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

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

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

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

We’ve done a lot and learnt a lot.

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

Here’s to 2016 – a very good start

In the past few weeks, I’ve heard product teams present their work to representatives from the Members’ Council, to our Group Board and to the rest of the Co-op Digital team. It was a great reminder of how much we’ve achieved in the past year thanks to the support, challenge and expertise of our colleagues from across the Co-op Group.

In April, I presented the Co-op Digital team’s plans to the Group Board. We said we’d focus on 4 things: Membership, Products, Platforms and Ventures. We’re on target and within budget.

Here’s a recap of some of the progress we’ve made this year.

Our new ‘old’ brand

In May we revealed our new branding. We reverted to a brand identity rooted in the Co-op’s history. We were ‘back to being Co-op’. So far we’ve rolled the redesign out across 558  locations, 153 Co-op Funeralcare homes and 2,000 own brand products. In August our rebranded carrier bags even made it onto The Guardian’s weekly fashion trends. Being fashionable isn’t our goal, but it’s nice to be noticed!

Picture of Co-op Food Store in Shoreditch

We relaunched Membership

We rolled out the new Membership to 3,000 colleagues in our support centre in June; 70,000 colleagues in July; and over 3 million active members in September. We sold 120,000 new Membership cards within 72 hours when we launched Membership in September – without advertising. Since then, 339,000 members have joined. The Co-op now has almost 4 million active members. We’re being transparent and publishing Membership data every week.

Co-op Membership is good for both members and their communities. Each time members buy Co-op branded products or use certain Co-op services they get 5% back on what they spend. Members can also choose a local cause through our online service and 1% of what they spend will go towards supporting it.

We’re listening to what our members want. Over the past few months, more than 12,000 members have signed up online to join in and give feedback on our products, our stores and their shopping habits. We’ve hosted 29 ‘join in’ opportunities and we’ve been engaging with members online and in their communities. Members have given us over 770 hours of their time. And listening to them makes a difference: sales of wine recommended by members are up by 25%.

Picture of our new Co-op Membership card.

The new domains are live

We’ve improved our websites. Colleagues no longer have to be at work to access information about working here. Instead they can do it by visiting coop.co.uk/colleagues from home. Last week we blogged about how we’ve made co-operative.coop better – a really significant step to being able to respond to and meet members’ needs quickly.

Thank you to Nick Crofts, President of our National Members’ Council, for helping us understand the members’ perspectives about what the sites needed to be.

We’ve developed digital products

Some of the products the Co-op Digital team has worked on this year include:

These products help our colleagues work more efficiently and make it easier for customers to do things like make a will.

Colleagues like Claire Carroll and Cathryn Higgs from Co-op Food, James Antoniou at Co-op Legal Services (CLS), and Robert MacLachlan who runs Co-op Funeralcare have challenged and championed the digital teams who have worked on product alphas and betas. Thank you for your help.

The Co-op Digital Wills team worked closely with James Antoniou’s CLS team. Together, they launched the Wills beta in August and it already makes up around 25% of CLS’s Wills business. The Co-op Digital team is now in the process of handing over the daily running of the beta to CLS.

The Funeralcare at-need service is giving our Funeralcare colleagues more time to spend with clients. They’re building products that make it easier for Funeralcare colleagues to do their paperwork and give them more oversight of the different aspects of arranging a funeral. Our colleagues in Bolton are already using the service and we’re rolling it out to more funeral homes in Edinburgh in 2017. Redesigning an entire service around people’s needs could not have been done without the support of our colleagues across the Funeralcare business.

We’ve worked with design agency UsTwo to build Product Finder and the Store Dashboard for the Food business. Product Finder is now helping our call centre colleagues give customers product information quickly, over the phone. It’s been saving each colleague around 7 hours per week. During the alpha, small groups of colleagues had access to the Store Dashboard too. It gives them up-to-date information about delivery times as well as other information they need to do their jobs. It’s giving store managers up to 10% more time to spend on the shop floor. Both products show what digital can do for the Co-op colleagues and customers.

Screen shot of the Product Range Finder. A map view of stores that stock a chosen product

We’ve also been working with tech start up provenance.org, to see if it’s feasible for the us to collect accurate, verifiable data about food supply chains and track food products at scale. The Co-op has always been committed to transparency about food, from the time of the Rochdale pioneers through to championing Fairtrade. In the digital age, trust will come from transparency.

The products work isn’t over. We’ll keep building products and services that make things easier and more efficient for our colleagues, members and customers in 2017.

Platforms and Ventures

Platforms and Ventures are the next stage of the digital approach I presented to the Board earlier this year. Federation House, home to many of our product teams, is the foundation of this work. Emer Coleman and Claire Braithwaite are making The Federation an innovative and ethical place where digital people can draw on each other’s skills to build sustainable businesses. We’re talking to several start ups about joining us, and will have more to share in 2017.

A product team updates Co-op Digital colleagues on its last 2 weeks in the auditorium at Federation House

Multidisciplinary teams, co-operating

And we’re building a great team. People who have been at the Co-op for a while, working with people who are new to the Co-op, and with co-operators and people outside of the Co-op who share our values. We have so many talented people working with us to do the right thing.

Thank yous

Thank you to Nick Croft, the President of the Council who’s helped us work with the Council and their working group. Thanks also to the Group Board which has given us the time and space to deliver during a very busy phase. Thank you to our business unit leaders who have collaborated and co-created the products we’ve delivered to achieve the best outcome for our members. Finally, thank you to the Co-op Digital teams for all your hard work.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2017. Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

We’re looking for people to join the team.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Highlights from the past year

It’s been just over a year since Chief Digital Officer Mike Bracken and his team joined us at the Co-op. When he invited me over to Federation House, the new home of our digital teams, I asked him which parts of the last year stand out to him the most.

Mike: Hi Nick.

Nick: Hi Mike. Thank you very much for inviting me here to Federation House… wonderful place. You’ve been with The Co-op for about a year now.

M: Yes.

N: And I wanted to ask you what you highlights have been during the time that you’ve been with us?

M: The first is obviously Membership. I’m old enough to remember the dividend and all the rest of it and to… to be part of a team that has reset Membership and reset… is resetting this organisation to be a radical member-based organisation.  

Probably to recapture what it was but also to make us much more relevant in the digital age. To be part of that programme, to help people through that fantastic… absolutely terrific and it’s only been less than two months since we started to re-card and get people ready and it’s… we’re at the start of that journey but that’s… that’s without doubt the best thing.

Next best thing – you’re sitting in it. It’s… this is Federation House and this is, I am reliably informed, one of the oldest buildings where the Co-op was way back in the day. And we’ve stripped everything out, we’ve made it into a modern, digital, creative centre where we’re going to see not just the Co-op but other people in Manchester. Other parts of the digital-eco system work with us to really grow our… our community work and our membership play and actually play a part in the wider digital economy.

So those 2 things bookend my… my time here and if I then pick one other thing it’s the people. And everyone always says that don’t they?

And the people here in Manchester but more importantly all around the country. In our stores, in our funeral homes, in our logistics centres. I’ve been to some by no means enough and particularly our sort of people in community who do work. They’re relentlessly cheerful, optimistic, positive, got fantastic values and it’s been really quite humbling, so those 3 things I’d pick.

Nick Crofts
President of the Members’ Council

Making design better by being open

TL;DR: GCHQ’s tech team published a paper on GitHub about their digital transformation. Lots of people should read it, so we’ve improved their design to make it clearer. GCHQ made things open, so we could make things better.

GHCQ’s activities are often highly contentious.

However few would argue that their technology capability is anything other than world-class, notwithstanding widespread concern as to how that capability is put to use.

Recently GCHQ’s technology leadership team published a paper entitled  “GCHQ: Boiling Frogs? Technology organisations need to change radically to survive increasing technical and business disruption

Example page from original design of GCHQ: Boiling Frogs
GCHQ’s Boiling Frogs paper

Anyone interested in digital transformation should sit down and read it.

It describes how GCHQ has embraced the culture, processes, practices and technologies of the internet era, optimising for agility.

It also explicitly encourages other UK organisations to adopt a similar approaches to their own digital transformation.

To give you a flavour, here’s the table of contents:

• Operating Model (including structure and interaction styles) • Organisational cultures • Use of accommodation • Approach to measurement • Skills management • Use of commercial suppliers • Leveraging Big Data • Approach to architecture • Use of processes and techniques • Approach to Security • Approach to HR

I only have two minor criticisms.

Firstly, the language could be clearer. Maybe the GCHQ team could ask someone who’s not a technology expert redraft a future edition?

Secondly, the paper’s amateurish design risks undermining the perceived importance of the content, and hence reduces its impact.

Fortunately, GCHQ made a point of publishing their paper via GitHub.com, the mother-lode of open source code and culture.

So, while we were loathe to edit the words, here at Co-op Digital we’ve been able to improve the document’s design.

We’ve also published our redesigned version on GitHub.  

Example page from new design of GCHQ: Boiling Frogs
Our redesigned version

Our redesign is not branded Co-op. The design is neutral. That should make it easier for anyone to share it. The words are the same, but it’s hopefully easier to read and less likely to be rejected as “a collection of clip-art and geeky blog posts” (not a quote from anyone at the Co-op, I hasten to add!)

We’ve used one of GitHub’s co-operation tools (aka a  ‘pull request’) to make it easy for GCHQ to incorporate our new design into a future edition, should they so wish.

Make things open. It lets us all make things better.

Tom Loosemore
Director of Digital Services