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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: H-E-B grocery, KSAT]


How one supermarket prepared for the virus

This piece on how Texas supermarket chain H-E-B prepared for and responded to the coronavirus is a good read on planning, reacting quickly and taking care of customers.


How do retail businesses reinvent?

Rotaro: a fashion rental company now delivering fruit and veg boxes from local businesses. The renting fashion business is probably very quiet while no-one is going out, but Rotaro’s platform and delivery operation has been able to switch from threads to veg. It will also reduce a little of the load on supermarkets. 

Some companies forced to find new channels to markets, or new uses for their infrastructure might even discover that those new uses are actually better businesses for them.


Could online supermarket queues do good?

One common way to handle increased load upon an ecommerce service is to add more infrastructure capacity so you can serve more visitors making more and larger transactions. Back in the day this meant adding more servers and more bandwidth, but these days many companies use cloud services to abstract away the hardware: you press some button to dial up more Amazon Web Services hosting and compute instances (or Google, or Microsoft etc) and leave Amazon engineers to worry about the disk and servers and cables. But the bigger the operation the more complex it gets: you also have to make sure that your entire system can handle that increased load - so the warehousing and delivery parts of your operation etc.

A less common way to handle load is to rate-limit the demand by making users wait to get access. Deliberate delay is rare in technology, but the calculation here is that serving everyone but slowly will be fairer and better than serving only a few at speed, or serving nobody because the website fell over under the load. 

So some supermarkets have recently put queueing systems in place. You wait in the queue patiently, a clock gradually ticks down to “under a minute”, and you get there in the end. For instance: Morrisons uses Queue-It to provide a “virtual waiting room” and, very anecdotally, allows about 1,000 customers onto its website every minute on a Thursday evening. (This is not to single out Morrisons - they and other supermarkets are doing a great job!) 

Could that queueing time be useful? It’s something like 5-20,000 minutes of attention, every minute! Maybe the queue website could show you some useful information, or teach you a skill, or aggregate your attention and put you to work on a problem that society wants solving. Could the coronaqueue borrow 20 minutes of your computer’s time to crunch some data for a vaccine?


Funding virus innovation

UK scraps plans to buy thousands of ventilators from Formula One group - it seems that by the time manufacturing was ready for the innovative ventilator designs, the scientific understanding had developed and the clinical target had moved on. But UK Gov is proceeding with orders for ventilators from a consortium which will adapt an existing design so it can be manufactured more efficiently.

Elsewhere in crisis funding, Melinda and Bill Gates are funding factories for seven potential COVID vaccines. To save time they’ll build them in parallel, even though they know that only one or two vaccines will be viable, and so most of the factories will be unused.

And the US has paused funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), which feels like an opportunity for someone else (EU? China?) to take the moral high ground by stepping up to fill the funding gap.


Amazon viral lake

Amazon published their shareholder letter today. It says that they’ve removed 0.5m offers from stores and suspended 6,000 accounts for violating fair-pricing policies.

After worker strikes and criticism from courts that they haven’t done enough to ensure safe working conditions, Amazon is building an in-house team and lab to perform COVID testing on front line staff. They are also providing cloud services to WHO. And:

“We are separately making a public AWS COVID-19 data lake available as a centralized repository for up-to-date and curated information related to the spread and characteristics of the virus and its associated illness so experts can access and analyze the latest data in their battle against the disease.”


Other news

Some research says: people are becoming more careful with how they spend their money. But at the beginning of this month, 15% of respondents still thought that the economy would rebound from COVID in a quarter - admirable optimism!

Medical workers wear pics of themselves smiling to comfort COVID-19 Patients - or you could get some of these unnerving your-face-printed-on-a-mask things printed.

UK tech job vacancies fall 31% in less than 4 weeks, according to job site data – so who is still hiring?

Sports news: “Gary Anderson has withdrawn from the PDC [Darts] Home Tour because his WiFi connection is not strong enough

Co-op Digital news

How the Shifts team is responding to emerging user needs - the app helped frontline workers recommend another 5,000 new team members:

“the past few weeks have been especially challenging because we’ve been responding quickly to meet emerging needs of our store colleagues – they are our front-line key workers [...] we used Shifts to send out a message asking Food store colleagues to ‘refer a friend’ to come and work in their store” 

Companies and big organisations have struggled with “agility” for years. Some organisations want to be agile but are not. Some appear to be agile but aren’t. And some are already agile but might not seem it. Coronavirus is showing everyone whether they are truly agile and adaptable.

Co-op hopes to raise £30m for people hit by Covid-19 lockdown. How? This week the Co-op’s membership team added a feature so you can donate your 5% balance to a Coronavirus Fund. Log into your membership account see how it works and donate.”

Federation House’s online events:


Thank you for reading

Thank you, beloved readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to the newsletter’s typing chicken @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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