This fall has been full of big ideas for the future Coop website. Our team held several focus groups to ask members and staffers for input on the redesign process.
In those meetings, members hoped for everything from a real-time feature that would tell them whether the Coop is crowded to real-time data on inventory. Is broccoli rabe in stock? And how much does it cost this week?
Receiving Coordinators imagined a way that the site might help manage the real-time arrival, parking and unloading of truck deliveries squeezing up to the curb on Union Street. Or what if they could send out an APB for preferred, skilled FTOP workers? Or let the Coop community know that Receiving has open workslots because three people just cancelled?
Even if the dozens of suggestions the redesign team heard at the meetings were feasible —and surprise! they are not — the Coop’s staff is grappling with how much information to provide online to the outside world, and how that might affect sales.
For example, could the Coop put itself at a disadvantage with competitors if it publicizes real-time data on its inventory? It’s a question that the Coop’s leadership must take seriously.
This year, for the first time in recent memory, the Coop’s sales growth has stagnated, even as expenses continue to increase. No one knows what has caused the downturn. Was it the cancellation of new member orientations this summer while office space was being renovated? Is the new Whole Foods on 3rd Street, which opened a year ago, siphoning off shoppers?
The bottom line: Coop members are spending less per Coop visit.
Matt Kleiman, a Coop staffer leading the web redesign with member workers, said it might be technically possible to get updates of the Coop’s inventory online. The Coop could even provide a searchable price database for members, if it wanted to devote resources to the project.
But that’s unlikely, given limited IT staff.
“There’s the whole question: should we do that?” Kleiman said in an interview. “We have a competitive advantage on price. Whole Foods could easily absorb a loss if they wanted to put someone out of business. If they had to access to our prices, they could make sure they have those items for cheaper.”
That doesn’t mean that Whole Foods is the boogie man here. “When Trader Joe’s opened, everyone was like ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen?’” Kleiman said. “Nothing happened then. Now that sales growth seems to be stagnating, we should explore new possibilities for the Coop. There’s certainly reason for caution, but also for innovation.”
Kleiman sees another potential pitfall with the suggestion of providing members with a way of determining how busy the Coop is. This suggestion came up over and over again in the focus groups.
Members had numerous ideas for how the Coop could assess “busy-ness”: How many people are in the Coop at this moment? What is the rate of membership cards scanned at the entrance desk? How many carts are parked behind the entrance desk? How many items have been sold in the past hour? How long are the check-out lines?
“How accurate do we want it to be?” Kleiman asked. “If we say it’s busy, then people aren’t going to come and we’ve lost shoppers. Instead, the Coop just invested about $200,000 expanding the number of checkouts. Rather than creating a tool to tell members that we’re busy, we increased actual capacity by 30%.”
For now, the redesign team is focused on delivering the big “ask” from members: the ability to view their Coop membership online and the presentation of information in an intuitive way.
In the coming weeks, webteam members will put together rough drafts of designs for the new PSFC website, based on the input received from members and staff. Called wireframes, these are visual guides that represents the framework of a website.
In the new year, the site will become a reality!