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WEBINAR OVERVIEW Microsoft and the Co-op on optimising the store estate for omnichannel retailing

The Co-op's Chris Conway set out the retailer's strategy around omnichannel retailing

In a recent InternetRetailing webinar, Chris Conway of the Co-op joined Chris Heap and Alex Winch of Microsoft UK to discuss the retailer’s in-store digital transformation for its convenience stores. Here’s a bullet point overview of the discussion.

Chris Conway, head of digital, retail at the Co-op opened the website with an overview of the Coop’s Leading the Way digital transformation. 

“The Co-op’s strategy is very much about being closer to the customer: closer to where I am, closer to what I need and closer to what I care about. Clearly there’s a real big part that omnichannel has to play in realising that goal.” Chris Conway.

• Leading the way: need to revolutionise store estate to ensure agility, making stores ready for the future.

Receive: about how get goods into the store. 

• Logistical improvements, and store improvements being trialled. 

• Includes advance notice of what delivery consists of – lets stores know how long it will take to put everything away. 

• Face recognition technology – programmed to recognise the delivery driver when they arrive, lets them in. Has potential to simplify the process – and further applications for the future, eg direct deliveries, visitors.

Present: merchandising in the store.

• Cameras in some stores to scan gaps. Takes a number of pictures per minute of shelves. • Enables not to have a colleague scanning the gaps, user interface enables real time on shelf availability. Lots of use cases, and valuable data. Gives colleagues time back to focus on customer. Unintended consequence: can prioritise work for the day. Tells us what products are in the wrong place. 

• Machine learning system feeds mobile device that colleague holds, knows what needs to be replenished. Back on sale for customers. Very useful technology.

• Shelf edge labels: six stores where trialling it: makes us look again at this kind of thing. 100% compliance. “We’re really, really excited about that.”

Sell: customer interaction

• “It’s vital we make this really easy. We know our customers spend 3-4 minutes in our store, if we make them queue for 3-4 minutes at our till it’s not a great outcome for the customer. If we make it quick and simple, they’ll come back to us again.”

• Best self-service is card-only tills. Robust. Working closely with Microsoft on Check your Age issues on self-service tills. Recognise this as a pain point. Trialling technology where have facial recognition on tills. When you scan a bottle of wine, if you look over 30 it doesn’t ask to check your age (could be any age but 30 seems most relevant). Will save us money, more efficient, pain-free for customers – and saves colleagues time.

• Pay in aisle app: live in Coop store at Manchester head office (pictured). Shop full store within head office, rather than going to the store, it’s automatically in. Lots of feedback from colleagues, hope to make that customer this year. Epos system vitally important, to plug in number of ways for people to shop. “We’re working hard to make sure we have the Epos system that’s fit for purpose and will be agile enough to cope with anything we throw at it in the future.”

Legacy: old back office systems 

• Cumbersome, can take time. Anything that sends staff to the back office is not good for customers. Massive amount of work in stores to set us up for the future. 

• How do I? Historically when technology failed, had to ring call centre, speak to colleagues to ask how to do something. Now process live on a mobile device: how do I scan a credit card, book a holiday, what days get paid. Instantaneous, customer doesn’t have to wait for answers. Answers being refined all the time now in a number of large stores. Saves colleagues time in store, and head office colleagues’ time on the phone. Want to roll it out to all stores. 

• Task manager: a to do list. Lots of different staff in stores, doing different things. A delivery can turn up at any time in the day, different amounts of load on them. All got your specific task to do. Used to be assigned manually in lists or handover notes. Task manager application knows who you are, your role, gives you a prioritised list of your day: tasks, when and how. 

• As we innovate and build on this application we can see how it would be really useful, especially in an omnichannel world. Different direct and depot deliveries, with the ability to notify task manager of these tasks. Improves communication, saves time. Next stage is new digital product that will really improve workflow.

In a conversational format, Chris Conway, Chris Heap and Alex Winch then discussed issues from customer availability and data for the bricks and mortar environment to learning across channels. 

• Chris Heap, digital strategy lead for retail and consumer goods at Microsoft UK,  looked at the importance of delivering the modern customer journey – and how Microsoft can help that work. 

• Alex Winch, chief technology officer for retail and consumer goods at Microsoft UK, emphasised the importance of using technology to save store shoppers time and make the experience more convenient, and the importance of the store to touch and feel items.

• Winch went on to consider different ways of making retail more relevant for shoppers, from the supply chain to the in-store experience, click and collect and more. 

• Conway looked to a future in which the Co-op could sell online. “When the Coop start selling online we won’t be or, we’ll be something very different and unique,” said Conway. What that would be is yet to be decided, he said, adding: “I think what we’ll see will be a more varied and tailored offer. But the data will tell us that.”

• Chris Heap asked Chris Conway how he felt about Amazon Go and if it could offer a model. “Things that seem crazy one day seem perfectly normal the next,” said  Conway. “What will guide us is our customers and members. We look at the technology they’re using with interest. Will the coop be Amazon Go in the future. I’m not so sure. The technology that makes the experience frictionless is very important. But the human interaction is very important to the Coop – I don’t think we’ll ever lose that.”

Click here to listen to the webinar in full, and to hear the conversation and the Q&A session in more detail.

The webinar built on a Microsoft and InternetRetailing white paper, Optimising the store estate for omnichannel retailing, which is available on the InternetRetailing website. 

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