It was billed as the biggest piece of research and engagement in The Co-operative Group’s 150-year history.
Launched in February this year, Have Your Say was a 20-minute survey completed by more than 180,000 Co-op shoppers, staff and members on what they thought the society should stand for in the future.
The findings were originally due to be published in May but were only released this week.
For a society that announced its new community-focused strategy seven months ago, the results handily show shoppers support its “determination to provide a real alternative to big business, championing local issues in local communities”.
But are the findings as clear cut as that?
When Have Your Say was initially launched, the survey immediately came under fire for containing leading questions. To add to the criticism, details of the society’s plans to sell off its pharmacy and farms businesses were leaked two weeks after launch.
The Co-op clearly had its new community-based strategy in mind when compiling the questions to Have Your Say. In the 43-page document detailing the results of the survey, the word ‘community’ or ‘communities’ appears 60 times. By contrast, the word ‘price’ is mentioned just 16 times.
Of the results on community, 82% of respondents agreed The Co-op should champion ‘local issues that affect people in their local communities’. It sounds resounding, but global and national aspirations also feature: 77% want the society to champion ‘global Fairtrade and ethical issues that affect people across the world’, and 71% ‘national issues that affect people up and down the country’.
When asked who should be doing more to make local communities a success, only 23% thought local supermarkets and 19% big businesses. And only 32% of respondents agree The Co-op should ‘use its profits to support local community projects that benefit people in my local area, rather than paying a dividend to members’, while 33% disagree.
There is more support for lower prices. Some 43% agree The Co-op should use its profits to lower prices rather than pay a dividend, while 29% disagree.
Price continuously comes through as a key factor in the findings. It was the top choice (53%) when asked what three factors would encourage people to shop at The Co-op more often, followed by more local produce (46%) and a better range of products (42%).
Respondents were also asked to pick up to three options from a list of ideas and initiatives to encourage more people to use its products and services. Again, the top choice (61%) was to lower prices, followed by increasing investment in staff (56%). On community initiatives, 54% said they would like stores to be more focused on the needs of local communities, while 24% said they would like to see the recruitment of community organisers. Despite low support for the latter, The Co-op introduced it in September.
It is not the only initiative The Co-op has introduced ahead of the publication of the Have Your Say results. It acted on its price perception - reducing the price of hundreds of essential lines through its £100m Fair & Square campaign launched in April - less than a month after the survey closed.
Have Your Say also reveals 74% feel it is inappropriate for big businesses to donate to political parties. The Co-op Group’s board has already decided to put its financial support for The Co-operative Party to a vote at its 2015 agm.
The Co-op admits Have Your Say did “reinforce and validate some activity already under way”, and that the findings “provided real focus for us to take into other key programmes … for example, how we develop and deliver a revitalised membership proposition,” according to a spokesman.
Though both The Co-op and the wider UK grocery sector are in a very different place from when Have Your Say was conducted, the society believes the findings are relevant and mark the start of a new chapter of greater dialogue with customers.
“Since Have Your Say we’ve launched the Let’s Talk portal and this active two-way engagement will be a hallmark going forwards as we actively encourage our members to voice their views through the introduction of one member, one vote,” the spokesman promises.