Brand light box in our Horbury store

The Rochdale Pioneers were innovators. It’s what they’d be called today. In the past our Co-op has been known for many ‘firsts’ – we’ve led the way, and I’m excited we’re starting to do that again.

I’m lucky to meet lots of innovators around our Co-op doing amazing, creative and forward-thinking things every day. Co-op Insurance’s (and the UK’s) first ever chatbot is a great example.

Not all these ideas and projects end up being rolled out across our organisation, but I was privileged to see one that’s made it through in Funeralcare – a digital service that will transform the way we do funerals, giving time back to our colleagues to spend with families. I think it could be a game changer.

I wanted to see it in real time and how it’s being used by our colleagues in what is a very traditional industry – where pen and paper is still the tool of choice for funeral directors and arrangers.

Regional Operations Manager Iain welcomed me to one of our funeral homes in Bolton where our new ‘at need’ digital funeral arrangement service has gone live. It follows our Edinburgh funeral homes which went live in August, and next year we’ll see it rolled out across the rest of the country.

The brilliant thing about this service is Co-op Digital have built it with Funeralcare colleagues who’ve given their feedback every step of the way, and they’ll always be looking to improve it.

It was fascinating talking to the team about how they’ve coped with the change – if it’s made their jobs easier, and given them time back with families. Brilliantly it has.

Steve Murrells chatting to funeral director Steve

I met Steve, a funeral director, who’s been with us a long time. I loved his honesty, and how he’s faced the changes with humour. He told me he’d struggled to get to grips with this new way of working but after some coaching and training from fellow colleagues he now felt confident and was arranging his first funeral with the service that afternoon. I hope it went well. To me, Steve is a shining example of how we can all adapt if we put our minds to it.

Where history meets innovation

We’re also doing incredibly exciting things in Food. I went to our Horbury store in Wakefield with Jo Whitfield, our CEO of Food.

It’s one of three Everyday Convenience Plus stores we’re trialling to see if some new (and very brave) ideas work for our customers, members and colleagues. It’s bigger than our average convenience store and caters for a three-day shop.

Horbury is a village that has Co-op running through its history – virtually every shop on the main street used to be owned by us.

Here’s a few things I really loved:

  • New style community board – customers are loving this as they can see how long we’ve served their community for. There are also spaces for colleagues and customers to share great things that are happening.

New community board in our Horbury store

  • Brand wall (light boxes showing our Co-op difference) – I was blown away by this. It’s an idea normally seen in clothing retailing but think it really helps show what we’re about.

Brand wall at Horbury

  • Meal solutions display – this really shows off our fresh, quality meal ideas in a creative and colourful way and makes it easy for the customer.


We’re in the early stages of these trials but it was great to hear from a customer called Christine who absolutely loves the things we’re trying in this store. One thing she said stayed with me: “The staff here are absolutely brilliant – they make this store”. And she’s right. Without the commitment and passion of our colleagues, this new stuff wouldn’t have the same impact.

Why change is important

So change can be really good. But I completely understand it can be unsettling at first and isn’t always easy.

I know many colleagues have experienced changes in their businesses this year and it’s been difficult. But it’s so important we make those changes or we’ll be left behind – the markets we operate in, and our competition, are constantly shifting.

I think we’re starting to show everyone that we can be innovators again.


Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. Loving our new look store at Warstones, Penn in Wolverhampton. The 1.3 million pound makeover and new refit has given us a fresh, spacious, updated welcoming feel to the place, the staff and customers are all amazed by it and the response has been truly amazing with supply and demand especially over these last 3 weeks leading up to Christmas, we have been so busy with customers coming with their loaded trollies and the atmosphere is great again, there is a new good feel about the place. The layout and also the quality of all our stuff with such good ranges of choice has also gone down well too. Its certainly a hit in this area and we hope this good feel feeling continues now and the good times are back at our local co-op supermarket. We are here for all our customers young and old and we thank the management for their planning into giving us such a wonderful new store.

  2. The Horbury store looks fantastic, but look at the amount of space that does not have product in it. I am no merchandising expert but could you really run a convenience store with so much space not occupied by goods for sale. That looks to me like a pipe dream or someone’s vanity project.

    • Glad you think it looks fantastic. We’re doing these trials in three of our Everyday Convenience Plus stores. Most customers tend to do a three-day shop here, instead of popping in to top up. So yes, there’s more floor space because we usually have more customers in the shop at any one time. This trial definitely isn’t a vanity project – it’s all about trying new things and seeing what works for Co-op and our customers. We know that not everything we try will be a success but if we don’t try it out we’ll never know.

      Thanks ^Sally Gee, Project Lead

    • well our region has been doing similar for a year, clean and clutter free. How many of our customers have buggys and wheelchairs. they can get round our stores freely without having to dodge dumpbins and stacks everywhere. it really drives the key lines too.

    • Yeah those stores with so many mech stands everywhere are great if you want to make it difficult for customers to not be able to walk around, very of putting especially when the store is busy, then I go do my shopping elsewhere.

  3. ” a very traditional industry – where pen and paper is still the tool of choice for funeral directors and arrangers.”

    So we will just take the choice away. I have never had a family say “wouldn’t it be great if you went digital.” but I have had loads say “it’s great to see someone actually writing with pen instead of everything being on a computer” and before anyone says it – this is not an age thing, younger people also like us being traditional and using pen and paper.

    Never mind we wont have any Funeral Arrangers soon it will be log in and tick a box..
    Don’t know what Little Grannie Brown will do………..(you have to have been with Funeralcare a while to know who she is)

  4. I like the brand wall – we really need to shout about our difference and achievements. Not sure where it would go in many of our stores though, but if it could be used for events announcements, eg instead of posters, it would free up some (theoretical) space there.

  5. As part of the this bold statement about innovation it would be nice if change wasn’t so personality-led.

    Part of what makes change so unsettling is that the first announcement the majority of people see is the announcement of a new senior level post with someone being headhunted from outside to fill it.

    This might be part of a masterplan that some of you have discussed but very little communication about that reaches the floor where most of us work. Without the context of the plan, employees fit the announcement into the context of sackings, restructures and redundancies.

    So, the old boss gets sacked because the people above him don’t like him, the new person comes in and has to make an impact by making changes for changes sake, people are the easy thing to change so this leads to a new structure and surprise, surprise, people get made redundant.

  6. Along with innovation should go continual improvement.

    I think we can all see that there’s room for improvement in the “Put the Word Out” boards. They aren’t a great design.

    They already look swamped and untidy with bigger flyers smothering the smaller cards the design was conceived for.

    But don’t just take my word for it – why not put some of the excellent user researchers we have in the Co-op in that store to gather end user feedback ?

    User research is a big part of what has made the online funeral arrangement so successful.

  7. Hi is there a suggestion email where we can recommend potential new sites for food stores?

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