Since launching its new membership proposition in September last year, the Co-operative Group has seen 627,000 new members join up. The retailer has an active membership of 4.27 million members, who account for 30% of its sales.
Rufus Olins, chief membership officer at the Co-op was one of the speakers at Co-operative UK’s Co-operative Retail Conference in Stratford on 4 March. Mr Olins joined the Group in October 2016, shortly after the launch of the new membership offer.
He presented some of the first results of the new membership strategy and looked at potential opportunities for the future.
The current political, social and economic challenges currently faced are similar to the ones the Rochdale Pioneers had when they laid the basis of the modern co-operative movement, he said.
“Member ownership and business responsibility have just as much resonance today as they did then. Businesses that will thrive in the future will be those that can show a purpose, co-ops have this, they are businesses that work for common good,” said Mr Olins.
The new membership proposition enables customers to earn 5% back when they choose co-op own-brand products, with an extra 1% going to causes in their local communities. Along with the new membership offer, the Co-op also launched its new logo. Around 700 of its 2,000+ stores have been converted to the new format.
Asked whether donating to charities was enough to show how the Co-op was different from other businesses, Mr Olins said: “The 1% is more than purely a transaction. Within communities members can choose where the money goes.” He explained how the financial support aimed to help strengthen the links between the Co-op, its members and local communities.
The Co-op is also running training sessions for its 54,000 employees on what the “co-op difference” means.
The membership strategy includes making significant investments in the Group’s online platform and how it presents itself, as well as making it easier for members to join and access browse its website.
Mr Olins added: “It is a movement for change not just a loyalty card. Membership gives distinct values and value-led offers in the market place. Our authenticity creates a brand loyalty. We have a proposition that people trust. Our scores in trust continue to rise.”
Since the launch, members have received £27.39m in rewards. Mr Olins also referred to a recent analysis of the best and worst loyalty supermarket cards conducted by Which? Magazine. The research found that the Co-op returns £175 to members and £35 to their local community for an annual household spend on food, averaged at £3,508.
Campaigning and giving members a voice are two other key aspects of the new group’s membership proposition, according to Mr Olins, explaining how the retailer decided to focus on tackling loneliness and social isolation, after consulting with members. Working in partnership with the British Red Cross, the Group has now raised over £4m for the cause.
The Group is also involved in an initiative aimed at helping victims of modern slavery become survivors with confidence. Working with charity City Hearts, the Co-op will provide jobs for 30 known victims and raise awareness of the issue among its members.
The retailer has set a target to recruit new members and build a membership that reflects the nation’s demographics. Currently, three quarters of members are women. Around 57% Co-op members are aged between 50 and 79, while only 31% of the UK’s population is between this age range.
“The Rochdale Pioneers movement began by young radical people, we need to appeal to Millennials,” said Mr Olins. The Co-op is looking to engage with the younger generation by offering 10% to students with an NUS discounts card. The mutual has also published a report on the Millennials’ cooking skills gap.
“Our demographic profile is changing how we operate business. We have to operate in a different way from other businesses that have members. We are recruiting member pioneers, we aim to have one in every community,” he added.