What the data and feedback show about 3 digital services in our Food stores

In October 2018, we formed the Operational Innovation Store (OIS) team. Our mission is to support store colleagues and empower them to spend more of their time and energy on customers and members rather than on admin and paperwork. 

We’re doing this by simplifying tasks and removing time-consuming processes wherever possible with 3 digital services:

  1. Visit.
  2. Pay in aisle.
  3. Smartgap. 

We’ve been monitoring store data, as well as speaking to and observing store colleagues to understand how the services are helping them.

A year on, we’re reflecting on how far we’ve come with a look at each of the 3 services.

Visit: live across the majority of Food stores

We recently rolled Visit out nationally, after writing about Visit’s alpha and beta earlier in the year. It aims to simplify the process of welcoming a visitor into a store. Visit is on every customer-facing till screen so visitors can efficiently and independently check in, check out and acknowledge the safety information they need to be aware of. 

visit-on-till-screen

Thanks to the new service, colleagues no longer need to break off from what they’re doing to look for the visitor book and a pen, or accompany a contractor to the back office to see the asbestos information. All the while, visitor data is stored centrally and securely.

What store data tells us about Visit

  • Visit is live in 2,079 Co-op Food stores
  • 123,721 visitors have signed in so far (as of 1 October 2019)
  • On average, Food stores welcome 2.4 visitors per store per day. If we assume each visitor took a colleague away from customers for 5 minutes, that’s 91 hours per store, per year
  • Across all Co-op Food stores, 5 minutes of colleague time per visitor adds up to 9,858 days
  • Contractors doing repairs or maintenance work are our most frequent type of visitor and they can now view the asbestos information they need through Visit too, saving even more time for colleagues

Giving colleagues more time for customers

We visited some of our beta stores and interviewed store colleagues. One told us: “Visit’s really good, it’s taken away all that worry and getting people to traipse through to the back office. We’re saving time with every visitor.”

Ben, a store manager in Hull, said on Yammer (our private messaging service): “First visit to a store signing in using the Visit app on till screens – really easy process. This will be a game changer for stores, making the process so much easier.”

We’re rolling Visit out to another 600 stores by the end of the year as their tills get upgraded. We also have a dashboard where centre colleagues will be able to access visitor data if necessary – for example, contract managers can see if service level agreements are being fulfilled.

Pay in aisle: pay quickly, queue less

Back in July we posted that we’re testing our ‘Pay in aisle’ app in 30 Co-op Food stores. The app, available on Android and iOS, allows customers to bypass the checkouts and queues by scanning items as they go and paying for them on their phone.

Pay-in-Aisle-Blog (2)

What store data tells us about Pay in aisle

  • We tested the Pay in aisle app in 30 stores across England, Scotland and Wales for 2 months.
  • 7,364 transactions have been made through the app (as of 30 September 2019)
  • In the last week of September, that was 125 transactions per day on average
  • If we rolled the app out so it could be used in all Co-op Food stores, we estimate there would be around 10,484 transactions per day and 3.8 million each year (of course, adoption rate will vary across store types)
  • Unsurprisingly, the number of transactions peak at lunchtime in stores with offices nearby when queues tend to build up

Keeping colleague’s time for those who need it most

Each transaction made through Pay in aisle equates to time colleagues can now spend serving other customers – for example, someone having trouble finding a product, or someone who is less able to pack their shopping bags themselves.

We’re at the beginning of the adoption curve, but some users are already finding the app really valuable. During a research interview, a customer using the app in Edinburgh told us: “I didn’t fancy queueing because it gets busy in here, so I downloaded it to give it a go.”

And a colleague in a university campus store said: “It will be helpful in term time when all tills are in use and there’s a queue”.

We’re continuing to learn from this trial, and monitoring adoption while iterating the app. If you’re using Pay in Aisle, remember to tell us what you think using the Feedback button in the app.

SmartGap: saving time, paper and trees

In July we posted about how we’ve been redesigning the replenishing process for our Food stores. What was then called ‘Replen’ is now called ‘SmartGap’ and we’ve recently tested it in 84 stores, following a successful alpha earlier in the year. It allows our stores to manage inventory more quickly and easily than the old paper method, which we believe will also make stock levels more accurate.

Screenshot 2019-09-27 at 08.57.05

What store data tells us about SmartGap

  • Across all stores using it, an average of 15 minutes are saved per store, per day, which equates to around 27 years across all stores per year
  • Because colleagues don’t print out gap reports as often, 23.7 million pieces of paper, 5,000 trees and 120 kilograms of carbon are saved per year 
  • Stock accuracy increased from 69% to 72% in 8 weeks during the alpha

Making an arduous process quicker

In a survey of store colleagues, one said: “I think SmartGap is an invaluable tool. It’s easier to use than the paper system we had, it has everything in one place and allows more accurate reporting and replenishing. I’ll be very sad to lose it after the 5 week trial.”

And during a research interview another colleague said: “Doing it the paper way takes a lot longer than 15 minutes, every day. Don’t take it off me! It’s just simple, it’s so much easier to do.”

Kirsty, area manager of several stores on the trial in Scotland, said on Yammer: “I’m literally being begged on every store visit for stores to keep this. Do we have any update on when / if the trial stores will go on this permanently? They are loving it!”

We are working to launch SmartGap nationwide after the Christmas period.

What’s next: bring on year 2

In its second year, the OIS team promises to be just as productive. We have discoveries and alphas lined up that may turn into things we test in stores, and our team may also expand.

The past year has been a superb example of how the Digital team, Food colleagues, store colleagues, field managers and support centre stakeholders have worked together to design and build the right things for our store colleagues. 

Rachel Hand
User researcher

How contextual research helped us redesign the replenishing process in our Food stores

Every day, in every Co-op Food store, a colleague does a ‘gap scan’. They walk around the store, they spot gaps on the shelves, and they scan the shelf label with a hand-held terminal. This generates a ‘gap report’ which tells the colleague which products need replenishing. It also flags other tasks, such as which items need taking off the shelves because they should no longer be sold.

This is an essential stock management process in our stores. It ensures:

  • stock we’re low on is ordered automatically
  • customers can get the products they need
  • our stock data is accurate

However, the process is complicated. There’s an 18-page user manual explaining how to do it and on average, gap reports are 25 pages long. 

Making the essential less arduous

In the Operational Innovation Store team, we aim to simplify laborious processes in stores. Product owner and former store manager Ross Milner began thinking about how we might tackle ‘gap’, as store colleagues call it. 

He started by asking some questions:

  • How might we design a process so intuitive our store colleagues don’t need a manual? 
  • How might we help colleagues complete all the priority actions from the report immediately? 
  • How might we save 25 pieces of paper per store, per day – in other words, 22 million sheets per year? 

Learning from users

I’m a user researcher and this is the point where I joined the project. My first research objective was to discover how store colleagues go about the process at the moment, and what they find good and bad about it. To do this, I visited 5 stores. I interviewed the managers about their process – as it’s a task which usually falls to them due to its current complexity – but most importantly, I observed how they use the gap reports.

Adapting what they had to meet their needs

Being there in person in the back offices in stores gave me a far deeper insight than I would have got had I done phone interviews, or even just spoken to colleagues on the shop floor. 

Being there gave me access to reams of old gap reports stashed in the back office. It was invaluable to see how colleagues had adapted them to better meet their needs. Some of the things I saw included:

  • dividing the stack of pages into easily-managed sections
  • highlighting the information that requires action
  • ignoring all the non-actionable information on the report – some users didn’t even know what the information meant
  • changing printer settings to save paper
  • ticking off products as they complete the actions against them 

Photograph of one page of a gap report. Several numbers are highlighted. Not particularly easy to understand.

Seeing the physical artefact in its context revealed a lot of needs we might have otherwise missed, because colleagues are doing these things subconsciously and most likely wouldn’t have thought to mention them to us.

Learning from prototypes

Our contextual research has helped us identify several unmet needs. Delivery manager Lee Connolly built a basic prototype in Sketch and we mocked up a digitised gap reporting process. The design clearly separated and prioritised anything that needed store colleagues to take action. We arranged those tasks in a list so they could be ‘ticked off’ in the moment, on the shop floor.

Screenshot of an early prototype used for scanning labels on shelves

This was intended as a talking point in user interviews and the feedback was positive. The store managers were fascinated, asking when they’d be able to use it, and – unprompted – listing all the benefits we were hoping to achieve, and more.

Developing ‘Replen’: an alpha

We’d validated some assumptions and with increased confidence in the idea, we expanded our team to include a designer and developer so we could build an alpha version of the app. We call this app ‘Replen’ because its aim is to help colleagues replenish products when needed.

Interaction designer Charles Burdett began rapid prototyping and usability testing to fail fast, learn quickly and improve confidence in the interface. It was important to do this in the store alongside colleagues, on the devices they normally use. We wanted to make it feel as realistic as possible so users could imagine how it would work as a whole process and we could elicit a natural response from them. 

photograph of possible interface on a phone in front of co-op food store shelves

Profiling stores so we know where we’re starting from

Before we could give them the app, we needed to understand each trial store’s current situation, so that we’ll be able to understand how much of a difference Replen has made. We visited all the stores we’re including in our trial. Again, being physically there, in context, was vital. 

The following things have an effect on the current gap process and may also affect how useful Replen is for colleagues. We noted:

  • the store layout and the size of their warehouse
  • whether the store tends to print double-sided
  • where managers had created their own posters and guides to help colleagues follow the gap process
  • any workarounds the stores are doing to save time and effort

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 16.25.04

What’s next for Replen?

We’ve just launched the Replen alpha in our 12 trial stores.

The aim of an alpha is to learn. We’re excited to see whether it meets user needs, and validate some of the benefits we’ve been talking about. We’re also keen to see whether stores continue using any workarounds, and whether cognitive load is reduced.

We will, of course, be learning this by visiting the stores in person, observing our product being used in real life, and speaking to our users face to face. When redesigning a process, user research in context is everything. 

Rachel Hand
User researcher