The principles that guide our content design and communications in Funeralcare

Becoming a funeral director at Co-op Funeralcare is not something people go into half-heartedly. Our colleagues in this front-line role meet recently-bereaved people daily and it demands a level of care and empathy from them (especially during the pandemic). They also need to be able to communicate clearly and calmly with people who could be in an emotionally heightened state.

The Digital part of the Co-op Funeralcare team supports colleagues in funeral homes in many ways but in this post we’re looking specifically at the language we use when we engage with clients online. It must reflect the clarity, kindness and reassurance a client would get from speaking to one of our colleagues.  

In short, coop.co.uk/funeralcare is the online voice of our funeral directors.  

We created 4 principles to guide our content design and communications decisions.  

When we write for Co-op Funeralcare, we are:  

1. Down to earth  

‘Good’ content design opens up what we’re communicating so that it’s accessible to, and understood by, as many of our (potential) clients as possible.  

This means we work hard to remove barriers in several ways. 

  • We reduce the chances of misinterpretation by being very deliberate with the language we choose. For example, we say “he died” not “he passed away” because euphemisms can be misunderstood – especially when English is not someone’s first language. Defined by Collins Dictionary as “a polite expression used to refer to things which people may find upsetting to talk about”, euphemisms about death do not soften the blow but they can lead to confusion. A bereavement counsellor explained the terror of a child when they were told their sister had “passed out”. Months before, their mother had died and her death had been referred to as her “passing away”. The child had assumed the same had happened to their sister. The language we use is informed by years of working alongside funeral directors and research. 
  • We lower the cognitive load by explaining terms specific to funeralcare at the point the customer needs to understand them – words like ‘embalming’ and ‘disbursements’. Providing definitions within the content means we save them the unnecessary frustration of looking them up, and – from a business point of view – giving them everything they need means they’re less likely to leave our site.     

We say: If someone has died and you need our help, you can call us 24 hours a day. We’ll bring the person into our care at a time that suits you, then guide you through everything that needs to be done. 

We don’t say: We’re sorry your loved one passed away. Please accept our condolences. 

Example of our down to earth tone from our website

2. Empathetic 

Most clients who make contact with us shortly after someone has died, are grieving. However, we have to be careful with our tone because they’re not coming to us for an outpouring of sympathy, they come to us because – as experienced funeralcare providers – we understand what they’re likely going through and we are here to provide a service. Being empathetic through our language online means giving customers what they need to know clearly, quickly and sensitively.   

We say: The first thing we do is listen to you, then advise, guide, and inspire you to create the perfect funeral arrangement.  

We don’t say: We’ve been arranging funerals for more than 100 years. 

3. Reassuring  

Dealing with the death of someone is often a distressing time and we cannot heal anyone’s grief. We’ve found the best reassurance we can give is through clear, concise guidance to make the task of organising a funeral as painless as possible. Just as a dentist wouldn’t lean over you with a drill and say “this is going to hurt”, (of course it is) we focus on conveying that we’re knowledgeable and experienced, trustworthy and kind to try and remove any anxieties a customer might have around leaving such an important service in our hands.  

We say: Our team will support you from the moment you get in touch with us. We’ll help you through the funeral arrangements, on the day and even after the funeral. 

We don’t say: We know how difficult and disorientating it can be when someone you love dies. 

A reassuring tone avoids adding to the overwhelm

  4. Inspiring  

Research shows that in recent years, attitudes towards funerals in the UK have begun to change and personal touches that reflect the person’s personality or interests are more popular. Our tone and language around the extra touches we can offer should be inspiring – it should focus on possibilities and what can be done.  

For example, the hearse doesn’t need to be a traditional hearse. It could be a tractor, a motorcycle hearse or a converted VW camper van. We even have a poppy covered hearse and one with a rainbow flag. Families can choose one that best reflects who the person was. Or they can keep it traditional. When clients tell us what they want, we do our best to make it happen, and it’s important this message comes through on our site. 

We say: When we arrange a tailored funeral with you, the first thing we do is listen. Then we’ll advise, guide, and inspire you to create a tailored funeral arrangement. Tell us what you want, and we’ll do our best to make it happen. 

We don’t say: There are three different funeral types to choose from. 

Content intended to inspire from coop.co.uk/funeralcare

A caveat: the spoken word is different to the written word  

The 4 principles above guide how we write for Co-op Funeralcare’s online platforms. Although in the most part they reflect how our front-line colleagues in our funeral homes speak to a customer, there’s a difference between the spoken and written word and it feels important to say that this post is not an attempt to influence the language or tone of our brilliant colleagues.  

When we communicate through spoken words, we have body language (or at least intonation) that contributes to how we convey and understand a message. So for example, mirroring someone else’s language is empathetic and if a customer says “passed away”, a colleague is likely to say that too (often subconsciously). But with the written word we rely solely on the clarity of words on a page which makes it important that we understand our users and design content for people coming to terms with loss.

We’ll continue to develop these principles over time. 

Helen Lawson

Lead content designer

Reflecting on one year of remote working at Co-op Digital

The Co-op Digital team started working from home (WFH) a year ago today. Full lockdown hadn’t been announced at this point but looking back through our Slack archives, we were preparing for it. 

From 17 March – our first day of enforced WFH – our #general Slack channel lit up with small gestures of support. Becky Arrowsmith asked which non-work/ interest-led channels we have. Nate Langley shared a Zoom link “if anyone fancies a chat” (first of many). Mike Ingham suggested donating what we might have spent on lunch at the office to The Trussell Trust, and there are several mental health support sites shared. We also came together to make a list of acceptable behaviour and ways of working to keep in mind ‘over the coming weeks’. 

As we’ve adapted, there have been fewer, less-frequent messages offering support, but the level of kindness has been constant.  

We’ve been reflecting on one whole year of remote working.
Here’s what we’ve learnt. 

Co-op Digital team ❤️


In the past year we’ve learnt the importance of… 

Balance and wellbeing 

All the wellbeing initiatives in the world mean nothing unless they’re accompanied by an adjustment in expectations of what people can actually be expected to do and deliver. It’s important that we all cut each other some slack. 
– Hannah Horton 

Even after a year of not really going anywhere there’s still a perception we have to travel to properly unwind. But I’ve learnt that just taking time off to do the things I like to do – away from screens – is an amazing investment in my own wellbeing and an energy boost. – Rachael Shah  

3 of Rachael’s photos showing her time off. Left: long shadows in nature. Middle: lunch outside. Right: birdwatching

If you’re kind to yourself and others, you can handle more than you thought possible. This year has been hellish but in surviving it, I feel more resilient than ever. – Molly Whitehead-Jones 

A walk in the woods in the sunshine is the best thing I’ve found to boost my mood. – Helen Murray  

Helen walking her dog in the woods

The priorities I had pre-pandemic are no longer a high priority in my life. I think that we have all had to re-evaluate what is most important to us and realise that the most important things in life are family, health and happiness which you cannot put a price on. – Georgie Jacobs  

I’ve learnt to prioritise my own wellbeing. I can’t help and support other people when I’m not in a good place myself.  – Stewart Livingstone 

Acknowledging the situation 

I joined Co-op 5 days before the office closed. I’d been in a remote-only role for the 3 years leading up to this point. I’ve learnt that remote working during a pandemic is not the same as remote working. Like many, I’ve found the added constraints and demands taxing. Remote working after the pandemic will be easier. I’m looking forward to a 2 or 3 day remote/ office mix. – Craig Reay  

I’ve learnt how important it is to keep connected with each other and to talk about how we’re actually feeling. It’s easy to forget that everyone’s in the same boat. – Sundeep Singh 

Speak out when you’re struggling because others are probably feeling the same pain. I brought up video call fatigue with the team and it started the conversation that helped us change how we approach mobbing and helped us reduce the length of meetings. – Joe Fenton  

It’s OK to say this is not OK. Humans, communities and society were never designed to live like this. As a working parent, I’ve found it a comfort to say “this is not OK” (often while simultaneously trying to shush a small child, remove a cat from a houseplant, teach multiplication, manage a constant flow of meals and snacks, and present some semblance of a coherent argument in the middle of a meeting). It doesn’t make it go away, but acknowledging the rubbishness is better than pretending things are fine. – Hannah Horton 

You’re taking video calls in your home so it’s not going to resemble an office environment. There’ll always be someone loading the dishwasher or putting the kettle on. Or, if you’re really lucky, the cat will stick its backside in your face when you’re on camera. It’s nice to get a glimpse into life beyond work. – Victoria Mitchell  

Human connection 

It’s easy on video calls to just get straight down to business, but while we’re not in an office we miss those informal, How are you? The kids? The pets? The house? Those are the things that help us build relationships with one another – the things that help us feel not alone. Set aside time in the agenda for a catch up. We’re not robots. – Gail Lyon  

I’ve learnt I *do* need to be around other people after all. – Graham Thompson  

It’s sad when people leave and you don’t get the chance to give them a hug and buy them a drink. – Helen Murray 

The perception of software development can be that it’s done by typing code furiously alone, so in theory, that would translate fine to remote working. But that’s not the case. We’ve missed talking to each other and to non-engineers, drawing pictures on paper, our serendipitous chats over coffee, and sharing a keyboard. These things don’t translate so easily to remote working, but here’s how we’ve been trying. – Caroline Hatwell  

Seeing some different faces – even on video calls – gives you a boost. Running sessions with different teams and joining catch-ups with people I don’t usually see has been one way of getting out of a lull. – Robyn Golding 

Think back to who you used to chat to in the office and check your direct message history. When was the last time you spoke to them? – Rachael Shah   

Building and protecting boundaries 

“No” is a difficult word to say but it’s also very difficult (often impossible) to do everything people ask of you. I’ve learnt how to say “no, not right now” or “no, I can’t do that at all” and generally, people don’t get offended. They just accept it. – Becca Stocker  

A meeting invite is an invitation for your time. You don’t have to accept it and you’re free to suggest alternative ways of doing meetings. Having a-sync meetings has reduced my need to attend lots of meetings and gives me more flexibility to get things done. – Stewart Livingstone 

While working at home is a godsend in many practical ways, it also lures you into always being in work mode – checking Slack way into the night and putting pressure on yourself to do more. – Rachel Machin  

Celebrating the small stuff 

That sometimes the best way to get through difficult times is one day – even one hour – at a time. – Molly Whitehead-Jones

I’ve got a new appreciation for dry shampoo, elastication, and how small asks of kindness and thoughtfulness can mean so much. – Joanne Schofield  

I realised why I’d avoided following in my parents’ footsteps to become a teacher. But having my 2 boys at home with me has also been an unexpected joy. The amount of ham and cheese toasties and pickled onion Monster Munch we’ve got through is obscene. – Rachel Machin  

One of many ham and cheese toasties and a packet of Monster Munch for Rachel’s son

In the past year of remote working I’ve learnt that: 

  • making pasta is easier than it looks and is really very rewarding.  
  • I can have bongos delivered the next day (without remembering ordering them).  
  • SAD lights do work.  
  • I can still spend all my wages without shops or restaurants being open. 
    Also, that I could not have been more wrong a year ago when I thought this would never affect us. – Helen Lawson  

Showing gratitude helps keep spirits up. I started a ‘Thursday appreciation’ thread where we thank each other and acknowledge even the smallest gestures of help and support. 😊  – Rachael Shah   

A screen shot of a
‘Thursday appreciation thread’ from April 2020

Working as best we can 

Before lockdown, we were all so fixated on having walls and a team space, but we can make it work online. Miro has been brilliant for that. I still feel like a beginner with some of its features, but pondering if we will permanently replace our walls with a living Miro board even when we are back in the office. – Kim Morley  

I now know what it feels like to be peed on whilst delivering a training session. – DaveCunningham 

I miss post-its on walls. Miro boards are OK for remote collaboration but you don’t get those really useful spontaneous conversations around the wall. – Helen Murray  

While everyone is remote, the playing field is level – it’s easier in many ways to collaborate and ensure everyone gets the opportunity to contribute. – Victoria Mitchell  

Working remotely might have made me more confident. Professionally, I’ve had one of my best years ever – I’ve spoken at conferences, recorded talks and led content conferences from my living room. I’ve pushed myself in my work but I’m wondering if that’s because I’ve felt braver being at home. – Helen Lawson  

Borrowing ways of working from the Digital team

I’m a Lead People Partner on the Food People team and I am responsible for Food stores in the north of England. Around 3 years ago, in my last role, I started looking into how we might improve Co-op colleagues’ experiences of our performance process – this led to conversations with the Digital team about how user research can help understand what colleagues really need. It also sparked my curiosity about how Digital teams work.    

Since then I’ve: 

  • spent a week working on Performance for Stores with Digital colleagues James BoardwellHannah Horton and Fiona Linton-Forrest. As a result, the process is now simpler and we removed performance ratings for over 30,000 colleagues.   
  • brought delivery manager Stewart Livingstone in to help us bring different ways of working to parts of the People team.  
  • reconsidered how we communicate with colleagues thanks to regular catch-ups with Hannah Horton.  

Each of these people deliver digital products and services through agile ways of working and this really interested me. It felt like a way to be more inclusive, more democratic and in many ways more efficient. I wondered if the approach could work for some of the teams I am part of.  

Photograph from the week I spent with some of the Digital team. James Boardwell left, Fiona Linton-Forrest on the right

For the last year the Food People team has borrowed and experimented with some of the ways of working we’ve seen in the Digital team. Here are some of the things we’ve tried and the differences we’ve noticed. 

Lean coffees encourage a flatter structure and a more democratic culture  

Lean coffees’ are gatherings that have crowd-sourced agendas. Participants meet and nominate a topic – work-related or otherwise – that they’d like to talk about for a predetermined amount of time. Everyone then votes on what they’d like to hear about next and the facilitator starts the timer. We introduced lean coffee sessions into our team around a year ago and they’ve been a regular hour-long slot ever since. We’ve enjoyed them because they’ve helped us: 

  • improve morale because they give everyone a voice. We’ve heard about concerns and achievements from across the team that we might not have in a more traditional ‘top-down’ meeting  
  • become more concise when communicating – the timer pushes us to say the most important points first and stay on track with our point 
  • create a safe environment which is the first step to better transparency 
  • build and maintain relationships with colleagues (learning about teammate’s lockdown whippet brought much joy) 

We’ve chosen to have the sessions on Fridays because the positivity and the connection with colleagues that we get from them is a nice way to finish the week.  

It’s ok to be uncertain (but it does take a while to feel ok about it) 

During my time with James, Hannah and Annette I learnt about the importance of how we ask someone about something. In short, asking open questions leads us to a more accurate, less biased truth.  

When I started my current role I wanted to find out how me and my team could best support the Operational team. Before I’d spent time with James, I might have made assumptions about the challenges Operations faced, and I might have asked leading questions to elicit responses that would prove that my assumptions were correct. Perhaps that was down to some unspoken expectation of finding a definite answer immediately.   

 But an immediate answer isn’t always accurate so it’s better to sit with your uncertainty. This takes a lot of getting used to if –  like for us –  it’s not your usual way of working.  

Instead, I made sure my questions were open and worded in a way that would give honest, accurate insights. Then, rather than coming up with a plan and a to-do list, I created problem statements. For example:  

  1. How do the Operational team get access to the right people support first time? 
  1. How are we directing our energies on the areas we can impact the most?   

We’re still working on these but they have provided a real anchor for our work. We’ll continue to think about how we ask questions in the future. 
 

Ceremonies are great for visibility 

We’ve also experimented with agile ‘ceremonies’ that the Digital product and services teams  use. They’ve helped keep our teams in the loop – even those who don’t usually work together.  

Some teams have stand-ups 3 times a week which are great for visibility of what we’re all working on as well as being very inclusive. 

We hold regular ‘all hands’ sessions for the wider team too. 

Stewart introduced us to ‘retrospectives’ – dedicated time to reflect, air grievances and talk about how to improve next time. He guided us through various ways to frame the discussions (for example, things we loved, lacked and lost over a certain period of time or piece of work). 
 

Culture isn’t built overnight 

We don’t pretend to have all the answers (and we’re comfortable admitting that now) but by taking what we’ve observed from the Digital team we’ve been moving towards a more inclusive and flexible culture.  

Here we are on a Zoom call. Spot the honorary member of the team…

We’d love to hear about new ways of working you’ve adopted – what’s worked and what has flopped? 

Clare Fogden, Lead People Partner 

Co-op resources we find useful 

Ways of working  

A glossary of terms

How we improved engagement at our community of practice meet-ups

In May last year, the delivery managers (DM) decided to make some changes to our community of practice meet-ups. We think the changes have been really positive for morale and engagement.   

Our community of practice (COP) was created in 2016, back in the early days of Co-op Digital. The community included delivery managers working across the portfolio and we would meet once a week to support each other with challenges, to learn, and to share ideas and ways of working.  

Fundamentally, this hasn’t changed but we’ve recognised that it is hard to keep up momentum and – as you’d expect – engagement has fluctuated over the years. In May we acknowledged the importance of belonging to a community – especially when remote working can be isolating. We wanted to create a more consistent level of enthusiasm for our meet-ups.   

Here we are at our Christmas murder mystery party on Teams

This post is about the changes we’ve made that have worked for us. We’re sharing them in the hope it helps others in a similar position.   

Sharing the responsibility 

Honest communication within our community helped us figure out what we needed to change. As a result of our quick research, we realised we needed to share the responsibility of choosing topics, planning, preparing and running our community of practice meet-ups. Until recently, principals DMs or the Head of Delivery Cara B did all this.  

We split into groups of 3 or 4 people and we committed to organising 4 sessions per group.  

Since we started self-organising like this, we’ve had meet-ups that focus on topics like wellbeing, failure as well as empathy and inclusivity and engagement has been really good. Here’s why we think that is. 

  1. Adrenaline not pressure for organisers   

Each group shares the tasks of planning and organising the sessions and are invested in their subjects, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Together they get to choose topics and present it in a way they feel is relevant. And the facilitation is shared too meaning no one feels the pressure of running the whole thing. There’s a determination to do a good job and engage everyone (to the point of people getting a bit competitive, which is nice). Plus, DMs that don’t normally work together get a chance to get to know each other too. 

2. High quality over high quantity of sessions 

With more people sharing the responsibility, the quality of the sessions is higher because no single person is feeling fatigued with the pressure of filling an hour-long slot. Our sessions are more diverse in topic now too – more organisers means more points of view, a wider range of interests and also a bigger range of concerns. This can never not be a good thing.  

3. Interest not indifference for attendees 

Our research said that sometimes the meet-ups felt like a chore – pretty brutal. But since we started to self-organise, that hasn’t felt like the case. We’re a big community too (there are 20 of us) so sessions give us a chance to introduce ourselves over an hour, in a way that feels more natural. Each Monday afternoon, there’s always a feeling of turning up to support our friends too. 

All 3 of these subheads feed into each other: interesting, relevant content means enthusiastic attendees who are inspired to make their sessions interesting and relevant when it’s their turn to organise. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle and we don’t want it to stop. 

Strengthening ideas of ‘community’ 

Our community of practice feels stronger since we started to share responsibility for meet-ups. This of course is a very co-operative way of running things – we all own a piece of it. 

Kim Morley, Sol Byambadorj and Rachael Shah

We’re recruiting

How we’re making sure teams’ objectives align with the Co-op vision

We’ve found that although colleagues are aware of – and have often contributed towards – their immediate team’s objectives and understand how they feed into the overarching Co-op vision, there’s often less visibility around how a wider team’s work aligns with it. 

So for example, the Co-op Membership team is made up of people with expertise in Operations, Marketing, Insight and Finance, as well as us here in Digital. It’s a huge team. Each of these areas of expertise has its own set of objectives but up until recently there hasn’t been much visibility between areas of expertise. We’ve always believed it is better to be joined up than to work in silos and universal remote working has forced us to make a conscious effort to do this better.

How might we align better?

At the beginning of last summer, the product community of practice invited Martin Eriksson, (Founder of ProductTank and Mind the Product), to speak to us. He introduced us to the ‘decision stack’ – a framework intended to “connect the dots from vision and mission, through strategy, objectives, and principles to every single daily decision.” From top to bottom it asks how we are going to do something, and from bottom to top it asks why we are doing it.

It sounded like it would go some way to solving our visibility problems on the Membership team so I spoke to people from all areas of expertise to find out what their objectives are. 

When I had a list of objectives plus metrics on how we’ll know each has been met, I looked at how we could present them alongside several other connected elements such as strategy and principles. Even though few people are involved across all elements at the same time, it felt important for everyone to be able to see both the big picture, the details and the links between them all in one place.  

So, in Figma (later Miro for ease of visibility), from top to bottom we stated:

  1. Co-op vision – “Co-operating for a fairer world”. 
  2. Co-op visionary principles 
  3. Co-op Membership vision – “A membership that makes a difference for me, the communities I care about and a fairer world.”
  4. Co-op Membership strategy – “A frictionless experience that motivates Members to participate by showing the impact that trading with Co-op has on their community”
  5. Co-op Membership ‘north star’ (this is the number we care about above all other metrics)
  6. Co-op Membership objectives (including all areas of expertise within the Membership team).
  7. Objective metric (how we know we’ve been successful).
A screenshot showing the 7 different elements described.
Here’s a screenshot showing the 7 different elements described.

We now call this our ‘Vision and strategy framework’.

Our hope is that by making the flow of priorities 
from the top of the organisation transparent, we can empower teams to deliver work 
that meaningfully contributes to our organisational vision. We hope it will help us make sure that we’re 
all working towards common goals.

Showing the thing 

When we showed what we’d done to the people with digital expertise in the Membership team, the feedback was that this was a useful way of thinking about how vision and principles and objectives are connected – in other words, the organisation’s goal and targets set within individual teams. So we shared it more widely: first to the rest of the Membership team and from there it’s been picked up by senior management and other teams have used the framework to align their work too. 

The general consensus has been that this framework has made it easier for us to:

  • zoom in and focus on the immediate priorities
  • zoom out and put work in context
  • have a single accessible source of truth
  • share progress and update figures

How we’ll use it in the future

The framework should evolve to reflect what we have learnt, and any shifts in direction the business area or team might take. To make sure we have rigour around each framework, we are looking at how we can visualise these strategies alongside each other and how they are joined up by broader objectives on an organisational level.

To update the framework, someone has to add information and data manually. It has been a challenge to manage this and creates a bottleneck if someone is uncomfortable using Figma or Miro. In the next iteration, we will look at how we can automate live metrics and targets.

Like everything we do at the Co-op, the user should be central to these frameworks too. We are looking at how we can bring user experience outcomes alongside our business objectives to ensure we are accountable to the people who are ultimately affected by these strategies.

We’re really interested in hearing how teams of all sizes stay aligned. What do you come back to time and time again to keep you on track?

Nate Langley, Principal designer

2020: there’s a lot to be grateful for

2020 has been quite the year. 

As a Digital team we are proud of the work we’ve done to support our communities, our customers and our colleagues – particularly those on the front line in our Food stores and in Funeralcare.

When the virus took hold back in March, we reprioritised where we could add the most value so we could keep colleagues safe and we could continue to serve communities.

We were in a position which meant we could respond to the pandemic with relative ease.

Our ways of working meant we were set up well – we were used to pivoting and changing direction; we were already collaborating with subject matter experts; and getting value into users’ hands quickly and iterating on feedback has always been what we’ve aimed for. 

Over the years, we’ve also attracted a group of smart, determined and – most importantly – compassionate people who are intent on doing the right thing. 

We are thankful to everyone who has helped transform Co-op so we could respond quickly, and well, to a pandemic. ❤️ 2020 has been awful but there is a lot to be grateful for too. ❤️

Adam Warburton

Head of Digital Products


Co-operate

We started Co-operate in April 2019 to help people come together and do good things in their community. 

When the pandemic hit, people couldn’t physically come together. Groups started meeting online.  

We had been trialing Co-operate in 9 communities before lockdown, and quickly had to cater to a national rather than a regional audience. We wrote about How we launched ‘Co-operate: get or offer support’ in 9 days.  

As part of that work we: 

  • helped organisers move their activities online and made it easier for them to manage their listings 
  • helped people find things to do, see what help groups needed and share listings with others 
  • partnered with national programmes like the Duchess of Cambridge’s ‘Hold Still’ community exhibition 

You can now use Co-operate to find ways to join, or help out: 

  • 3,425 groups 
  • 1,064 activities  

And you can get advice to help you start your own community initiative. 

The Co-operate team before lockdown
The Co-operate team before lockdown

We want to help people come together at a time when community matters more than ever. 

“Great website… thank you for helping our communities.”  

Community organiser

Joanne Schofield, lead content designer


Customer and Membership

The big focus for our teams this year has been evolving and relaunching Co-op’s Membership proposition to maximise its value to members, communities and Co-op.  

New things: 

  • Members can now donate their personal rewards to other like-minded organisations. 70,000 members donated over £500,000 in total from their rewards to the Members Coronavirus Fund
  • Customers can now use Co-op’s digital services without becoming a member through ‘Co-op Account’ (they can upgrade to a Co-op Membership later). 
  • Members can now choose a local cause through the Co-op app or direct from their email without signing in – we saw a record breaking 619,000 people choose a cause in the first 8 weeks.  
  • Members can now scan a digital members ‘card’ on their smartphones in store – no need to remember the plastic card.

We improved and grew stuff too.

  • The Co-op App surpassed the 1m download mark, with a rating of 4.4 stars across both app stores. We were number 2 in the app store on relaunch day, second only to NHS Track and Trace. 
  • 750,000 members choose 8.1 million offers in 2020, and 4.6 million of those have been used. This saved members over £2 million on their shopping and generated millions in incremental sales for the Food business. 
  • The systems and services that power our product stood up to 10 times our biggest ever day’s traffic, for weeks, thanks to the investment we made in moving to serverless technology. 
screen shot showing We were number 2 in the app store on relaunch day, second only to NHS Track and Trace.
We were number 2 in the app store on relaunch day, second only to NHS Track and Trace. 

We also connected up our digital experiences: 

  • Members can now sign in, shop and earn their rewards through Co-op’s ecommerce service. 
  • Groups can sign up to use Co-operate to publicise their activities within their communities. 
  • We implemented a new Membership design, which ties together how Membership looks and feels online with stores, on emails and in our marketing activity.

Joel Godfrey, Head of product


Legal services

This year we took some big steps towards making the law accessible — by creating experiences that allow people to proactively use the law for themselves.  

A user flow for wills — explaining the benefits of our higher-value products
A user flow for wills — explaining the benefits of our higher-value products

Our team grew from a small group working on a conversational tool, to a multidisciplinary agile team working across digital services, website, email and search.  

We started embedding design thinking, marketing and OKRs into our ways of working with multiple business areas. 

And it’s started to have an impact: 

  • our work redesigning user journeys led to all-time high levels of probate enquiries in Q4 
  • our SEO work more than doubled organic traffic in some business areas 
  • one of our wills chatbots had 10,000 visits this year and increased average order value by £75 — because users are better informed about their needs   
  • we created a self-serve digital service that guides people through the probate process — we think it’s the first of its kind in the industry 🙌
     

Pete Kowalczyk, content designer


Digital service community 

Our community fancy dress quiz!

2020 has been the year that we reorganised and went from being the digital service ‘team’ – all sitting together in the Membership team – to digital service ‘community’ embedded across delivery teams. Being present and more visible at all stages of a product or service lifecycle has helped us put integrated processes in place and ensure continuous service delivery. This year we’ve helped our teams deliver 1,600 changes with 99.98% success rate – something we’re really proud of.  

We’ve also improved our post-incident review process, increasing visibility across product teams to prevent reoccurring issues.  

As part of our post-incident review process, we’ve started to share any outstanding actions with product teams which has helped prevent reoccurring problems – it’s all about working in the open! We’ve also created a ‘production readiness’ checklist which has allowed us to provide the best support for new services.  

We’ve created and built support models to ensure a robust service too. 

We’ve helped to:  

A big focus has been on embedding best practices and championing new ways of working – lockdown has felt like the perfect opportunity to do this. Everyone on the team has completed their ITIL 4 training which is making it easier to support our product teams to enable them to continue to do some awesome things! 

Georgie Jacobs, service analyst


Accessibility  

Our mission this year has been to look at how we design and build accessible products by default. 

We delivered accessibility training to over 150 colleagues across many disciplines which has helped us raise awareness about what the term ‘accessibility’ encompasses. It is so much more than screen readers.

screen shot of Training over video call
Training over video call

“It’s great to see so many people within the business mention accessibility across lots of different internal communication channels. It’s great work!”

Lucy Tallon, Head of Design 

The training also gave us the opportunity to make accessibility more relatable. We ran 3 Accessibility Manchester events attracting over 1,000 people with all levels of experience, from both the public and private sector.

Tweet from Cherry Thompson: “Today’s webinar was amazing! Thanks to everyone @a11ymcr and all the incredibly experienced speakers. It felt like a portal into this wealth of history, experience, and expertise!”

We also published our accessibility policy and encouraged customers, members, colleagues to hold us accountable.

“It’s nice to have a policy on a page on the internet but it must never become a virtuous-but-otherwise-empty promise. We know that if we don’t read it, keep it in mind and revisit it, it is just a vanity project.”

from Introducing our accessibility policy for Co-op products and services  post

By October 2021, our product teams will have embedded our accessibility policy fully in their work and, by collaborating with external accessibility experts Fable, we’ll include up to 1,200 people with disabilities into our research, design and testing of products and services in the coming year. 

Dave Cunningham, DesignOps Manager


Digital food customer experience

There are now 760 Co-op Food stores that accept online orders through our ecommerce site, shop.coop.co.uk  This time last year, only 32 of our stores were taking part. The pandemic forced us to rethink and reprioritise how our how Co-op Food stores serve their communities. Back in lockdown 1.0 when people were stockpiling, we protected the availability of stock by introducing limits on the number of products each customer could buy on shop.coop.co.uk 

We worked with the Identity team to make sure customers can log in to our service using the same details they use for other Co-op services. An architectural change allowed us to show a customer’s previous order for ease of reordering. Early results show greater engagement from customers interacting with previous orders, higher conversions and larger baskets. 

With a growing team we needed to reorganise ourselves so we could become more efficient. In mid-October we held a team ‘evolution session’ and split into multi-disciplinary work streams to help us to deliver at pace.

Tweet from @TheGrocer announcing our win

To top it all off the Online Delivered Convenience programme won the E-commerce initiative of the Year at The Grocer Gold Awards 2020. 

Stewart Livingstone, delivery manager


One Web team

This year we found that we had too many projects and we were struggling to get things done. To improve our focus, we reorganised our big team into 3 smaller teams 

We’re still learning but so far, the change has helped us to work smarter, not harder. 

We have continued to replatform Co-op websites, for example Legal Services to improve customer experience and reduce costs.    

Making the platform more efficient and secure has been another priority. We have started to move our tenants onto Amazon EKS. This has led to a 30% reduction in deployment times and 95% reduction in failed deployments.  

We have also delivered many features for Co-op websites. For example, we added ‘buy online’ buttons to the store finder pages. This allows customers to go from store finder to shop.coop.co.uk to order online. 

Alex Hall, content designer


Funeralcare

Our digital expertise are spread across 2 teams: the Customer team which looks after the Funeralcare website, and the Colleague team which is responsible for the software used internally. 

Like all other teams, the pandemic has meant we’ve had to pivot from our roadmap, respond quickly, and switch contextual user research to remote research. But, because of the nature of our business, we’ve been busier than ever. 

Here’s some of what we did.

The Customer team

We:

  • wrote guidance on how to arrange funerals during lockdown, updating them as the guidance changed
  • re-designed the website alongside agencies and our digital marketing team  
  • created – and trained writers in – new tone of voice guidelines
  • directed coffin photoshoots (thank you Gail
  • launched an online funeral planner so clients can plan a funeral in their own time and feel more prepared for a conversation with a funeral director 
  • designed and built (not yet released) a function to pay for a funeral online
  • migrated to a new payment service provider in the process of enabling 3D secure for online payments 
  • designed and built (not yet released) a web chat function 
  • replatformed pre-need funeral plans and direct cremation sites from the episerver

The Colleague team

We:

  • added a warning to collection notes if there was suspicion that the deceased has died of the virus and may be – keeping colleagues safe is a priority 
  • allowed families who had lost someone to register their interest in organising a memorial service once lockdown restrictions were lifted 
  • unrelated to the virus, we added a ‘quick notes’ function to allow colleagues to capture information around the context of the deceased’s state. It is added to the collection sheet to help colleagues mentally and physically prepare

Co-op Health

2020 changed the way people think about health services. With government advice to stay at home and ‘protect the NHS’, people needed more convenient access to repeat prescriptions.  

We responded by opening up more ways to use the service. Now, customers can visit coop.co.uk/health and register on our app using a code from their GP. 

To reach more people, we launched a TV advert, promoted the service in stores and our Chief Pharmacist, Neil Stewart, appeared on the radio to discuss worries about visiting the GP. 

As a result, we’ve grown:  

  • into the 11th biggest UK pharmacy (based on the number of customers who choose us as their pharmacy) – we ranked at number 7,116 in 2019 
  • registrations, with 206 new customers every day on average – up from 30 earlier in 2020 
  • order volumes, with a record-breaking 1,610 orders on 30 November 2020 

Our customers rate us ‘Excellent’ on Trustpilot, saying things like, “You have made my life so much easier.”  

Mary Sanigar, content designer 


Co-op Food

The Operational Innovation Store (OIS) team has been working across 4 services that support store colleagues. Each empowers them to spend more time and energy on customers and members rather than on admin and paperwork.

Clock-in  

Until this year, store colleagues clocked in and out when they started and finished a shift by punching their employee number into a legacy Kronos terminal (at a cost of £1,000 per store). Research told us it was easy to forget to do this and so colleagues would have to ask managers to amend their ‘hours worked’ in order to receive the right pay. 

Alongside the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, we’ve made the process simpler, more transparent and more accurate which has helped make sure our colleagues receive the correct pay for the exact minutes they’ve worked. This has led to a 50% reduction in payroll amendments. 

We started working on the Clock-in app idea in February and we’d rolled it out to every store by July. It can be accessed from till screens, hand-held terminal or tablet and has replaced the Kronos terminal. 

We developed it as an extension of our Visit app and Clock-in times can be accessed from our Shifts app – which most of our colleagues use.  

Raza Rizvi, product manager


Entry and exit 

Colleagues safety is paramount and we did not want to ask them to stand at store entrances to make decisions on whether another customer could enter, or whether the store was at maximum capacity. To make sure social distancing rules are observed in our stores, we looked at how technology could help.  

The Entry and exit solution was developed working with a number of different suppliers – through an iterative test and trial approach across a number of different test sites. The tests included the use of lights, sound and POS to understand what would be required to interrupt the customer journey and start a queue when the store reached its customer capacity. 

You can read about how we chose a solution – it uses a camera sensor inside the entrance to keep track of how many people are inside and how many have left. It is connected to a traffic light system with voice messaging that advises customers that the store is full and to wait, or, to enter the store. 

We launched the solution in the 250 busiest stores during the summer, and set it up in the 50 student-heavy / campus stores in the autumn. 

James Beane, operations lead


Date code   

Our work this year has been around making it more efficient for store colleagues to carry out date checks on both ambient (non-chilled) and fresh (chilled) products. 

We worked closely with stakeholders from the Commercial; Risk, and the Retail loss and costs teams to develop an app that colleagues can access through a hand-held terminal. The app knows when a ‘section’ (small area of the store) will next be checked, and tells colleagues which dates they need to search for. Any items with that date or earlier will be scanned into the app, and colleagues will be prompted to reduce the price of them. Algorithms work out the best time to reduce items and improve the chance of selling them. 

Previously, colleagues checked every fresh item, in every fresh section, every day. 

The new process means colleagues no longer needed to record product checks and details manually or remember when to go back to reduce products and apply the correct reduction using a static reduction matrix. 

Development started in March and we’d rolled out to every Co-op Food store by November.  

We believe this product will save the business around £6m each year.  

Lee Connolly, delivery manager


News and magazines   

The News and mags app was developed in order to simplify a laborious paper-based system that our store colleagues used to manually log newspaper and magazine delivery, claims and returns. The aim is to significantly decrease financial loss caused by waste and leakage, by simplifying and bringing real time visibility into the process. 

We kicked off development in September 2019. The app allows colleagues to scan papers and magazines, identify stocks in store fixtures of the same issue and retains information about previously delivered quantities in the app’s database.

Colleagues can now quickly swap old issues and top up existing stock. It also has an initial stock upload functionality that allows store colleagues to know what stock is currently in store and track what should be returned or if there has been any leakage of stock.

The last 2 months has been focused on the completion of dev and testing to move back into Alpha stores. We have rolled-out into 41 stores and performed stock uploads successfully, while simultaneously reviewing data, analytics and insight. Lockdown has forced us to research remotely but we’ve had remote access to hand-held terminals through Mobi, a smart app that allows us to observe colleagues complete their checks remotely.

Quantitative and qualitative research is ongoing and we’re working towards a full roll-out in August 2021. 

Paul Anumudu, delivery manager


We’ve re-platformed the Co-op Legal Services website

We’ve moved Co-op Legal Services website from a content management system (CMS) managed by a third-party supplier to a new CMS – managed and controlled by our internal Digital team. 

The reason for the change wasn’t because we wanted to re-design the site – it was because the old CMS was costly to maintain and would soon be ‘out of support’ which meant it would no longer receive security updates.  

Screen shot of the Co-op Legal Services homepage

The new website is part of a shared platform used by Co-op Food and Co-op Funeralcare making it cost effective and easier to maintain because we are sharing best practice and development across all our business areas.  

Balancing our 2 competing priorities 

The biggest risk to the project was losing traffic because of a dip in our Google rankings (our ‘SEO’). There was a very reasonable assumption that any loss of traffic would result in loss of sales. 

At the same time if we didn’t change the design and code to match Co-op’s design system it would make the site costly to build and maintain.  

This meant we had 2 competing priorities: 

  1. Maintaining SEO. 
  2. Reducing cost.

By changing the design and content, we’d risk SEO, however if we didn’t change the design we wouldn’t reduce the costs.  

Maintaining SEO was the main tool we used to decide any technical or design decisions. The compromise for the project was to ensure we migrated all the pages with the same URL structure, meta description, links and content but presented that content in a different way using the standard Co-op shared components which are used on our other major websites across the Co-op business areas. 

Testing the UX 

Changing the visual design of any site means it may affect important goal completions for the website. The key metrics for the Legal website are the number of: 

  • calls 
  • callback requests  
  • services started online, for example creating a will 

To ensure we were comfortable with the visual changes we A / B tested some of the smaller visual changes on the old site. 

For the larger design changes we sent 50% of organic users to our beta site and 50% of users stayed on the live website. We then measured how the KPIs compared.  

This test is slightly different to other tests we might usually do. Normally we are trying to make improvements to UX but the goal was to ensure the changes we were about to make to the site didn’t adversely affect our KPIs. It wasn’t necessarily about making improvements but maintaining the status quo. 

Testing SEO  

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell what Google will do when you make a change to a website.  

However, we prepared as best as we could by: 

  • removing over 1,300 critical SEO errors  
  • ensuring no 404 errors (missing pages) encountered after the switch   

What we’ve seen 

The new co-oplegalservices.co.uk went live 30 September. 

Website re-indexation in search engines including Google often takes time when changes to websites are made – sometimes it can take weeks for the full effect to become apparent. Enough time has passed now that we can confidently say the site replatform was a success at maintaining SEO.  

Here’s what we’ve seen so far: 

  1. The year-on-year comparison returns an 8 to 14% uplift on most days since migration.  
  1. There are individual keywords fluctuations. The number of featured snippets (the top result that appears in a box below the adverts in a Google search) is higher than pre-migration (from 80 to 96 today).  
  1. The total visibility of our tracked ranking keywords have dropped by 3% since the migration.  However, the impact on core business areas is negligible.  
  1. Enquiries coming through the website are comparable to before the website go-live, all show favourable figures in terms of overall enquiry volume and conversion rates.  

We are still at the stabilising phase but so far the results are looking good.  

We can now say with a high degree of certainty the re-platform has improved the website’s conversion rates and number of enquiries it generates from existing traffic sources. This provides a strong platform to start future optimisation and testing to further improve the site. 

So not only have we reduced the sites running costs and made considerable savings, we’ve maintained SEO and improved our conversion rates.  

What we might do  

Throughout the project there was a massive temptation to make improvements to the content and structure of the site. We didn’t want to change too much at the same time – that wouldn’t  have been a good way to observe the impact on our Google ranking. However, now the site is live and we are happy the replatform has been a success we can start making changes to the content and layout. We’ve already started conducting a number of A / B tests on the new site to start iterating on what we’ve already created. 

We’ll keep you posted. 

Peter Brumby

Product manager

We’ve updated our forms guidance in our design system

We’ve been quietly working on our forms guidance in our design system. It hasn’t been a quick process because the guidance we’ve added so far is based on research. And this takes time. 

Before we added the guidance, we:

  • looked at the data we had – things like error rate, heatmaps, and where customers appeared to struggle across our digital journeys and components
  • identified each type of component that was being used across Co-op’s digital products and services and considered whether each was necessary
  • identified best practice from different design teams within Co-op, and looked at the great work GDS have published 
  • gathered industry expertise from the likes of Caroline Jarret and Adam Silver
  • invited stakeholders to design crits as a way to check that our forms guidance is specific to us at Co-op

We A/B tested our initial designs across certain journeys, gathered more data as a result, and iterated before adding the designs to our design system. 

The forms guidance we’ve added so far isn’t ‘finished’ (and likely never will be). The roadmap below shows we still have much more to research and design and test, but we’re sharing what we’ve done so far.

Why forms are so important 

Forms are one of the most commonly used design components across our digital products and services at Co-op. From both a customer and a business point of view, they are also an essential part of a service because they allow a transaction to take place. At the simplest level, the user adds information into a form so we can help them complete what they came to coop.co.uk to do – whether that be buy groceries, get an insurance quote, or sign into their Membership account. 

In line with GDPR, we also collect customer and member data through forms and use it to improve services. Having a standardised way to collect data across all digital services makes data more reliable.  

The problem: inconsistency across digital journeys 

Before we began this piece of work there was inconsistency in our form design across the organisation. Design teams were creating forms that worked for their specific service and implementing them – sometimes, there wasn’t consistency within forms in a single service. The form type variations were numerous and the time spent designing each must have amounted to a lot. 

I’m a designer in the Digital Experience team in Co-op Insurance. Our aim is to make it easier to find, buy and manage Co-op insurance online. Part of the user journey to get a quote or buy insurance takes the customer away from a Co-op-managed website and onto our insurance providers’ (we call them ‘partners’) sites. 

When we started our research into forms, we were selling 11 insurance products through 11 different partners. Each partner manages their own online buying experience so there are inconsistencies with customer experience (and this will continue to be the case for a while). The customer journey for each partner looked different, and the functionality of individual components like checkboxes varied too. Considering the huge inconsistencies, we do not think it’s a coincidence that we experience a poor ‘customer struggle score’ (one of our key metrics), an increase in drop-out rates and poor conversion.

Of course, we have no control over our partners’ design decisions but when they designed their pages, we didn’t have thoroughly tested forms guidance to point them towards. I hope we can now use it to start to influence them. We’ve done the hard work and it’s in our partners’ interests to use the guidance to create more seamless, usable customer journeys.  

Impact on our users, customers and members 

When we first posted about the Co-op design system back in 2018, we stated one of the aims was to help create familiarity across our distinct business areas. We said: 

The way we communicate with a customer in a food store is likely to be very different to how we speak to a customer in a funeral home. So it’s likely that our services might feel different. And that’s ok, as long they feel familiar.

A design system lets us create this familiarity. It should lead to a much more unified experience when they interact with different Co-op services.

When something feels familiar to a user, it reduces the cognitive load for them because – consciously or not – they know what to expect. And on some level that’s comforting. 

Accessibility is also a huge consideration. It’s something we’ve been determined to get right so we can use accessible components and patterns in our forms across all our services. It’s not only the ‘right thing to do’, it also lessens frustrations for anyone with access needs and reduces the chances of potential customers going to competitors. We know that 83% of people with access needs limit their shopping to sites they know are barrier-free (source: clickawaypound.com). If someone does not have a positive experience with one business area, they are unlikely to return to another.  

Data-driven design 

We made design decisions based on evidence. 

So for example, we used Session Cam to see heatmaps of where users click, hover and scroll and it showed us that when they were choosing an answer from 2 or more options on a form, many weren’t selecting the button itself – they were selecting the label next to it. (On the left-hand side of the image below shows this). This informed the design of our radio buttons and checkboxes shown on the right-hand side of the image below.

Sometimes, we made assumptions based on other teams’ evidence – and that’s ok. For example, at a crit we agreed to use a border for focus, active and hover states so the user would know which areas were clickable. Then we read this post on from GDS which describes why they ended up removing the grey border from radio buttons and checkboxes. As a result we agreed that the area would remain clickable but only highlight the border at hover state. We tested with our own users to confirm our assumption.

The Design System team are taking it from here

We recently put together an official Design System team who’ll be dedicated to taking this type of work forward. They’ll keep you posted on their progress.

Paul Braddock

UX Designer from Co-op Insurance

Introducing our accessibility policy for Co-op products and services 

We’ve been working hard to improve accessibility across Co-op products and services and as our Head of Digital Products, Adam, has said, “having accessible services shouldn’t be a question for Co-op, it’s what we should and must do.”

Last month we published our accessibility policy.

Publishing the policy is a public statement of intent – it shows our commitment to further improving our level of inclusivity.

Why we need an accessibility policy

We have people with good accessibility knowledge within Co-op Digital and ideally, each product or service team will have at least one of those people. However, teams frequently change shape which means that sometimes accessibility isn’t as prominent in conversations as it should be.

We needed to change that.

The policy makes accessibility standards more tangible because colleagues can see what their responsibilities include.

Saying it out loud gives it more weight

Nobody intentionally ignores accessibility problems but they do sometimes lack awareness. Both the policy and this post aim to raise awareness of our commitment and invite colleagues, customers and members to hold everyone working in Co-op product and service development accountable to the standards we’ve set ourselves.

How we’ll implement the policy

To do this we need accountability at all stages of product and service development. We’ve identified 8 stages and have worked alongside experts from each discipline to create the policy. Now those 8 people are responsible for implementing it and supporting their communities and teams to uphold the standards.

8 stages of development and the representatives:

  1. Procurement – Jack Warburton
  2. Research – Eva Petrova
  3. Design – Nathan Langley
  4. Front-end – Matt Tyas
  5. Content – Hannah Horton
  6. Quality assurance – Gemma Cameron
  7. Automated testing of live products and services – Andy Longshaw
  8. Annual accessibility audits – Dave Cunningham

Adam Warburton has overall accountability.

The process behind the policy

We know many organisations have set themselves standards. For teams that haven’t but would like to, here are the things we considered that might be helpful.

  1. We looked at how teams work currently by mapping out projects so we could fit the policy around their processes. We felt teams would be more likely to support a policy that echoed the way they already work because adopting it would be easier.
  2. Improving or monitoring accessibility across a product or service can be a massive task. To make things more manageable, we looked at how we could break things down. We identified the 8 ‘stages’ of accessibility we’ve mentioned earlier on in the post.
  3. We worked alongside subject matter experts (SMEs) from each of the stages we identified to create the part of the policy they would eventually lead on and be accountable for.
  4. Drafts of the policy went backwards and forwards between me, the SMEs and the senior management team. It was essential to share, take in feedback and collaborate wherever we could because adoption of the policy depends on these people supporting and agreeing with it.

Where do we go from here?

It’s nice to have a policy on a page on the internet but it must never become a virtuous-but-otherwise-empty promise. We know that if we don’t read it, keep it in mind and revisit it, it is just a vanity project.

We’d like you to read it and keep it in mind too. And if you spot something you don’t feel is accessible, email me dave.cunningham@coop.co.uk

We can’t promise we’ll be able to improve it straight away but we will add it to the backlog.

Thanks in advance for helping us make things better.

Dave Cunningham
DesignOps Manager

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