Co-op sign

Grocery retailers must sell online or face losing sales, according to Chris Conway, head of digital for the Co-op, which currently has no large-scale online offering.

Speaking at the IGD Digital Commerce conference in London on 16 October, Conway said: “When we go into online, there are a number of reasons we do it. The main reason is that’s where customers are going, so if you don’t do it you’re not going to get the sales that are there.”

He added: “You’ve got an option of saying actually we can sit back and do nothing, or we can do something and retain the sales we’ve got.”

Conway was recruited as the Co-op’s head of digital in March this year, having previously been senior director of grocery e-commerce at Asda and Morrisons’ head of online.

The Co-op has recently embarked on a number of trials that could pave the way to a larger e-commerce operation, with a focus on rapid delivery.

Since April this year autonomous robots have been delivering orders for a Milton Keynes branch in as little as half an hour, in a trial run by the robotics startup Starship Technologies.

Read more: Co-op extends taxi home delivery service to 12 stores

That followed a trial launched in January of home deliveries from a Manchester branch by Deliveroo. 

Most recently, the supermarket has launched a home delivery service of goods bought in-store using taxis, which can also provide lifts for customers. The initiative replaces an existing home delivery service using the Co-op’s own vehicle fleet and staff.

The trial was launched in three stores in July and this month extended to 12 of the 228 branches that offer home delivery. Although it’s not an online service, analysts believe scaling it through a network of logistics partners could pave the way to a major e-commerce launch focused on rapid delivery.

Conway hinted that rapid delivery was his focus, highlighting the growth of restaurant delivery services as an untapped opportunity for grocery.

“If you look at Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats, that’s growing phenomenally, really phenomenally, and we’re not really seeing it in our world,” he said “It’s just going on somewhere else, in restaurants or corner shops or whatever.

“And I think that is a tremendous opportunity, and that is a way that retailers can make incrementality as well, by making sure they’re offering the right service to customers when and wherever they want.”

He added that the Co-op was working on “understanding where customers will be in five or 10 years’ time, not where they are now”.