Most industry commentators would agree that the Co-op has significantly improved its customer offer over recent years, to become much more competitive with the other players in the market. In particular, where once it surely trailed Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local, now I am not so sure. Recent IGD data shows it growing ahead of the UK convenience store average.
So how has it improved and what can we learn?
First, it makes choices about mission and category. It doesn’t try and be all things to all shoppers, but to be great at some things for some shoppers. It has focused on the types of mission that its store locations and sizes dictate. Convenience shopping - food for now, food for later and top-ups. ‘It’s what we do and all we do,’ as it says. The clarity around mission allows priority to be given to the right categories: fresh bakery, meat, fish and prepared foods, compelling meal deals, hot and cold food on the go and healthy snacking. It isn’t just about good product ranges but also about space allocation, spotlighting and presentation. For instance, quality wood finishes in bakery, glass cabinets keeping meat and fish in great condition, and pride of place for food for now. And good signalling of these categories from the street, to entice the target shopper into store.
Second, it accentuates its difference. The Co-op is a membership organisation, and that is now much clearer to the shopper, in-store and via their communications. It isn’t just about 5% off for me and 1% for the community - though of course those are significant benefits. It’s about membership - a form of identity. Then there is Co-op’s community contribution, not just the 1%, but other home-made, very local activity, like the homemade cake sale on a table I saw in Ripley this weekend. And on a national level there is clear commitment to British farming, alongside a broader ethical trading commitment that has long been associated with the Co-operative movement. Membership, community and ethics - central to Co-op’s difference - accentuated and communicated.
Finally, it brands consistently. Has anyone in recent years done a better job of rebranding in retail? New store designs with sleek finishes and a quality aura, clear and classy PoS and a new own-label look, with the redesigned logo joining it all up. This consistent look and feel give the impression of a company that knows what it is about and has confidence in what it can do.
So make choices about mission and category, accentuate what is different about you and brand consistently. Those are three things to learn from Co-op’s re-emergence.
Jeremy Garlick is a partner of Insight Traction