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

Lessons learnt by a non-digital colleague: the benefits of agile ways of working

Last month we introduced ‘Visit’ to 55 Co-op Food stores. Visit allows store visitors to efficiently, and independently, check in and check out on store tablets or customer till screens.

We began designing Visit in October 2018. Below is a photo of me setting up an early alpha test in store.

Photograph of Nick, middle-aged man wearing a smart coat and shirt holding a paper sign saying 'Visits' above a tablet with the Visit product on there.

Visit is in beta right now meaning that our research and testing are ongoing and we’re making small improvements regularly. We’re hopeful that we can roll it out to all Food stores by autumn and that it will save time and solve efficiency problems.

But this post isn’t really about how we went about researching and prototyping a new product. It’s about the processes and practices associated with agile – a way of working that was unfamiliar to me and many of my immediate colleagues. It’s about the benefits of working in this way and why non-digital teams should be collaborative, open-minded and committed to learning about, and designing for, their user.

The problem: a long, old process

I work in the Risk team. Visits to a store are frequent and essential, and as part of my role I saw a lot of inefficiency when it came to signing in store visitors. The process would often be:

  • ask a colleague at the till for the visitor book and a pen
  • fill in your details
  • listen to the colleague to explain the store fire process
  • wait for a manager to take you to the back office
  • sign on to the PC
  • read the asbestos report
  • sign a paper acknowledgement of the report in the health and safety folder

It shouldn’t have so many steps in the process. It shouldn’t take this long. It shouldn’t involve so many people.

Our Field risk team regularly visit stores to train management on health and safety controls. As a result of the complicated, long-winded visitor flow, this was one of the least followed processes. There was also a lack of visibility around who has visited, so on occasions third parties have claimed to have visited a site but there is no evidence they have been.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to improve this process.

Learning new skills and different ways of working

At this point, my knowledge of digital design was limited. I knew that digital product Shifts was co-designed for Co-op Food colleagues, and that other pieces of the Leading the way work relied on expertise from Digital, Food colleagues at support centre as well as Food colleagues in stores. I was aware that this coming together of specialists had been successful within the Co-op before.

I signed up for the Digital masterclass, a half-day training session that helps colleagues whose skills are outside digital understand how the Co-op Digital team works (more information at the end of the post). Richard Sullivan who ran the training introduced me to the benefits of agile ways of working.

Getting support

I’d identified the problem around checking visitors in and out but to fix it I needed expertise from the engineers from Retail IT as well as the Digital team including delivery managers Lee Connnolly and user researcher Rachel Hand.

Together, we started to learn more about the problem.

Putting theory into practice and learning more

Working on this project in an agile way, in a multidisciplinary team was very different to how traditional teams would tackle it. That includes the Risk team I’ve been part of. It was a sharp learning curve.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1.Testing over requirements

I’d been used to handing over a list of requirements to a technology team and asking them to find or create a piece of software that might fix a problem. For Visit, we put paper prototypes in front of store colleagues as soon as we knew enough about the problem. Their feedback helped shape the design meaning the product was tailored to their specific needs rather than it being an off-the-shelf solution.

2.Questions over assumptions

I approached the problem (the process of checking visitors in and out is inefficient), with a solution (so we’ll put software on store tablets to make it better). It seemed such an obvious solution to me (and in the end this is in fact our solution) but the Digital team showed me the dangers of assuming rather than questioning. We did an ‘assumption mapping’ session which helped us see if or where we were making assumptions about the desirability, feasibility of the product. Identifying assumptions reduces risk.

Photograph of a whiteboard with many yellow post it notes of notes arranged across a grid. This is an example of assumption mapping. 

3.Build in team time

I’d never worked in a team where we’d schedule regular time to reflect on our progress and our team health. This is what retrospectives are for. Until now, praise and problems were private – not something a team could be part of together. I didn’t realise how essential I’d begun to consider retros until we had to cancel one.

Progress through collaboration and thinking differently

Despite this being my very first digital product, I feel I can say with confidence that when Visits rolls out to all Food stores later this year, it will solve problems and meet our store colleagues’ needs. This is because the product is design-led. We were never tied to a solution, we changed our minds as we learnt more and our understanding of what store colleagues need improves.  

If you recognise opportunities for operational improvement, no matter which team you’re in, you can speak to Chris Ward, Product manager for Operational Innovation Store. You can also email Richard Sullivan to arrange a place on the Digital masterclass.  

Nick Bullough
Product owner