Innovative Retailer: The Co-Operative Group


Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS


Name: The Co-operative Group. Well the food retail part of it anyway.

The Place: Oh, all over. 2.5k+ units across the whole of the UK.

The Story: Well, I don’t think we need to rehash the entire history of the co-operative movement and its iconic blue clover leaf logo here…

Phew. But, in a nutshell, the co-operative movement started in the mid 1800s in Rochdale as a way of the customers owning the business and sharing in the profits.

OK, that’s quite enough of that. This isn’t a history lesson – we’re looking forward. So cut to 2019 and there are 4.6m active members while 2018 revenues show that, even in the unbelievably cut throat market that is British food retailing, the Co-Operative Group is doing very well, thank you.

How much? £7.2bn total food sales and an increase of underlying operating profit of 12% to £204m. Historically they have had a very ethical way of doing business which is undoubtedly reaping the group benefits now.

Stay focussing on the future please. Can I not even mention they were the first to sell fairtrade goods and now have 12% of the total UK market share?

No. We want now. Or that they have been pioneers of British sourcing with most of their own brand meat and dairy lines coming from UK farms?

‘Fraid not. 98% of its electricity comes from renewable sources? Eons before anyone else.

Nope. First major retailer to receive the cruelty free mark way back in 2004 for all its household, beauty products?

Sorry. Come on! Just trying to tell you how they have been first there on lots of this stuff. OK then – they have begun to use Smartwater fog cannons in their stores.

Don’t even think about it: The fog cannon in action

Now that is more like it. What on earth is a fog cannon? All part of the staff protection initiatives that the co-op is introducing in the face of increased retail  crime. It’s being trialled in stores in Manchester, Wales and through the ‘Safer colleagues, Safer Communities’ programme.

Literally a fog? Yes, literally once activated it creates a fog to obscure the intruder’s vision and also covers them in SmartWater liquid which shows up under ultra violet light and lasts for five years.

Crikey! Moving right on to the robot deliveries.

Love anything to do with robots. Well, the Co-op are now trialling with Starship Technologies. From two stores in Milton Keynes a potential 11,000 customers can order via an app and delivery only costs a quid!

Cute: Have your co-op products delivered by robot if you live in Milton Keynes

Get away. Staff pack the goods into a locked compartment which can only be opened by the customer using the app on receipt. But in amongst the hi-tech solutions the retailer is also returning to yesteryear.

Stop the press. Horses and carts? Don’t be daft. But they have launched a two-hour delivery service from a Chelsea-based store via an electric cargo bike.

How’s that panning out? It links into its first foray into online selling which is expected to roll out to more London stores very soon. The service delivers within a two and half mile radius of the Kings Road shop and does have a minimum £15 spend and flat rate £5 for the delivery. Click and collect will also be running from the same store.

Better later than never to the online party I suppose. But the bikes are zero emission so the Co-op is still pushing the boundaries.

Never mind Chelsea tractors: The Co-op’s got e-bikes

They’re throwing a lot at the Chelsea customer, no? Quite a lot but they’re tough shoppers down there. They can take it.

They want to pick on shoppers in their own home turf for a change. Oh they do. For example another newish project for 2018 was the development of a new app which meant customers could check-out purchases on the phone and pay with a single click without visiting a till at all. It was built in conjunction with Mastercard and tested out in Manchester.

It’s a techie dream over at the Co-op right now. It’s massively focussing on being the best at the whole convenience thing. It’s not really about going head to head with the Big Four – the company wants to accentuate its difference on ethical issues and the way it’s run.

Booming though aren’t they? Absolutely. And expect to see a whole lot more of them soon because along with a planned 100 new owned and operated stores in 2019 you can now be a Co-op franchisee!

Huzza. The top people are wanting to set up around 200 over the next couple of years, it’s the first time in nearly 200 years this retailer has offered to license its brand over to other retailers. But the Nisa thing has gone super well so I guess they are hoping for the same success here.

I’m bowled over with innovations. And we haven’t even touched on the whole schools and hospitals stuff they do but if it aint’ retail then we ain’t talking about it.



PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe