Despite working in the retail sector’s ecommerce side for the past seven years, Co-op’s head of online development Jason Perry said it “took some time to understand the Co-op business”.
Unsurprisingly, Perry was handed an extensive project upon his appointment as Co-op Food’s senior manager of strategy in September 2018 – at a time when the retailer didn’t have an online proposition.
“Part of my role and the team that were brought in was to assess what the Co-op’s place to be online should be,” Perry recalled.
“It took a bit of time to understand the market, understand the Co-op business, and then put forward a plan for us to step into a digital space.
“Between September 2018 and now, we’ve gained lots of partnerships with various businesses and we’ve been able to launch our own online grocery proposition from nothing.
“Right now we’re fulfilling many orders from hundreds of shops and that’s been one of the biggest changes for the Co-op.”
Perry was promoted to head of online development in February 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic struck the UK. Since then, he has worked as part of the team to launch its first on-demand home delivery service, install protective equipment in stores due to the pandemic, and increase the Co-op’s recruitment drive as demand for groceries increased.
Perry’s retail experience comes from working at Asda as well as its parent company Walmart for the past decade. At Walmart, Perry worked as international development manager, which he described as the “most valuable experience” because of how it allowed him to “scale online grocery businesses starting from scratch”.
“We’re using the technology to our advantage to give the customers the visibility that they want on how they’re shopping,” he said.
He also told Retail Gazette that his previous experience meant he was able to take “different ways of thinking” and bring them into the Co-op: “What we’ve been able to do is kind of hone in on excellence.
“The big thing for me was having that breadth of experience, not just in one part of online but how we sell on the website, how we fulfil orders.
“All of those different experiences across my career helped shape the Co-op online proposition.
“We didn’t have an online platform so we built it from scratch. We’ve actually been able to use some of the best technology out there. We’ve improved our delivery services so customers can now track an order, from leaving the car to arriving at the front door.”
One of Co-op’s most significant click-and-collect partnerships is with the John Lewis Partnership, which announced on Friday that it would extend the one-year old tie-up to over 500 Co-op stores by the end of summer. The partnership provides John Lewis customers with a new delivery option by allowing them to pick up online orders from Co-op stores.
Perry said he’s “proud” of the many initiatives Co-op has launched, especially its first on-demand home delivery service in Ramsey, Isle of Man in late June. The same day service allows shoppers to select from around 4000 products on Co-op’s own online shop – which offers home delivery or click-and-collect slots in as little as two hours. Perry said Ramsey was chosen as the launch pad because it was “a real community in need of shopping in a more convenient way and a safer way”.
“It was brought forward to support that local community,” he reflected.
“Customers can go online, place an order for collection to where they live, and Co-op deliver it within two hours from there.
“The colleagues in the store will then go and pick them using the pick system that we’ve built, and then it’ll be a Co-op colleague delivering in a Co-op van for customers.”
The initiative has since been expanded to a number of cities across the UK, and Perry said the Co-op was “on target to offer the online service for 650 shops this year”. He added that the the grocery chain was currently in the process of rolling out its home delivery service and gained the momentum for expansion due to “unprecedented demand”.
“We’re going to see this coming to a number of more towns, cities, and villages,” he said.
“We’re obviously looking to test the kind of online model across them and there’s a lot of benefits to doing click and collect.
“What we’re looking to do is give our customers the choice. We think click and collect is a good choice for customers. It is convenient and fits in around their life. It is a way of mitigating the risk of going in and out of shops and having interactions with people.
“Our role as a convenient retailer is to give that convenience in choosing how they want to shop with us.
“We’ve worked faster to increase slots by the thousands on a weekly basis now. By the end of the year, we’ll be in a very strong position with our store network.”
Perry told Retail Gazette one silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic was that it brought an “exciting” change to the Co-op.
“As a business, we’ve really adapted. From an online point of view, it helped us scale even quicker than we already were,” he explained.
“We’ve been able to launch our own online grocery proposition from nothing”
“What we’re seeing with online is that thanks to Covid, customers are wanting to shop with us more.
“So they’ve tried the online channel, they’re new to the Co-op, they’re seeing the benefits and coming back and shopping more with us.”
While the Co-op has been able to “adapt easily” to the change in customer behaviours, Perry said the retailer has been growing rapidly and online is one part of that.
“During the pandemic, we recruited over 5000 colleagues,” he said.
“Many people who had been working in hospitality had lost their jobs, so we drafted in colleagues to work not only in our supply chain, but also in stores stocking shelves helping to fulfil online orders.
“We did that in seven days.”
Despite Covid-19 forcing grocers to speed up their supply chains as demand for essential items increased, Perry told Retail Gazette that this was not the only challenge the Co-op has faced in recent months.
“There’s always the challenge of being relevant to customers,” he said.
“If retailers never see that as a challenge, then they’re not being customer-centric.
“There’s plenty of examples out there of businesses that haven’t adapted and haven’t stayed relevant, and where they’ve unfortunately fallen down the way side.
“At Co-op, we want to be led by customers and how they want to shop.
“Our customers prefer shopping multiple times throughout the week rather than one big shop, and if you look at how we’ve built our same day online offer, you’ll see that it’s tailored for our customers.
“There’s always the challenge of being relevant to customers”
“There’s always that challenge of ‘look, we’re doing a great job but how can we grow better and faster?’
“We get customer feedback, we get colleague feedback. And obviously we’ve got a lot of members that shop with us as well.
“They’re always very engaged in telling us what’s good, what’s bad, and how we can improve. We’ve taken that feedback from customers to improve the operating model.”
Perry also believes the Covid-19 pandemic may have changed the retail landscape forever.
“If you look at any of the online penetration stats at the moment, we’ve seen more penetration in the last 12 weeks than we had in the previous 10 years,” he said.
“For us at the Co-op, we still see the benefit of being in our physical locations and being close to the customers and what they want.
“They’ll be some things that will stay with us forever.
“From an online point of view, we’re continuing to roll out our services. There’s lots of things happening that we’ll probably see over the coming months.
“For Co-op, we’re continuing opening up new stores. We’re going to expand online in more places through click and collect on delivery.
“And we’re going to keep testing and learning.
“We’re very confident as a business that we’ve got the right strategy in place to still be relevant, especially for another hundred and 75 years.”