How Using Innovative Technology Can Help to Enhance Bricks-and-mortar Stores

We sat down with Cliff Austen, Senior Technical Manager, Retail IT, Co-op, to discuss how retail brands within the FMCG space can benefit from innovative technology in bricks-and-mortar stores to help increase footfall.

How can retailers strike the right balance between human interaction and technological tools to meet a customer’s needs in-store?

I think for us it’s about trying to understand what our customers want and need, and we have a broad range of customers with being a convenience retailer. We’ve got time-pressed shoppers who come in on their lunch break or on a school run that want to get in, get their shopping and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible. We also have customers who view their local store as a social hub to meet up and talk to each other.

Our use of technology targets those customers who are looking for speed, ease and convenience from their in-store experience to make their customer journey as frictionless as possible. Initiatives include our ‘Pay in Aisle’ app that can really meet this need. This enables someone to use their phone to scan their items, pay on their phone and walk out of the store, avoiding queues during busy periods.

For customers looking for a social shopping experience, it’s important for us to maintain human interaction with our in-store colleagues. Using technology to reduce manual processes can create more time for in-store colleagues to help our customers and ensure availability on our shelves so that we are at our best even at our busiest times.

Which key areas do you think are the most important for store associates when tracking digital insights on consumer behaviour?

We’re most keen on personalisation right now and working out who our customers are and how we can talk to them about the products they’re interested in, avoiding generalised messaging. This is what our customers tell us they want, and we need to be able to meet that need as a retailer.

One way we’re offering personalisation is to enable our customers to get exactly what they want when they come in-store using initiatives like ‘Pay in Aisle’. Our recently released ‘Offers app’, allows us to help Members select the offers that they’re most interested in on a weekly basis.

For our in-store colleagues, it’s about blending technology to gather information to help them streamline the in-store experience, specifically looking at reducing their pinch points. We’re also trying to blend that by getting customer’s feedback while they’re at the till.

How have you overcome challenges or resistance to change when engaging store associates to embrace the use of technology in their roles?

I feel that it’s imperative to make any new IT systems that are added in-store to be user-friendly for our colleagues. Our colleagues, and customers, are multi-generational with a spectrum of different accessibility needs and therefore adopt technology at different speeds, some mightn’t be very comfortable or familiar with using technology in their everyday lives.

Accessibility, for example, wasn’t traditionally something that was included when developing new technology systems in the past for in-store colleagues, but now their feedback is always listened to, and colleagues are involved in the development of new technology.

Our till system used to be a one-size-fits-all model, but we found that colleagues who were left-handed struggled to operate it. Now, we’ve taken this into consideration and have included a left-handed screen as well, to make it easier for our left-handed colleagues to use. We also plan to adapt our till screen designs to help our colleagues with visual impairment.

How is the Co-op meeting the challenge of staying competitive as new players enter the market with regards to how they’re using technology?

Over the last few years we have been adapting our ways of working. Moving from our traditional Waterfall model to more an agile approach. This has allowed us to spin up product teams to innovate and explore new technologies. It’s out of these teams that our ‘Pay in Aisle’ app has been developed which was the first of its kind for a UK retailer.

What can retailers do to improve how their customers engage and learn about their products through the use of technology?

I think marketing tools, using social media for example that is key for retailers to engage with their customers. However, retailers need to make sure they’re using social media and apps to find out and what their customers want, need and care about That is why we have…. been trialling things like ‘Pay in Aisle’ instead of a traditional app that includes a bit of information about our company, so that we can offer something that is genuinely useful to our customers.

Which technology innovations for enhancing the customer end-to-end journey are you most excited about that are coming onto the market in the next year?

We are committed to using technology to offer a truly personalised shopping experience; however you choose to shop with the Co-op.

Over the next 12 months, Co-op’s online same-day delivery services will be available across almost 100 towns and cities, served by 650 Co-op stores. The rollout includes services from Co-op’s own dedicated online shop, known as, which uses low emissions transport including eco-friendly bikes.

Co-op will also expand its partnership with Deliveroo, which provides on-demand delivery of convenience grocery essentials in under 30 minutes. Ordering through Deliveroo will be extended to 400 stores, reaching around 100 major towns and cities. With Co-op, Deliveroo offers quick, point-to-point delivery of a range of non-perishable items via its rider network, catering for customers who want a quick, impulse buy rather than scheduled same-day delivery.

What is the most effective way to boost a retail brand’s cross-channel connectivity to track customer behaviour after they’ve made an in-store purchase?

Co-op is committed to creating value in our communities, and we have a ‘Five + One’ membership scheme when you swipe your Membership card when buying own branded products, you get five per cent reward, and Co-op donates a further one per cent to local community causes – in November, £17M was shared with over 4,000 local causes, and this is one way in which we are connecting communities, making a difference and engaging our Membership.When members scan their cards, we’re able to generate personalised offers to our customers, getting closer to what they want and need.

It’s also where we see our ‘Pay in Aisle’ app going in the future. In its current stage, it enables customers to scan items around the shop, checkout and pay via their phones. From this, we want to explore additional opportunities for the customer. We’re planning on being able to use this interaction throughout their time in the shop, and after they leave, to give them offers for the next time they come in.

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