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


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