How listening to social media could influence decision making

Social media is an important space for us to learn more about how our online communities feel about us. By listening to, and sometimes joining in with, conversations about the Co-op we can glean valuable insights about what matters most to our members and customers. And that’s really important in a cooperative.

Talking policy

The Social Media team has begun working with our Food Policy team to group online mentions into related topics. The idea behind the collaboration is that we’ll make more informed policy decisions the more we listen.

We’ve started splitting mentions into the different areas of policy. They are:

  • Agriculture – anything to do with farming and how crops and animals are raised and looked after
  • Diet and health – this one’s self-explanatory!
  • Sustainability – mentions about any impact on the environment
  • Ethical trade – things to do with workers’ rights
  • Safety and legislation with Co-op or anyone affiliated with us

Listening in

Using a social media listening tool called Brandwatch, we’re picking up instances when people are talking about Co-op and our grocery competitors. Brandwatch crawls over 80 million sources, including social media and newspaper websites, looking for mentions based on a set of rules we’ve written called a Boolean query.

For example, the query that helps us pick up conversations and content related to ethical trade about Co-op and our competitors, reads like this:

screen grab from Brandwatch. the rules says:

Writing rules similar to this one for each of the policy topics has helped us pick up 56,378 mentions since the new year. That figure includes things about our competitors as well as things about our own grocery business.

We’re listening. Now we can start learning

We’ve begun to analyse the data. During #FairtradeFortnight in March, Co-op announced our commitment to 100% Fairtrade cocoa in all own brand products from May 2017. The announcement was a big deal and we saw it dominate online conversation related to ethical trade during those weeks. In fact, Co-op represented 50% of the conversation while our grocery competitors combined made up the other 50%.

The orange line represents daily conversation about Co-op and ethical trade so far in 2017. The other lines represent conversation about our competitors and ethical trade. This shows that when it comes to mentions related to ethical stuff which is part of our co-op difference, we really dominate.

graph shows Co-op to have generated far more mentions than competitors from around 20 Feb to 13 March.

It’s really useful to know how people are talking about us and when we come up in conversations. It means we can shape our approach to content and even future policy so we can meet our customer and members needs better.

Genuine feels

We’re going to start looking at sentiment on social so we can categorise mentions as being positive, negative or neutral. Sentiment software, including Brandwatch, can struggle to recognise sarcasm or slang and that means a user’s genuine feelings might not be picked up. We’re looking at ways to stop sentiments being categorised incorrectly so we can feel more confident in the results.

Where we’re going with it

We’re also going to be working with the data science team to see if there’s a correlation between membership recruitment or membership card transactions and spikes in conversation across social channels.

The more we listen, the more we’ll learn. The more we learn, the better the decisions we’ll make for our members and customers.

You can follow Co-op Digital on Twitter and add to the conversation. We’re listening!

Sophie Newton
Social media community manager

Mike Bracken: 700k new members, helping Food colleagues and an upcoming Funeralcare event


Mike: Hello. Welcome to week 11 update from Co-op Digital. Start off with a big number. Six months ago we launched the new membership scheme for the Co-op. This week we passed 700,000 new members. Great effort from the Membership team and everyone across the Co-op Group to roll out the service. It’s great seeing members come back to the Co-op.

I want to talk about 4 things we’ve done this week.

First is in Funeralcare where in our Edinburgh hub we’ve rolled out the new digital service that’s transforming that business following on from our Bolton work. There’s an event here in Manchester next week, you’re more than welcome to come to that to talk about how we’re digitising the Funeralcare business. [more information below]

Our wills service has been handed back right into that wills business which is now taking more and more of our transactions digitally.

And our coop.co.uk site and our corporate sites have had a refresh from Peter Brumby and the team. They look great.

Final thing is Store Dashboard. We’re starting to get real traction with our Food business and you’ll see on our blog the reception that our store managers give when we give them these great digital tools and services. You’re going to see more of that.

A couple of quick shout outs this week. Rebekah Cooper who’s joined our team is now reverse mentoring Steve Murrells, our CEO. It’s great to see our leadership team welcome digital in and taking the advice from a younger generation.

And also we’re helping Liverpool Geek Girls and sponsoring them as they come through and take part in this community here in Manchester.

And it would be remiss of me not to finish with the usual “were hiring.” We’ve got some great opportunities so do check out our blog and see if you can come and join the team.

Thanks a lot.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Come to a talk about the digital transformation of our Funeralcare business on 28 March. You can get your free ticket at Eventbrite.

How members joined in, drank beer and wrote the tasting notes

We set up the Co-op Member Voice team to, well, give Co-op members a voice. We’ve been engaging with members both online and in their communities in many ways. We’ve asked them to ‘join in’ and talk to us about their favourite pizza toppings, we’ve arranged community dog walks and we’ve done an awful lot of baby talk!

By speaking and listening to our customers and members, we’ve got a better chance of both meeting their needs and giving them what they’d like.

One of our first Member Voice engagements was when we gave 100 active members in Holmfirth 6 bottles of wine so they could host their own wine tasting event. We asked for their thoughts and used their recommendations and tasting notes in point of sale material in the Holmfirth store. All 6 types of wine saw an increase in sales when the member testimonies were seen by customers.

One of our most popular opportunities was when we asked members about their favourite local real ales. Over 900 members waxed lyrical about their favourite local tipples and you can see what we learnt on the main Co-op blog.

Try the beer, write the tasting notes

We had a big response to these opportunities so in January we invited 100 members to taste 3 brand new, not-even-in-the-shops-yet, Co-op own-brand beers: IPA, Triple Hop and Golden Ale. We asked members to taste them and tell us what they thought for the chance to see their tasting notes on the labels.

It’ll be interesting to see if members and customers react to the member comments on the packaging keeping in mind the successes of the Holmfirth wine trial on local wine sales.

Beer sampling on social

As you can imagine it didn’t take long for the 100 cases to get snapped up. Members were thrilled to be asked to taste and give their thoughts on our new beers and ales and took to Twitter to share what they were doing. You can see some of their tweets by searching #coopjoinin.

image shows tweet with twitter image. tweet says: 'cheers COOP can't wait to buy more of these especially GOLDEN ALE, just simply exceptional. twitter image shows man holding bottle and glass of beer.

image of tweet which includes a twitter picture. tweet says: 'really enjoyed trying three new beers for @coopuk. the triple hop was our favourite - highly recommended. Thanks for letting us #coopjoinin'

The 100 tasters then filled in a survey about the beers and the Beers, Wines and Spirits team chose a comment about each beer that would be printed on the corresponding bottle.

The Golden Ale tasting notes were from Michael Gibbons, a Co-op member from Luton. 

image shows the The Golden Ale label with member's tasting notes: ‘A smooth ale with a golden caramel complexion, the perfect beer for a summer garden.’

Sam Dineley, a Co-op member from Bristol wrote the Triple Hop tasting notes.

image shows The Triple Hop label and tasting notes:‘A complex but complementary blend of hops gives this beer a rich and rounded flavour with a subtle and smooth aftertaste’

And the IPA comment was from Tom Packman, a Co-op member from Essex.

image shows IPA label with tasting notes: ‘Good, traditional IPA. Voluminous, good body and fruity hop.’

A meet-up in a brewery

We invited the 3 members whose notes were chosen to Frederick Robinson’s Brewery where we make and bottle the ales. After a full brewery tour, we were taken to the bottling plant to see the Triple Hop bottles coming down the line and being filled and packaged ready to head to our Co-op Food stores. Then we tasted some of Robinson’s customer favourites, along with the fresh off the line Triple Hop.

The Co-op ales go on sale in our Co-op Food stores on 13 March and our members’ voices are shouting loud and proud from the label!

You can join in with a Member Voice opportunity by logging into your Co-op Membership account.

If you’d like to become a member you can sign up for membership. Join us!

Visit drinkaware.co.uk for the facts about alcohol.

Terry McLeod
Member Voice team

The Provenance alpha: building trust from transparency

The Co-op is committed to being radically transparent. A decade ahead of the government’s traffic light system, we campaigned for food and nutrition labelling that’s clear and easy to understand.

Being transparent still matters. But how do we make sure the Co-op stays ahead of the curve when it comes to building trust from transparency in the digital age?

For the past 12 weeks, my team has been working on a proof of concept we called the Provenance alpha. Provenance is a start-up that uses blockchain technology to make supply chains more transparent. A blockchain is a public, tamper-proof record of transactions which is maintained and verified by a network of co-operating computers (rather than by a central authority like a bank).

The Provenance alpha was a joint effort between Co-op Digital and Provenance to see if we could use their technology without having to add extra steps to our supply chain.

Starting with gladioli

Our small team (myself, interaction designer Jack, and the team from Provenance) tracked gladioli through our supply chain, from source to shelf. We learnt a lot in the process. We worked on this project in the same way that we develop software – by building something doable as a basis for scaling up.

We looked at the supply chains of 4 different products to begin with but we picked gladioli because they’re a relatively neutral product but still perishable. Gladioli are farmed locally in the UK and move from source to shelf in 2 to 5 days. Their supply chain has enough steps to be interesting, but is small enough for a proof of concept.

Working with what’s already there

We wanted to move quickly, which meant steering clear of changing existing processes in the supply chain. Adding any new technology for tracking and verification purposes would be expensive to scale, so we avoided doing that. To keep us on track, we decided on some principles for our work. 

  1. Tracking should be as close to real time as possible.
  2. No manipulation of existing supply chain processes.
  3. Use existing systems and verifiable data.

We connected to existing systems such as our suppliers’ sales and invoice software and our warehouse management system at our depot. This let us collect data about where the flowers had come from and where they’d go next. It also let us track unique batches in real time.

Links in the chain

All the suppliers in the supply chain gave us access to systems that we could extract data from. This data included evidence of environmental and welfare standards. We then linked these together using Provenance’s software to verify the batch of gladioli at each step in the chain.
image of 4 phone screens showing what the Provenance app looks like at various stages of the gladiolo supply chain as well as data collected along the way

We started off by meeting with the gladioli farmer, Matthew Naylor to find the number of flowers cropped in the field each day. This information is usually recorded on paper, however Matthew used his smartphone to log the daily cropping figures with the Provenance system.

Naylor shows the Provenance software on his phone to the team

Next, we met with our flower supplier, JZ Flowers. They supply the Co-op with British gladioli and work with Matthew and the Co-op’s flowers product manager, Kathryn Camps, to develop our flower range. The information we collected about the production process is in the Provenance app. At this point we used order, sales and invoicing data to verify the batches that were sent to our depot. Then, at the depot we used our warehouse management systems to track the gladioli batches through to the store shelf at the Archway Co-op.

photo of gladioli in Co-op Archway store with hand holding a phone with Provenance app in front of the bunch

Thinking about data

Our progress has given us the confidence that, despite the many challenges of scaling, this idea is something that’s worth looking into further. It’s also made us think about the wealth of data we could collect. It could be possible to collect information on:

  • nutrition
  • allergens
  • ingredients
  • origin and food miles
  • sustainability information, for example CO2 emissions
  • welfare
  • price per unit

All of this data already exists but within ‘data silos’ across different systems, organisations and processes. We’re thinking about how we could collect it, standardise it and make it open and accessible to teams. If we could, it’d be possible for teams to build products and services that help our members and customers understand their food better. It would also help colleagues be more informed. Of course, this would be a huge project because the Co-op sells so many products and often introduces new ones.

Our small team completed the Provenance alpha quickly, partly because we didn’t interfere with existing systems. For a proof of concept, that was very important.

Our next step will be to find out if there’s a user need for a ‘digital right to know’ for our products. We’d be interested to hear if it’s something you’d care about, and to what extent. Leave a comment below.

Lawrence Kitson
Product manager

Hello to Annette Joseph

I’m Annette and I recently joined the Digital Services team as a Delivery Manager.

photograph of Annette Joseph posing at whiteboard.I’ve worked for Co-op for over 2 years as the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Manager for our Food business. I was seconded to the Digital Services team earlier this year and spent a couple of months shadowing delivery managers to get up to speed with agile ways of working before being hired permanently.

We’ve got lots going on so there wasn’t any shortage of great things to learn.

The digital wills team helped me to get a hands-on understanding of the role and responsibilities of a digital delivery manager. Setting the team up for a successful delivery, removing blockers and obstacles and helping the team to become more self organising. I also worked with Vic Mitchell and the team as they established a robust, but light touch governance for the wills online service as it moved toward live testing.

Picture of the output from the wills risk session
Wills beta team – output from go live risk session

The team working with Funeralcare is helping the business rethink how we deliver at-need funeral services. In an agile team, the way the team works together is as important as the work they produce so it’s important that any issues are surfaced and dealt with as quickly as possible. Working with this group, I learned about the importance of facilitating a team through different stages of maturity and how the appropriate method of support can help the team produce magic.

Picture of the Funeralcare beta team
Funeralcare beta team

The recruitment pipeline was passed to me at the beginning of the secondment. I used it to demonstrate the techniques that I learned from the other teams. The big visible displays of information keep us on track, and help us to be transparent. Regular catch-ups ensure the flow is constantly progressing, user research loops and retrospectives continuously improve the process.  

Picture of the output from the recruitment retrospective
Output from the recruitment retospective

The delivery managers’ community of practice ties it all together. We have a steady, supportive group meeting regularly. We share knowledge, resources helping us to continuously improve the standard of agile collaborative delivery across all teams.

We’re looking for more Delivery Managers right now, if you’re interesting or have any questions please get in touch.

Annette Joseph

Product Range Finder

Hello, I’m Claire Carroll. My teams speak to thousands of our members and customers every day in our member and customer contact centre.

A picture of Claire Carroll
Claire Carroll

One of the most common calls to our stores and our customer care team is whether or not a particular product is stocked in a store. Our stores stock slightly different products because:

  • they are different sizes
  • customers in different locations have different needs

When we get calls about what products are in a particular store, it takes the team a little time to find the answer. Advisers needed to look in a few different places for the information. The system we used was clunky, taking around 10 minutes to locate a store. Knowing it would take too long, advisers would often tell customers that they would need to call customers back. This was a poor experience for our members, customers and colleagues.

A few months ago, with their service design partner UsTwo, the digital team began a discovery with our Food business to choose 3 alpha projects.

hoto 05-07-2016, 11 05 30 am.jpg
Product Range Finder Show & Tell


One of the chosen alphas was Product Range Finder. The alpha project was to build a simple prototype, allowing my team to have a single tool to use when answering queries on product range, and to see if this tool improved our efficiency and experience.

The new prototype is much easier to use than the old system and provides more information. For example, it tells customers how many stores stock a particular product, and how many of those stores are in a 15 mile radius from them.

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Product Range Finder – showing list view of the products, and how many stores stock the listed product
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Product Range Finder – map view of stores that stock the product selected

We receive 200 queries a month about finding product ranges. The prototype saves us approximately 10 minutes on each one. This equates to an extra 7 hours a week.

We’ve found this prototype so invaluable that we requested changes are done out of hours. We didn’t want any down time during the day.

My team’s enjoyed working as part of the product team to test the prototype and suggest improvements. The advisors have loved being the experts and have been amazed how quickly their feedback has led to improvements to the system.

Next for the product team is the beta phase. They’ll make a technically sound, scalable version of the prototype. They’ll make sure the the data feeds are right, look at adding availability information, and take some steps towards making the tool customer facing.

Claire Carroll
Head of Member & Customer Services

Provenance alpha

Hello, I’m Cathryn Higgs. As head of food policy I’m constantly looking to find ways we can live and breathe co-op values to help our customers and members.

Picture of Cathryn Higgs

The Co-op has always been a leader when it comes to championing the customer’s right to food that is formulated, manufactured and marketed in a way they can trust. The Rochdale Pioneers set up their own shops to protect workers and provide ordinary people with good food at fair prices at a time when food was regularly not what it said it was – bread flour bulked out with chalk, milk diluted with water and tea that really wasn’t made with tea leaves.

We’ve always campaigned for clearer food labelling and easy to understand nutrition labelling which led to us  introducing a front of pack scheme a decade ahead of the government’s traffic light system. We’re also proud to have been the first to label eggs intensively produced, a technically illegal step but which directly led to the law being changed allowing eggs to be labelled ‘from caged hens’.  

More well-known is our commitment to Fairtrade. We believe that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and take seriously our commitment to improving the lives of people in the communities we trade with. Which is why are still the only retailer to have converted all of our own brand tea, coffee, block chocolate, sugar, bananas and roses to Fairtrade and are proud to be the world’s largest retailer of Fairtrade wine.

Openness, honesty and social responsibility are part of our Co-op ethical values and we have a long history of taking action to support customers right to know about how the products they buy are made and sourced so that they can make an informed purchasing decision and the best choice for them personally.

Right to know – for the digital age?

We’ve started exploring ways we can deliver on this policy using digital and one of the ways we are doing this is by looking at partners who are already leading the way.

We’re working with Provenance.org, a social enterprise using blockchain technology to enable  transparency of data and verification of claims in supply chains, in order to  tell verifiable stories about where our food comes from and how it gets from source to our shops.

Picture of the Provenance alpha team

To do this, we are running an alpha to see what’s possible. Then we will consider the value this could offer our customers and members as part of our commitment to help them make decisions that fit their budget values and ethics.

We’ll update you on our progress as we go. 

Cathryn Higgs
Head of Food Policy