  • A product definition canvas focused on customer needs 
Here’s the service design toolkit for Co-op Power

Working with Nisa to connect business and experience strategies   

We improved the customer experience for Nisa’s independent retailers (Co-op acquired Nisa in 2018). Our work is a good example of building a vision framework based on a detailed understanding of how customers interact with Nisa across each touchpoint. Ultimately, a customer’s experience is the sum of all the individual decisions the business makes, the systems they use and the processes they follow. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in helping us learn about, understand and improve each tiny part.  

Image shows the connection between principles, recommendation, strategic priorities and the experience vision.

Customer Experience Day events  

We marked CX Day 2021 with a series of CX best practice talks covering Insurance, Funeralcare and Food. Across 3 days, over 200 colleagues watched the sessions showing there’s an appetite from colleagues across Co-op to learn more about what customer experience is, why it’s important and how it can be improved for our members, customers and colleagues.  

A screengrab from one of the events

This year our focus has been on optimisation. 

  • We have redesigned our Co-op Wills Writing service using web analytics, data from our existing platform, and user research with the aim of improving conversion rates and reducing lead times. We are launching soon and estimate that the time spent drafting a will be reduced by up to 1 hour.  
  • We’ve improved our end-to-end conversion rate by 46% on the Co-op Probate service by optimising our content and creating 2 different journeys: one for people looking for a quote, another for those seeking general advice

We also created a new digital lasting power of attorney service (not publicly available at the moment). 


Customer Platform Service team  

This year, we restructured, and we’ve made great progress in re-branding and simplifying processes and tools like our Statuspage, Service Catalogue, Runbooks and Impact matrices to optimise how we work. 

This year we’re proud of the work we’ve done to: 

  • Introduce standard change which means we have cut manual effort to review and approve changes by up to 70%. Our Change success rate across all products was 98.6%! 
  • Offer 24/7 support for Food eCommerce web-platform and Funeralcare customers  
  • Reduce costs by approximately £50K by decommissioning the archaic server for Membership wallet 
  • achieve a record run of 110 consecutive days without a major incident in some products! Work in Problem Management ensured a reduction in major incidents by 32% compared to 2020. 

Nasir Qureshi and Poonum Bhana, Service analysts 


Inclusive meeting guidelines 

In 2021, many organisations have been hybrid working. This is probably why our ‘inclusive meeting guidelines’ resonated with so many people. We wrote them to try and improve the way we collaborate in person and remotely. Read more on why and how we created them.  

Jake’s tweet generated over 30,000 engagements including many industry heavyweights like Lauren Currie and Andy Budd

We appeared in ‘Leading Designs’ weekly newsletter compiled by Clearleft, as well as in Public Digital’s newsletter. Joanne Schofield and Suhail Hussain presented the guidelines to the design community at the Department for Education. 


Food Customer Experience

There are now 1,600 Co-op Food stores that accept online orders through our ecommerce site, shop.coop.co.uk This time last year, only 760 of our stores were taking part, up from 32 stores in 2019. 

Given the increase in numbers of participating stores, it’s not surprising that 2021 has been busy. We: 

  • made it easier for shoppers to see which products are included in deals 
  • made it possible for the Merchandising team to edit product titles and descriptions  
  • added a ‘Top deals’ page 
  • added a contact form to the site to help customers report order issues saving our contact centre colleagues time 
  • made it possible for shoppers to use Apple Pay on service 
  • made stock availability visible to customers and offered alternatives on out-of-stock products 
  • trialled ‘delivery within an hour’ 
  • still maintain crucial operational services like Shifts and How Do I for our colleagues 
Our shop.coop.co.uk page showing some of the top deals

Funeralcare’s Core Transformation and Guardian team 

Guardian is our colleague-facing digital service. We designed and built it in-house so our Funeralcare colleagues could spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with clients. Since its roll-out in 2018, we’ve supported the maintainance and we’ve continued to listen to colleagues and support the great work they do by iterating Guardian. This year, improvements include: 
 

  • Adding a Contract transfer system so colleagues can manage the collection of someone who has died from the police and hospitals. The system also makes sure each party is invoiced correctly. 
  • More accurate tracking of ashes so funeral directors can check the deceased’s ashes are collected within mandatory 3 days and reduce administration overhead. 
  • Creating a Direct Cremation functionality so colleagues can easily track whether the mandatory cremation paperwork is complete 

Our team has also replaced existing architecture to connect the website front-end to the new Microsoft product supporting the Funeralcare strategic systems upgrade programme known as ‘core transformation’. 


Funeralcare’s Customer team 

Image shows the pay for a funeral service

This year, we’ve created: 

  • a new online payment journey that has allowed over 2,500 clients to pay their funeral balance online, saving both clients and Funeralcare colleagues time 
  • a new regulatory compliant online pricing component on 900 branch pages allowing clients to understand and compare local Funeralcare prices 
  • a trial to help understand how we can help clients make appointments with branches, through the website 

User research was at the heart of all our work again, with some emotional sessions. All participants reassured us they want to help us make services better and enjoyed the research, tears and all.  

We’ve also changed a lot in 2021 – halfway through the year we introduced an entirely new engineering team. 


Responsible design: more important than ever

Over the past decade, digital delivery teams have adopted the mindset of ‘moving fast and breaking things’ and we’ve reached a point where a lot has broken. We’ve spoken a lot over the years about designing the right thing in the right way, but we need to keep adapting and changing what ‘the right way’ means in the context of the challenges we face in our communities and globally. We’re having more conversations around ‘responsible’ design and this will continue to be at the forefront of our minds going into 2022.