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Co-op scales search and improves customer experience with Algolia

The big advantage of Algolia is with a simple implementation of simple data we’ve been able to get very good results. Dynamic re-ranking has been a big part of that. We A/B tested it in the first couple weeks of launch and saw positive results. Really that has been a massive benefit for us. It saves a load of time that we don’t have to manually add rules, while providing a positive customer experience.

Gareth Cottiss

Ecommerce Development Manager @ Co-op
Coop
Use case

B2C Ecommerce

Headquarters

Manchester, England, UK

Customer since

since 2021

Feature usage

Search API, Recommend, Rules, Analytics, Instant Search, Dynamic Re-Ranking, and AI-Synonyms

Key results
  • Easier to implement Search rules

  • Improved customer journey

  • Recommendations for out-of-stock product

  • Powering hybrid shopping model (online, delivery and pick-up)

Key numbers
  • 6% larger basket sizes (and £2 higher spend)

  • 45% increase of people adding to basket

  • 39% conversion rate increase

The challenges

  • 1.

    Need to rapidly scale online shopping experience

  • 2.

    Improving journey if products are out of stock

The solution

  • 1.

    Live index updating for up-to-date inventory

  • 2.

    Dynamic re-ranking for improved search relevance

  • 3.

    Relevant recommendations for out-of-stock items

The result

  • 1.

    Dynamic re-ranking for improved Search relevance

  • 2.

    Increase in customer basket sizes and spending

  • 3.

    Optimized search experience with limited data or rules

  • 4.

    Reduced merchandising team workload

“The restrictions and Covid lockdown obviously meant that a lot of people chose to shop online and online at a time when we were just starting to expand,

The Co-operative Group,, known throughout the UK as simply Co-op, is a member-owned company known for providing everything from food to insurance to legal services and funeral care. 

Perhaps best known as a grocer, Co-op operates more than 2,500 local, convenience, and mid-sized grocery stores. It has more than 65,000 employers across the UK and has a long history of ethical treatment of suppliers and customers alike. (The organization traces its roots to the mid-19th century.) 

In 2019, Co-op launched its online business, from a standing start with a goal of growing, says Gareth Cottiss, ecommerce Development Manager at Co-op. The global spread of COVID-19 changed the retail landscape beyond anything that could have been anticipated. 

This rapid growth in the online business created a “start-up” vibe for Co-op online within the larger business, driving its need to try new models and move quickly to keep its loyal customers satisfied. “It’s been really exciting,” Cottiss adds.

A wide range of online and in-store customers and members

Co-op serves a wide array of customers through its own e-commerce platform, and other partners such as Deliveroo, Starship and Amazon. This allows them to cover different customer needs from same-day hyper-local immediate delivery to same-day delivery (via its own site) and beyond – the focus is on-demand convenience, with orders picked fresh in the local store and delivered quickly in the community. 

“We’ve got a really wide range of customers, including those who started shopping online during the pandemic and stayed with us,” Cottiss says. 

“Many of our shoppers are Members who know the Co-op brand and trust us.” Members earn points they can redeem in store and 2 pence for every pound spent by Members on Co-op’s own brand products is donated to local causes and organisations. 

Being available for customers however they chose to shop with the Co-op, both in-store and online, during the pandemic gave loyal Co-op customers an opportunity to continue to shop with the company. 

“Colleagues in stores worked hard to feed and support their communities during the pandemic – especially the vulnerable or those who were self-isolating. We’ve had loads of feedback from loyal Co-op customers who say online shopping has given them the chance to continue shopping with Co-op and being able to be served by a local store in the community they know and trust.” – Gareth Cottiss, eCommerce Development Manager at Co-op

Scaling online shopping and improving customer experience

During the pandemic, Co-op rapidly scaled its online food shopping. 

But in doing so, it needed a more robust, accurate search experience that gave online customers access to updated inventory in real-time. 

The company’s existing search system was too limited, unable to tag products or be easily modified to meet its growing needs, according to Cottiss. Co-op has ambitions to grow its online channel and is committed to delivering customer service excellence. 

He and his team looked to Algolia because it had the capabilities Co-op needed out-of-the-box, expertise in search that was lacking in its prior solution, and an ability to add rules that optimize merchandising.

Image coop 1

Improving search and providing recommendations with Algolia

Co-op already had a pre-existing relationship with Algolia for its corporate site that referenced other areas of the business and was excited to work with Algolia on its grocery ecommerce site. 

“We knew search was the key issue on the site, and we wanted to resolve it quickly,” Cottiss says. “It was pretty clear fairly early on that Algolia would solve the problem.” 

It turned to Algolia to power its search drop-down menu, from which users can directly add products to their baskets, as well as to power search results pages. Based on the company’s backend data structure, it wanted a “light-touch” implementation, which Cottiss cites as a key benefit to Algolia. Live, up-to-date stock data is sent to Algolia to ensure customers see only what’s available. 

All are fulfilled online, and customers use Algolia search to find the product they need. Co-op also wanted to improve the customer journey for when certain products were unavailable. It implemented Algolia Recommend, helping direct customers to other relevant products when encountering one that is out of stock. Co-op’s team was keen to move quickly and was able to deploy Recommend in only a month.

Making a big difference with a simple data set

To provide its wide array of customers with excellent service and aid them in getting the groceries they needed, Co-op had to act fast. “As we were growing so fast, we wanted a simple implementation that would allow us quickly deliver an improved experience for our customers,” Cottiss says. Still even with a fast implementation and simple data feed, the results Co-op has seen from using Algolia Search and Recommend have been solid. 

By providing recommendations for out-of-stock products, the number of people adding items to their basket grew by 7 percentage points. “I was surprised, in a good way, by how good the recommendations were since we aren’t providing a lot of product data,” Cottiss says.

image coop 2

Copyright image from coop.co.uk

Customers who saw alternatives had a 6 percent higher basket spend than those who didn’t, and conversion among those who had recommendations outperformed the standard search experience. Using Recommend in addition to Search, conversion rates increased by 13 percent over Search alone. 

Cottiss says Algolia’s Dynamic Re-ranking has been a huge benefit around time savings and the organization’s ability to create a significant improvement to customer experience without as much manual work and with limited product data being fed into the engine. Co-op is today using a broad range of Algolia capabilities, including Rules, Analytics, Instant Search, and AI-based Synonyms. 

He says Dynamic Re-ranking was a “game-changer.” Customer search results are vastly improved, for example, a search for “apples” turns up apples, not apple juice, apple pie and other irrelevant results — all while also saving merchandiser time. 

But there’s even more to come. In the future Co-op is looking towards using Algolia to power its browsing capabilities. 

“The big advantage of Algolia is with a simple implementation we’ve been able to get very good results. Dynamic Re-ranking has been a big part of our growth. We A/B tested it in the first couple of weeks of launch and saw positive results. Really that has been a massive benefit for us. It saves a load of time that we don’t have to manually add rules while providing a positive customer experience.”

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