Co-op extend robot delivery as part of omnichannel acceleration

Date : 25 November 2020

Nicola Knight

Senior Analyst - Food-To -Go

Co-op is expanding its use of autonomous home delivery by rolling out the service to shoppers in Northampton. The retailer says has it has ambitions to use as many as 300 robots by the end of 2021 as it looks for more towns and cities in which to operate autonomous deliveries

The autonomous service will serve around 5,000 Northampton households with contactless deliveries. Initially deliveries will be made from the Co-op food store in Wootton Fields serving communities in Wootton and Hardingstone, with the robots typically travelling up to three miles from the store.

In 2018 Co-op was the first UK retailer to launch an autonomous robot delivery service in partnership with Starship Technologies.  The service has since rolled out to eight of the Co-op’s stores in and around Milton Keynes.

How it works

Northampton residents can access groceries delivered by robot through the Starship Food Delivery app – choosing from a range of more than Co-op 1,000 products. They then drop a “pin” where they want their delivery to be sent and can watch in real-time as the robot makes its journey via an interactive map. Once the robot arrives, they receive an alert and can then meet and unlock it through the app.

The robots use a combination of sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning to travel on pavements and navigate around any obstacles. Computer vision-based navigation helps the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch, and as they are battery powered they help reduce both pollution and traffic congestion levels. 

What are shoppers using the service for?

Co-op has released some interesting insight into the baskets ordered for delivered by robot.  Top products are:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Bread
  4. Bananas 
  5. Cucumber

This shows that the service is being used for everyday essentials rather than confectionary or ‘party pack’ orders of alcohol and snacks which were popular with online convenience shoppers pre-COVID. This could reflect a shift to safer shopping methods for top-up missions caused by the pandemic.

Co-op says that demand for Starship’s robot service has continued to soar during the COVID-19 pandemic, with delivery numbers for Co-op products tripling in Milton Keynes alone in recent months. The robots provide contactless deliveries, which allow people, including the elderly and more vulnerable that may be spending more time at home, to get their groceries delivered straight to their door.

Continuing momentum in online retail

The pandemic has had a massive impact on the growth of online shopping and in response Co-op has accelerated the rollout of its online proposition.  It has ramped-up its same-day online and click and collect grocery service which will now be available from more than 1,000 stores by the end of this year, surpassing its target of 650.

As well as having its own online shop and delivery fleet, Co-op is now the most widely available retailer on Deliveroo with 400 stores. It has also formed partnerships with Buymie, Pinga, Gophr and Zoom!1HR to deliver to customers in London, Bristol, Glasgow and the English/Welsh border counties. 

The retailer’s approach sees its stores act as micro distribution hubs locally, with orders picked from local Co-op stores – so its high street stores benefit from any increase in online demand. 

Online as part of Co-op’s ‘Closer’ strategy

Co-op’s ‘Closer’ strategy outlines how it aims to become the number one UK convenience retailer by being closer to what shopper want, what they care about and where they are.  Online and delivery services fall under the last element - ‘Closer to where I am’.

In its recent IGD Trade Briefing to suppliers, Co-op clearly indicated that all commercial plans should now have an e-commerce element, and that going forward, suppliers need to think about a three-pronged commercial plan – retail, wholesale and ecommerce.

Read more about Co-op’s ‘Closer’ strategy in our Strategic Outlook for Co-op report*

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