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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

[Image: Apple Maps, which pushed out a quick edit to their satellite imagery]


Could 5G help make shopping centres safe instead of smart?

UK's first smart mall blazes a trail for physical retail: Can 5G technology turn shopping centres back into attractive destinations?” The promise in this story is that 5G bandwidth plus augmented reality will transform a Surrey shopping centre’s shops into an exciting physical/virtual hybrid:

“tapping a phone over a product's barcode will trigger an overlay of digital content that can reveal the entire provenance of the supply chain for checking ethical credentials or ingredient detail. [...] It's like squashing the range you would otherwise get in Selfridges into something the size of Clinton cards but still with the ability to pick something up [in store] and have that physical interaction with the assistant"

(Well, stuffing Selfridges into a Clinton Cards is one way of selling the magic.) This idea isn’t new but it is interesting. Argos, Screwfix and shoe shops already separate display from inventory. And online shopping separates both display from inventory and the transaction from possession of the goods. Splitting things apart (or “unbundling”) can be a good way to create some new value. In physical retail, the unbundling value is generally about cost efficiencies. This might be the challenge for smart shopping centres: are they offering the right bundle? And if the value a smarter shopping centre creates is cost efficiency, how does it compete with the modern cost efficiency experts, online shopping? And will it be happy if shoppers “showroom”: inspect the item in the shop, and then use that convenient 5G to see if they can buy it cheaper online? There is a solutioneering feel about that news story - maybe they wondered if a problem could be found to go with the collection of technologies they had in front of them. 

Instead, what if they started with needs? Instead of “smart” or “cost-efficient Selfridges”, what if they’d started with “safe”? Perhaps a shopping centre could make coronashopping very safe by managing queues and distancing really well. Or by providing booked entry times paired with sensible deals. Or by monitoring what percentage of people are currently wearing masks. Or by providing click and collect from mezzanine level 4 to the car park. Safe shopping is going to be a thing as it becomes clearer that the coronavirus is something we’ll live with for a long time. Can 5G help with any of this?

Related: coronavirus is accelerating wealth inequalities in offline retail, with high margin sectors able to offer bespoke, socially-distanced service and lower margin sectors offering queues.

Black lives matter: #teagate

Yorkshire Tea and PG Tips said please don’t buy our tea to some people on Twitter. Hats off to them. Last week we wondered whether brands will all take political positions eventually, because the world’s increased inequality and rate of change will force them to.

However tea isn’t quite as simple as a binary good vs bad though: tea has a complicated colonial history. Race, racism and history are woven into the everyday - read this powerful piece, by Co-op’s Annette Joseph. We have to work at making everything better. 


Amazon as a COVID green zone?

Amazon could spend $300m on developing COVID-19 testing by the summer. And the company says it will spend $4bn total on virus-related efforts in the next financial quarter. Some of that 4bn is going on PPE, testing, social distancing measures etc, like every other retail company is doing. But the wider aim might be a fully “vaccinated supply chain”, a covid-secured organisation and logistics operation in which both employees and customers feel safer. 

You buy from them because it’s reliable, or maybe you even go work for them. (That’s the theory anyway, though Amazon’s history of warehouse worker complaints suggest it’s not going to be quite as easy as that.) What stops others doing this? If only Amazon has the cashflow to do it, then it might create competitive advantage, and even deeper moat for the Everything Store.


Clapping robots will deliver more Co-op grocery orders

Co-op is expanding same-day robot-delivered groceries to more stores and communities near Milton Keynes: 

“The number of customers using robot deliveries has more than doubled since the start of lockdown, with the value of transactions increasing four-fold as shopping habits change. In response to the rising demand, the service has been made available in eight Co-op Group stores, with six new stores added since March. 

Starship has also waived its delivery charge for NHS workers during the lockdown period - and programmed the robots to pause to “clap and cheer” at 8pm on Thursday evenings in recognition of carers and key workers.” [!]

Content writerbots and content moderation farms

Microsoft sacks journalists to replace them with robots gathering stories for “I spend all my time reading about how automation and AI is going to take all our jobs, and here I am – AI has taken my job.” You didn’t need to be a neural network to predict what would happen next: Microsoft's robot editor confuses mixed-race Little Mix singers. And it sounds as if the remaining journohumans at MSN are struggling to control the AI’s driving need to publish stories about its own bias. “Now is not the time to be making mistakes”, says a Microsoft staff member. (Oh! Or maybe this is an elaborate scheme to keep journalists in work, battling their AI colleagues?)

So far content moderation has been difficult to automate, so social media cos typically outsource content moderation to contractors. A new report says that reliance of contractors has led to poor working conditions and a lack of attention to real-world harms caused by inflammatory or deceptive content. Content moderation should be brought in house, it recommends. (More on outsourced content moderation, though that can be a difficult read.)


Various things

Big salute to Doteveryone, which is stopping work after five years of fighting for better tech, for everyone.

Behavioural insurance startup Lemonade will go public.

Ploipailin Flynn wrote a powerful month note for Projects by IF about anti-racism.

Zoom says free users won’t get end-to-end encryption so FBI and police can access calls - that seems a really bad way to think about who deserves privacy, but sadly you’ll probably see more of it in future.


Co-op Digital news

We’re using ‘behaviour modes’ to keep users at the centre of decisions.

Co-op Group’s annual general meeting.

The Federation House team is running weekly drop-in chats for the community every Wednesday at 10am: Join us here. See our online events.

Free of charge 

Paid for 

  • Mental Health – 2 Day Training Course – 15/16 June – All Day 
  • Cariad Yoga – Online Yoga – Various Dates & Times in June 
  • Invisible Cities - Online Tours of Manchester or Edinburgh – Various Dates & Times 

Thank you for reading

Thank you, beloved readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to the newsletter’s typist @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend!

If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.

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