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Inside Retail & Diebold Nixdorf

Self-service kept the nation fed: How Co-op UK leaned on tech during Covid

Co-op UK, Britain’s fifth biggest food retailer, is using technology to drive a better shopping experience for its customers in brick-and-mortar retail.  

Speaking at a webinar, hosted by Inside Retail, Andrew Hoff, head of technology for retail at Co-op UK, highlighted the importance of self-service as a quick and safe checkout option, particularly at the height of the pandemic. 

“[Self-service] continues to be our predominant kind of point-of-sale. I don’t see that going away,” Hough said. “When I think back to 12 months ago, I don’t know how we, as retailers in the UK, would have survived without self-service.”

At the height of Covid-19 lockdowns, with social distancing requirements and limits on the number of customers allowed in stores, traditional checkout options were slowing down the experience for shoppers. Hough said that self-service allowed the business to react to the unprecedented situation and keep customers moving.

“As retailers, all we needed to do was put a simple acrylic screen between each self-service unit, and we were all back up and running at full capacity within weeks. If we hadn’t the self-service units, I genuinely think we would have really struggled. In no small way, self-service kept the nation fed. Agility was really key.”

According to Nielsen Australia data, waiting in a checkout queue is the second biggest frustration shared by shoppers. More than four in 10 (46 per cent) of Australian shoppers generally prefer self-checkout and that share increases significantly when customers are faced with waiting in line (64 per cent) and small baskets (69 per cent).

The data shows a preference for self-checkout in case of small baskets is significant across all age groups but particularly with Gen Z and Millennials, who show an even higher preference for skipping queues.

In-app vs self-service

As a result, many retailers in Australia and internationally are also exploring in-app shopping as a quick and convenient checkout option. And while successful for many, it hasn’t won over Co-op UK shoppers in trials. 

“It didn’t work for us. The customer uptake just wasn’t there,” Hough said. “Even during the pandemic when you would expect the most need for in-app shopping, in our experience, it was just moving the friction point. You can only carry so many goods in your hand.” 

However, Matt Redwood, director of advanced self-service solutions at Diebold Nixdorf, believes that both in-app shopping and in-store self-service technology can co-exist. 

“I think there is space for both, actually providing multiple ways of shopping, multiple touchpoints; ultimately allowing the consumer to shop in the way that they want is most important,” Redwood said. 

“I think as mobile becomes more prevalent and retailers become more comfortable [with in-app shopping] there is a world where consumers will move from touchpoint to touchpoint within the store.”

“The technology is the easy part”

Hough described how the role of the Co-op team members has changed significantly in the last decade due to the rise in online shopping. 

“Our colleagues are no longer at a point-of-sale or stocking shelves, they’re picking online orders, they’re doing concierge services for parcel collection; so it’s moved completely away from just that transactional [element], so customers self-serving is absolutely fundamental to that,” he said. 

Hough’s advice for those retailers that are considering introducing self-service checkouts is to focus less on the technology and more on buy-in from teams and customers. 

“Implementing self-checkout is not about technology. The technology is actually the easy part,” he said. “It’s about giving colleagues a richer work experience, that’s really important. And educating customers, if it’s a new [addition] in a particular retail setting or indeed a territory, there’s a lot of work to do there in terms of engagement.”

Click here to watch the free webinar Enhancing Customer Shopping Journeys Through Self-Service with Co-op UK.