Interview: Co-op on store transformation

The Co-Operative has been through its fair share of difficulties in recent years, but it seems to have finally come through the other side of what Adrian Peace, retail & logistics standards & innovations manager at the Co-operative, described as a “traumatic couple of years”.

Recent financial results has seen rebuild plans impact bottom line, but like-for-like sales are on the up and the retailer opened over 100 new stores last year and refitted a further 155.

“The Co-op is having somewhat of a renaissance and its performing exceptionally well,” says Peace, who points to the dramatically different way customers are shopping today.

And it seems these changing consumer habits of shopping more frequently has left the Co-op – with its 2,500 stores on high streets up and down the country – best placed to pick up on this new convenience trend.

“Customers are shopping more frequently and heading to the shops on a more convenience and day-to-day basis, which sits very nicely with the portfolio the Co-op has, which is primarily smaller stores in high street locations and communities,” he explained. “It’s been an interesting few years for the Co-op, and it feels like we’re in a great place to challenge this and we’re investing heavily in our stores and formats.”

Self-service checkout

One such investment is the introduction of self-service checkouts, and Peace is the first to admit the retailer has been late to the game in rolling out this technology.

“It kind of feels as if it’s a little later to the market than other retailers, but it’s given us the opportunity to learn and decide exactly what direction we want to go in.”

Peace describes how payments is an ever-changing market and when it considered self checkout nearly a decade ago, the technology was very primitive.

“Although we’re late to the game, we were anticipating that payment types would change and when you jump into technology, it’s all about timing, technology is critical in terms of helping businesses take their provision forward driving efficiencies. But tech is changing so fast now.”

Peace points to comedians joking about self checkouts as often being a painpoint in the shopping journey, explaining how the Co-op wanted to install the right technology.

“It’s now far more reliable and far more intuitive,” he says. “It’s gone from the early days of the new technology trying to offer too much to the customer, and now it’s making that transition to being as fast and as simple as possible, which fits into the convenience market of getting the customer in and out as quickly as possible.”

But not all stores will have this technology, Peace explained the roll out will be based on location and customer demographic to ensure the right technology is in front of the right shoppers.

“We are in pretty much all postal codes from the far South West to the Highlands of Scotland,” he says. “And because we’re in so many different locations, it’s important the offer [products and technology] that fits and matches those locations – the Co-op a few years ago was a one-size fits all offer and proposition, now our ranges are tailored to location and demographic.”

Staff scheduling

As well as convenience, self checkout frees up colleagues to be on the shop floor engaging with customers. But deciding which staff should be working in what part of the store has traditionally been a paper-based chore for store managers.

At the turn of the decade, the Co-operative began working with Kronos to take this scheduling task digital.

“At that point there was a realisation that we needed to provide our store managers with tools to plan their resourcing and staff scheduling,” explains Peace, describing how the Kronos tools freed up managers from the shackles of administration so they could spend more time coaching colleagues, talking to customers and being at the shelf edge.

“It’s a better use of time than spending it in the office,” he says. “I’m not saying resource planning isn’t important, it’s absolutely critical, but freeing up time for managers seemed like the right thing to do.”

But over the last few years, the grocer has questioned whether the tools were freeing up staff or making them a slave to technology.

“We started to challenge whether Kronos was the right tool,” says Peace.

What managers were finding was that the tools were at times too restrictive and led to managers losing the autonomy that the culture of the business had given them in the first place. Peace describes how the tools were a one size fits all solution, for a fleet of stores which were very different in size and demographic.

Luckily, Kronos was able to work with the Co-operative to create a more flexible solution and successfully leveraging the application to the needs of the grocer.

“It was a really interesting journey and the tool is now incredibly pliable and flexible and it has led nicely to changing the approach to resourcing in stores… in effect what we are doing is giving a bit more autonomy and freedom back to our managers.”

He adds: “Kronos is not the Bible, but a very good tool to ensure they have the right number of people in shops to do the activity that needs to be done.”

Now the Co-op is working with Kronos to become more mobile by allowing store colleagues to check schedules, request holidays and swap shifts via their personal devices. This is currently being piloted in a number of the grocer’s Manchester stores, with plans to roll out if successful.

“We’ve moved from very office-bound technology, to taking advantage of technology and progression,” says Peace. “The business moves with technology and as we employ younger people there’s almost expectation to use mobile and digital more than we do.”