Managing queues inside and outside Co-op stores during the pandemic 

When the UK Government announced lockdown on 23 March this year, many of our teams pivoted quickly to respond to a new set of priorities. A new team was formed to work out how Co-op Food stores could safely and efficiently manage customer traffic inside stores, and queues outside.  

The team came from different areas of the business so our different expertise meant we had varying priorities and different ways of working.  

Together, we moved quickly to learn about the problem and get something in place as soon as possible. It felt like an essential piece of work that we needed to get right for the sake of our colleagues’ and customers’ safety, as well as the need to keep communities well-fed.  

Here’s how we approached the research and what we learnt during the process.    

Store colleagues self-organised  

We quickly learnt that brilliant colleagues across our 2,000 stores were managing queues themselves – which sometimes might not have been great for their safety and it meant fewer were on hand on the shop floor to help customers. Colleagues were also trying to manage customers’ panicked behaviour.  

We held an ideation session to align ourselves 

Early on in the session, it was clear that all ideas had limitations, but moving quickly and getting value to our colleagues and customers as soon as possible was the most important thing. The team adopted a ‘test and learn’ mindset – even those who were unfamiliar to digital ways of working. By the end of the session, everyone understood how we‘d approach testing these ideas.   

Testing signs from head office in stores 

Stores had already been sent the signs below to display with rules and advice on them.

Unsurprisingly, using signs was one of the ideas that came out of the ideation session but the size, the shape, the positioning wasn’t considered with this specific message in mind. 

We visited different types of stores, at different times, to understand how customers interacted with the signs, to learn what was and wasn’t working. 

Customers didn’t notice the signs   

As they were the signs weren’t enough because: 

  • they didn’t stand out amongst marketing  
  • they were positioned differently at each store and customers   
  • customers were preoccupied by their stressed and/or anxiety and were therefore less observant  
  • we were assuming customers would be actively looking for the information themselves 

Through regular playbacks, we shared photos, quotes and talked through examples with our newly-formed team. Working openly like this meant there was no resistance to trying a different solution.  

Attempt 2: testing digital solutions from external providers   

In a matter of days, we’d written a set of requirements based on what we’d learnt from our observations with the signs from head office; the business had come back with 3 types of digital solutions, from 3 different suppliers that we could now trial in stores.  

These were:  

  • a digital screen attached to the ceiling 
  • a freestanding digital screen 
  • a traffic light system  

 Each of them had:  

  • a sensor/camera to detect customers  
  • a counting system to count customers entering and leaving the store 
  • technology to allow colleagues to manage and override capacity if they needed to
  • a visual prompt to tell customers to stop and enter   

Agreeing success criteria  

Together, our newly-formed team agreed that a good solution:  

  • would count customers accurately  
  • would help store colleagues feel confident and safe 
  • would not significantly interrupt the customer journey 

So we focussed on customer behaviour during our store visits and used surveys to ask colleagues how they felt about the system. The data and number of resets helped us learn about the system accuracy.  

Best of the bunch

The traffic light system best met customer and colleagues needs because: 

  • it’s a system that is instantly recognisable 
  • it could be positioned at eye level 
  • there was no information to read 
  • the sounds and lights worked together 

 And we moved forward with it.  

Testing 2 versions of the traffic light system   

We’d only quickly validated the concept and tested 2 variations of the system in trial stores.   

  1. A freestanding traffic light. 
  2. A traffic light that was fixed to shop doors which opened and closed them.  

Observations told us the fixed door traffic light was most effective because it took the responsibility of deciding whether to enter the store away from customers and helped colleagues enforce rules on numbers in store by automatically stopping too many customers entering.  

Traffic light testing - fixed

Rolling it out to seasonal stores  

Based on our research and new government advice Co-op execs gave the go-ahead to install a fixed traffic light in stores where demand would be highest over the summer. The next focus is to work out all the practicalities of getting it into stores, how it works with current systems and the time it will take to rollout. 

Another team will continue to observe and learn from its performance and take it forward. 

Pandemic. Safety. Urgency.

This piece of work was challenging – we’re working remotely most of the time and visiting stores for contextual research during lockdown which was sometimes nervy. It was exhausting – we were working so quickly, having to communicate well so our new team understood each step and so that nobody felt excluded. But it also felt very worthwhile. At the beginning of lockdown, many teams around Co-op sprang into action, pivoting from roadmaps, hell-bent on supporting colleagues on the frontline. This was one of those projects. Our team added value and learnt a lot. 

Cassie Keith
Content designer

5 thoughts on “Managing queues inside and outside Co-op stores during the pandemic 

  1. Mark Beddingfield July 22, 2020 / 2:49 pm

    I regularly use a shop at Audenshaw and the traffic light was used, it freed up a member of staff and was diligently observed (when i was there) by shoppers. I was disappointed to see it disappear recently and think its a good addition. At times of low foot fall it will just be green, but red if busy to avoid overcrowding during COVID.

    The fact its automated and recognisible as stop and go is simple and well understood.

  2. Receipt Monster August 22, 2020 / 3:21 pm

    Not quite covid related but hopefully will go to the right place as you’re the digital team!

    There’s a bug in your quick shop receipt emails. Recently did a shop and the total on the receipt was £1.50 then the individual items + bags + delivery fee – promotions!

    Some dodgy maths going on I think! But worrying if this is happening to many customers.

  3. Receipt Monster August 22, 2020 / 3:22 pm

    Apologies that should be £1.50 *more* than the individual summed totals

    • amymcnichol2 August 24, 2020 / 9:32 am

      Thanks! I’ve passed this on to the product team.

  4. SCW October 6, 2020 / 11:29 am

    Pity, nobody actually checked that the Helmsley store actually has a good mobile signal before installation of the system. Just use a manual switch much more suitable for the location

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