This year, Co-operative News looked at innovation across the co-operative sector. From new technologies to new ways of working, what were 2016’s trends?
“With social media it is possible for a new generation of co-ops to move quickly if they have a new idea,” said economist Jeremy Rifkin at the International Summit of Co-operatives in Quebec. “And co-operatives have the industries, the people and the appropriate form – democratic, open, distributive, transparent – to distribute it.”
One of the key players in this revolution is blockchain technology, which allows digital transactions to take place with full trust between parties, without the need for human interaction.
“A blockchain is a public, tamper-proof record of transactions which is maintained and verified by a network of co-operating computers, rather than by a central authority like a bank,” says the team at CoopDigital, the digital department of the Co-op Group, which uses the technology in its products.
How is it being used?
The Co-op Group is trialling blockchain to help ensure produce is being sourced sustainably. “The Co-op has always been a leader when it comes to championing the customer’s right to food that is formulated, manufactured and marketed in a way they can trust,” says Cathryn Higgs, head of food policy at the retailer. “We also believe that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and take seriously our commitment to improving the lives of people in the communities we trade with.”
Robin Hood Co-operative, a Finland-based activist hedge fund that uses financial technologies to democratise finance, expand financial inclusion and generate new economic space.
In America, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and Mountain West Credit Union Association (MWCUA) are leading the CU Ledger blockchain project, which brings together 56 credit unions and four of the largest credit union service organisations to explore the creation of a distributed shared ledger for credit union.
“As ‘Death Star platforms’ such as Airbnb and Uber continue their pursuit of global domination, an alternative is rising in its wake,” wrote Cat Johnson in an introduction to 11 Platform Cooperatives creating a real sharing economy. She was referring to platform co-operatives, which work on the simple co-operative principle of putting power “back in the hands of the people”.
The term itself was coined by author and academic Trebor Scholz, to “give a name to what a lot of people have been longing for – and even working on already”.
“Platform co-operatives, which share the value they create with the users they depend on, are on the rise,” added Ms Johnson.
Neal Gorenflo, co-founder of Shareable, believes that what is needed is “a small number of incubators in different global cities”, working together to give birth to the first wave of platform co-ops.
“The trick is to get the first few platform co-ops off the ground, and then develop a global ecosystem that encourages replication of working models across industry verticals and geographies,” he said.
Platform Co-ops that have been striving in 2016 include:
- Fairmondo, an online marketplace, which promotes products that are fair and sustainable, is open to private and commercial suppliers who can sell any goods through the platform. It has 2,000 stakeholders, who have invested anywhere between €10 and €10,000.
- Stocksy is a stock photography website, which brings together photographers on a fair and equitable platform. They pay a fair price for photographers’ work and describe themselves as “raising the bar”.
- Freelance workers can offer services through Loconomics, a platform to help find clients and help clients find them. The co-operative is open to all people who offer services, whether it is web design or dog walking.
- Modo is a car-sharing co-operative set up in 1997. It offers access to a fleet of shared vehicles across Vancouver. It started with just two cars and 16 members.
What is the future for retail co-operatives?
The largest trading sector for co-operatives in the UK is retail. There are 416 retail co-operatives trading in the UK, with a combined turnover of £26.1bn.
But how do co-ops balance their co-operative values and ethics with the need to compete and survive in an ever-evolving, and increasingly competitive market?
Is technology the key to survival? What innovations are out there for retailers? How can co-ops best implement them?
Some of the ideas Co-operative News explored in the Retail Innovation Hub included:
Co-operatives revolutionised the concept of ‘membership’ and ‘dividends’. However, 20-somethings today are the shoppers of the future, and where membership growth and participation needs to be aimed.
Co-operatives need to articulate how ‘loyalty’ is rewarded – and extend relevant membership offerings – to this generation.
Co-operatives are no longer the only ‘community’ retailer, and they face competition from others who are flying the flag for ‘local’. However they are also truly unique, and their authenticity was built upon the fact that they were founded on the concept of mutual ownership – and accountability to those owners. They need to make the idea of ownership meaningful again.
Customers are increasingly keen to shop little and more often – and stores are trying to provide a different retail experience to match this change.
In Italy, Coop Italia is looking at how it can use software to enable customers to obtain more information about the products they buy. It has launched a store-of-the-future format, where it aims to use the technology to understand and influence customers’ behaviour while achieving a real integration of online with physical stores.
This new generation of stores displays 1,500 products below digital mirrors that provide information including where products come from and the ingredients used. The smart shelves and interactive food display tables aim to boost customers’ shopping experience.
Co-operatives throughout Europe have been providing customers with new ways to pay, championing retail innovation and transforming the landscape with technology.
COOP Danmark – the largest retailer of consumer goods in Denmark – is to roll out a new Beep and Pay mobile payment app across all its stores next month. The initiative allows customers to scan items into their basket and pay at the till via their device which is linked to their dividend, bonus wallet or credit/debit card.
The app enables point-of-sale integration, customer bonus point calculations and targeted promotional activity. It was piloted in May this year, resulting in 10% of the purchases in the test stores coming from the Beep and Pay app.
Canadian mutual, Desjardins Group, has launched an innovation lab. The country’s leading co-operative financial group is collaborating with Hacking Health, a non-profit organisation that pairs innovators with healthcare experts and InnoCité MLT, Montreal’s smart city accelerator.
The lab works on developing, testing and analysing applications and new technologies using a collaborative approach between members and clients, who are asked to work with Desjardins, on-site and online, to help design products and services.