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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: AlexisOng/Sellabella/ArsTechnica]


Back to normal? Or a new normal?

HelloFresh reports fast rise in first quarter turnover as customers flock to subscribe to meal kits. Online grocer Ocado is now worth more than Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Marks & Spencer combined after lockdown boost. Online grocery shopping has obviously had a big jump up, but will it fall back to previous levels as shopper fears about the virus recede?

Behind these news stories is a question. Is this the “new normal”, or will we “go back to normal” after the virus? It is tempting to see these changes as temporary. Toilet roll shortages, hunting for online delivery slots, working from home, schooling at home - all temporary. Carnival Cruises bookings for August are going well. Back to normal.

On the other hand, there may not be an “After” the virus at all, if you think of After in terms of getting back to Exactly The Way Things Were Before. This is for a few reasons.

First, having moved some activities online, we might decide that they work well enough. Some companies are going to stay remote, because offices and commuting are expensive. Some shopping is going to stay online. As you’d expect, 9 in 10 UK shoppers say they’ve reduced or stopped visits to shops. But over 40% say they’ll continue shopping as they do now. And 20% say they’ll do more grocery shopping online.

Second, going to a supermarket and many other activities are going to remain socially distanced for a long time. Lockdown infrastructure and bureaucratic process will be with us for years (in the same way that you still see 9/11 infrastructure - shoes, the toiletries bags - if you go to an airport today). It’s interesting to think how that changes the experience of shopping, and eventually its design. Today shopping aisles are taped up or stickered to show distance markers, next year the markings might be painted, and after that the shop itself might be designed differently. 

Do unusual store formats help with social distancing? Separating display from inventory and transaction from handover might make it easy to adapt (like IKEA, Argos or Screwfix). McDonalds already has loads of ordering kiosks and drive throughs. Banks and post offices already maintain distance between staff and public in branches.

Third, the virus is an amplifier that massively accelerates the economic trends that were already happening: shopping was already going online, or at least to parts of town with better and cheaper parking. Fighting that to try get back to Before is too hard: you can’t turn back technology change and shopper behaviour. (This is also why efforts to save the high street have always been doomed if they were just about conserving the idea of the high street of 2010, or 1990. The high street is changing, was already changing. *Preserving* the high street doesn’t work, but *remaking* it can.) You have to do something different.

So you wonder if the bit after the lockdown will eventually be an endless Now, a time of increased change, uncertainty, provisional adaptation. What does it mean for large organisations? More change, faster transformation, a greater need to experiment. How to get closer to the customer while staying further apart?


Online shopping and Tesco’s doomsday exercise

“At the time people said it was a bit ridiculous and extreme” - How Tesco's 'doomsday exercise' helped it cope with the coronavirus

Tesco is doing 1.2m online grocery delivery slots weekly now. Comparisons: Waitrose is at 120,000 orders a week, and Morrisons has trebled online slots and 1% of sales now come from Amazon.


NHS contact tracing app

NHSX published some good information about the contract tracing app, how it works, its approach to privacy, and so on. The security behind the NHS contact tracing app is a good read. The app has its own website now, and the source code has been released (which itself must have been a significant political achievement). There are still critics, and the app may be refined or even adopt the decentralised model promoted by Apple and Google

Logistics partnerships for good

EDF Energy partners with Boots to deliver essential medicine to most vulnerable: employee volunteers will deliver critical medicines.

And British Gas engineers are helping the Trussell Trust deliver food bank packages.


Animal Crossing careers

When popular games have scarce goods, there are often ways to “monetise” the hard graft of collecting items and progressing through the game: “I got laid off due to COVID so I'm farming bells in [Animal Crossing]”. Some players are speeding up their clocks to accelerate their collection of bells, but this adds a lot of risk to their deals on the Turnip market, so the newsletter cannot recommend doing that.

World’s first Animal Crossing interior design service launches, offering consultants £40 an hour to perfect in-game homes. Expect to see rival interior design services launch soon (tbh from this household).


Other news

“Bo hasn’t failed”, but Royal Bank of Scotland is closing its new digital challenger bank. It’ll be merged with RBS’s app-only small biz bank Mettle.

Privacy-first search engine DuckDuckGo now does about 63m searches daily, which is about 1% of Google’s traffic.

Did you know that Amazon has a video chat product like Zoom, Hangouts and all the others? It’s called Chime. The pricing seems aligned with the AWS philosophy: pay as you go, increasing complexity once you start looking deeper. It mostly works, and had no adverts for office equipment delivered the next day (sample size - one call).


Co-op Digital news

“Trying to read in motion or after a long tiring day – accessibility is surprisingly relevant to everyone and it is about time we engrain it in our DNA.” - How we’re making accessibility more relatable.

Why an up-to-date service map is essential when teams change direction.

Federation House’s online events:

Free of charge 

Paid for 

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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