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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: Last Supper on Zoom, @mythaddict and Leonardo]

Retail reinvents itself

This newsletter has often talked about change coming from outside the food and retail industries - “externalities” like Amazon turning up in your city with checkoutless stores or logistics capability on a new scale. But now the externality is coronavirus, and it is touching everything.

Supermarkets and grocers are all putting safety measures in place: queued entry to stores, screens between checkout staff and customers, distance markers, one-way systems and basket limits.

Some retailers are repurposing teams, stores or infrastructure so they can serve a different channel to market. Target pauses plans for grocery pickup amid COVID-19 outbreak. But rival Walmart ramps up its delivery capability with a “zero contact” service. Sainsbury's revives its Chop Chop bicycle delivery service in central London. And perhaps there will be a second chance for mealkitco Blue Apron.

And some companies are shifting up or down the value chain as an intermediary disappears: wholesalers are having to become retailers. Some retailers are converting their operations to handle adjacent opportunities: restaurant delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Doordash turn to grocery. And some grocers have “gone dark” - shutting to in store customers, and acting as warehousing for online deliveries or click-and-collect.

So coronavirus is obviously very disruptive, but it is also an accelerator. The virus is compressing a decade of technology change and organisational transformation into a few weeks.



Viral privilege

Coronavirus is the Ebola of the rich and requires a coordinated transnational effort. It is not particularly lethal, but it is very contagious. The more medicalized and centralized the society, the more widespread the virus. This catastrophe unfolding in wealthy Lombardy could happen anywhere.” 

The virus is indiscriminate. This is scary for the privileged because they (that is, we) are used to many things - money, class, geography, gender, race, ability, education, stability, job and so on - helping keep the Bad Things away. The safe buffer, gone.

But even though it is indiscriminate, the virus is not at all equal. Some groups are disproportionately affected because they live in denser populations, have poorer access to healthcare facilities, or have jobs dealing with the virus (without enough of the protective equipment!), or are poor or lack that safe buffer.

Hopefully the virus makes us reset a little, find a way to work, live and consume that is fairer to all. Part of the Co-op’s response is Co-operate, a way “to help people make good things happen in communities”. From our blog post How we launched ‘Co-operate: get or offer support’ in 9 days

“Co-operate was now catering to a national, rather than a regional audience. Despite the many and varied changes we were adapting to, it was overwhelmingly clear that the main aspiration of Co-operate remained: people want to support each other and do good. So, our priority became finding a way to allow people across the UK to ‘get or offer support’ in their community.”


The quarantine zone in your kitchen

Matt Webb wrote a thoughtful piece about virus-era rooms:

“Maybe we could build a porch onto the front of our house and create a quarantine room. Bonus points: if we could give one-time access codes so deliveries can be left somewhere safe indoors, but without having grant full access.”

We’ve talked about delivery airlocks before in this newsletter:

“2030: Jackie monitored her fleet of wheeled delivery robots doing their mid-morning runs on a bank of screens. Green across the board except for a single red light - she pressed a button to despatch a team member to investigate a robots-only airlock that wasn’t letting deliveries through. The robots brought packages to larger package stores in apartment towers - the older store rooms still needed people to rack the goods or put them in lockers. The dissolvable cellulose packaging would melt away by the time the recipient came to grab their delivery. These days Amazon offered Prime accounts for apartment complexes as well as families, and many products had become “subscribe and save”.

2040: Eventually it made more sense to keep products in the store room, and less stuff in the apartments. The package room became a social area: fewer storage racks, more communal seating. A household and entertainment lending library. Apartments became neater, smaller. Amazon had 80% of all retail spending, and Prime looked more like a citizen tax than a subscription service.”

So the virus creates an opportunity for a domestic Amazon-locker-meets-decontamination-room. Take a letterbox like this or this, and add a key pad. Add an app/service that lets you provide one-time codes to delivery people, and eventually hooks into Amazon deliveries. Add a strong UV-C light inside to try zap unwanted viruses. Add a refrigerated section even. (Where’s that startup?)

But if the product packaging had anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, that might be better: The demand for sterile and antiviral packaging amid Covid-19 panic.

NHS survey, and protective equipment

This survey will help the NHS understand more about how and where coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting people currently. By answering some quick questions, you can help the NHS plan its response to coronavirus.”

DoES Liverpool has a project to get protective equipment to NHS staff.

Apple is providing 1m face masks a week to medical staff.


Other news

“We have reached a weird point in history where we can say that true communism has never been tried, because they didn’t have enough RAM” - from an interesting piece about Amazon’s planned economy.

Machine learning in your voice: Google uses machine learning to “fill in” gaps in conversations caused by packet loss and other network glitches.

General Electric workers launch protest, demand to make ventilators

A coronavirus fix that passes the smell test?


Co-op Digital news

How we launched ‘Co-operate: get or offer support’ in 9 days.

Last week, Co-op digital published It’s OK to do what you need to do. Charles Burdett turned it into a clever website,

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.

Copyright © 2020 Co-op Digital, All rights reserved.

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