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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: Lifvs/Handelsnytte]


Who does microfulfilment best?

This is a really interesting read about microfulfilment, the “small warehouse” approach to managing online shopping’s back end, and who the key vendors are. The author sees one of the microfulfilment players, Takeoff, moving from robotics to hardware-agnostic software platform. 

💥 Why this matters: Beyond the obvious questions about efficiency, an interesting question for virus-era grocery is whether dark stores (those once open to the public but now being repurposed for online fulfilment) and hybrid supermarket-plus-online-delivery models will work well. What is automatable?


Convenience store in a container

Lifvs is an unstaffed convenience store startup that targets rural communities in Sweden. Lifvs stores are open 24/7, fit in a container, and are unstaffed - they’re fully automated. You can imagine that local community reaction might be negative if it looks like an unstaffed store is removing jobs from the local economy, but these small communities lost their staffed stores years ago. Lifvs plan that one local person handles the resupply for several local stores.

💥 Why this matters: If communities could own a stake in a store, you could see them doing well. Also: note the difference between this idea and Amazon Go, which is targeted at urban markets, and is checkoutless rather than unstaffed.


Ocado buys robotics

Ocado is buying two robotics companies, Kindred and Haddington, and last month invested in another, Myrmex. Compared to the microfulfilment vendors (see above), Ocado focuses on larger fulfilment centres and does more than just the automated warehousing bit. 

Online/delivered grocery technology has enough complexity and needs enough up-front capital expenditure that Ocado does exclusive deals: only one supermarket runs on the Ocado platform in each territory, M&S in the UK, Kroger in the US etc. So the Ocado story is more “complex technology platform”, rather than “cloud computing for every supermarket”.


COVID app problems

Software bungle meant NHS Covid app failed to warn users to self-isolate” - the risk threshold had been set too high. This big mistake has now been fixed, and thanks to the code being open sourced, you can see when.

Elsewhere in Covid testing, Boots is offering £120, 12-minute nasal swab tests. These are precautionary pre-flight tests, rather than for those who are symptomatic.

If someone works out how to do testing with the same turnaround but at a much lower price point, and if the various apps and track and trace services work more accurately and at greater scale, then national and regional lockdowns can turn into individual lockdowns, and a stronger suppression or even an elimination strategy would be easier.


AI diagnostics in health

Cough into a phone, and this AI can hear if you have Covid-19. It isn’t approved by the FDA yet, but if that happens, this sounds important.

The AI that spots Alzheimer's from speech patterns. One of the reasons that machine learning systems are proving useful in diagnostics is that they’re good at spotting patterns in huge sets of data.


Essential shopping only

Supermarkets were told to sell only essential items as Wales re-entered lockdown. The rationale was to make it fairer to smaller retailers (of “non-essential” goods) who’d been told to shut, which sounds like a good, equitable idea. Except that there were problems: supermarkets had to interpret what “essential” meant, which led to some mistakes. And the level playing field wasn’t very level because it didn’t include online retailers. 

One of the terrible things about the virus is that even though it looks indiscriminate, its effects are not even. It disproportionately affects people who have underlying medical conditions or are poor, older, an ethnic minority, disabled.


Content businesses: New York Times and Quibi

The (Not Failing) New York Times. This is a great post that looks at the New York Times turnaround, from failing newspaper to thriving digital subscription business. 

💥 Why this matters: for any recovery and reinvention project, the interesting questions are easily outlined but hard to answer: acknowledging the problem, choosing what to cut (many supplementary businesses) and what to invest further in (the core journalism), executing the business model and digital transformation.

Elsewhere in content business models… the short video content for mobile service Quibi is shutting, having spent $1.4bn. They say that the pandemic was to blame for shutting down commuting, their primary use case. But you could equally say that it had too much competition on the social side (TikTok et al), and that no-one has yet proved that video content designed for mobile can work outside of user-generated content that’s monetised by advertising. The broader takeaway for new ventures: don’t prematurely scale. Don’t fling 1.4bn at a product before you have any idea if the market wants it.



After a very successful campaign to provide free lunches during holiday time, businesses stepping up to offer free school meals. Afterwards, UK Gov perhaps felt like it got the mood wrong on that one. Related: Co-op is extending free school meals through half term at its 25 academies.


Co-op Digital news and events

We’ve updated our forms guidance in our design system: “Forms are one of the most commonly used design components across our digital products and services at Co-op. From both a customer and a business point of view, they are also an essential part of a service because they allow a transaction to take place.”

Federation: Listening and Learning in Black History Month.

Free of charge events at Federation house (and elsewhere):

More detail on Federation House’s events.


Thank you for reading

Thank you friends, readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to @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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