Connecting products to the web…

How can we make product data much more meaningful and accessible to search engines and apps? Tesco have been talking with GS1 about a new standard to help make this easier.

For the past few months I have been working with GS1 on a better way to identify and describe products on the web and now, thanks to the hard work of all of the people involved, we have a new draft standard that is now in external public review.

GS1 have a long and distinguished track record in helping retailers and manufacturers simplify and standardise the way they operate their end-to-end supply chains. (They are the good people who brought us the standards used in product barcoding, product RFID tagging and business-to-business e-commerce).

At one end of every retail supply chain is a customer and that’s why we turned our attention to how we could make it easier for them to find and compare product information on the web.

The new standard makes use of and extends three existing concepts:

  • The Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) : This is the number already encoded within the barcode on nearly every product worldwide
  • An HTTP URI that represents a product’s identity on the web (and that can optionally be encoded on to a physical product as a QR code or similar)
  • The publication of structured linked data that Brands and Retailers can use to express facts about their products and offers

I won’t explain more about the technical details here (I encourage you to look at the standard if you are interested in finding out more) but I would like to share how I think this standard can help drive future innovation if brands and retailers choose to adopt it.

The internet is awash with information about products and offers but which data can you trust? We can make product data much more meaningful and accessible to search engines and apps if brands and retailers publish data in a form that can be interpreted and linked together using GTIN as the key. Using a standard will allow information to be aggregated and compared regardless of retailer or brand. The standard provides a way that we can potentially give every physical product (or batch of products, or even individual items) their own identity on the web (using existing affordable technology).

When you add these things together they provide a huge potential to satisfy customers’ ever increasing appetite for reliable and accurate product information – to help them discover, choose and use products that meet their requirements – whether it’s nutrition, ingredients, allergens, product quality and traceability, recipes, prices and availability…   I’m sure you can think of more.

Now we have a standard I am looking forward to putting some of our ideas into practice to showcase the great new innovations we can bring to customers when every product had its own identity on the web.

Special Guest Blogger: Richard McKeating

Help wanted with our grocery shopping experiment!

Making a more intuitive way for customers to shop their favourites.

At the 2014 Tesco Globe’athon (our first global Hackathon) we had the idea to make the ‘favourites’ ‘browse and shop’ experience more optimal by allowing customers to organise them in more personally intuitive groups, in ways that make sense for them.

Favourites on the Tesco.com website, actually refers to past purchases in store or online and, with wide palates and big families, can become a very long list for a regular Tesco shopper. I should know, I’ve got over 540 favourites!!

We already offer customers the ability to create ‘shopping lists’ on the Tesco grocery website, but we wanted to recognise the centrality these ‘favourite’ or ‘previously purchased’ products have to a weekly Tesco.com grocery shop and extend a similar feature just to them.

It is our hypothesis that if there were a way for customers to organise, browse and shop their ‘favourites’ more intuitively then customers may well become more satisfied with their overall order.

What we’ve done:
We’ve created Foodlisto which provides a stand-alone window into a customer’s Tesco.com grocery favourites.

Foodlisto allows customers to login with their existing Tesco.com grocery details and:

  • Create bespoke categories for their favourites
  • List sort those categories that are created
  • Edit and update the name and the contents of categories that are created

(*Customers can also add products to their actual Tesco.com basket using Foodlisto. But customers cannot check-out on Foodlisto itself.)

What we’d like to do now with Foodlisto:
We want to learn more about our customer’s appetite for organising their favourites this way and also which categories are created.

To achieve this we are currently looking for willing recruits to use Foodlisto and categorise their favourites for us.

Over a period of 6 weeks, from mid December 2014 to the end of January 2015, we will collect all category names that get created and the products within them.  We really want to know if this is useful and how you real people would use it.

All the data and insight generated from Foodlisto will be passed to the Tesco.com grocery development team to help them improve the  overall customer experience*

How you can help:
This experiment has now closed but we have created a short video below to show how categorising your favourites work with Foodlisto would work.

Please note: Foodlisto is a hack and works best on larger screens. We recommend you are on a laptop or desktop computer. Foodlisto will not currently work on smartphones or screens smaller than an iPad in landscape view.

Data Caveat: for more information on the security and privacy of your data, please see

http://www.tesco.com/help/privacy-and-cookies/

but basically for the duration of our experiment please be aware that the names and contents of the food categories you create on Foodlisto will be recorded and shared internally at Tesco. This information will be recorded anonymously and will not be distributed with anyone outside of Tesco. If you would not like your category data used in this way then please don’t use Foodlisto. 

From Cab to Lab: a Dotcom delivery driver’s secondment with Tesco Labs

Our store colleague and Globe’athon winner, Antony, gives his perspective on why collaboration across the whole business is so important for Tesco.

This was the second time I’ve come to Head Office; the first being in March, when I took part in Tesco’s global hackathon. Being in the UK winning team at the Globe’athon gave me a wonderful sense of achievement, so I was delighted to be invited back to Tesco Labs to co-produce a viable business case to support our idea. During a two week collaborative sprint with ex-Globe’athon team member Luke Hickton, we explored an exciting new way of making the shopping experience even more seamless and convenient for customers.

This was the first time a colleague from Stores had been invited to Tesco Labs, so the pressure was on – not only to represent my own store (Chesterfield Extra), but also to make my visit a success so that other colleagues from Stores,  Distribution Centres and CSC’s around the country might be able to follow in my footsteps.

On arrival at the Labs, Luke introduced me to the rest of the Tesco Labs team, who made me very welcome for the duration of my stay, and freely gave their help and support to Luke and me.  We benefited immensely from their expertise and individual specialist skills.

We started from scratch and with open minds, and within three days we had festooned the walls of the lab with flip chart sheets and post-it notes. As I am normally a mobile worker, it’s not often than I am able to see the result of three days’ hard work at my fingertips. I was beginning to feel a real sense of satisfaction by this point.

Another highlight of our sprint was actually running our own mini-trial of the idea, but the real sense of success was realised on the last day of my visit. It was agreed after a series of presentations to business leaders that preparations to introduce a pilot project could commence.

I think collaboration between Head Office and other areas of the business is something that should be encouraged, and I would urge anyone from Stores, Distribution and CSC’s to look out for future innovation events and wholeheartedly participate.

Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator

What caught our eye at the Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator event?

On Wednesday I went along to “The Pitch” at Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator which is the main event on the schedule of any tech accelerator – when the start-ups finish the program and get up on stage to explain what they need next, generally money from investors and partners to help them scale. Over the last year Microsoft have done 3 of these and the audience has doubled in scale each time – showing the quality is up there with the better accelerator programs around London.

The Venue, Koko in Camden

There were lots of interesting start-ups across a whole range of industries presenting with a couple that caught my eye in particular (as well as the cupcakes – I’m writing this on a real one of these).

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Cronofy was the first one to catch my eye – they are creating a calendar platform that makes it really easy to develop calendar integration for apps. This has so much application in areas like travel – I don’t know about you but I spend quite a lot of time before a trip making sure all the information for flight and hotel reservations etc is in the right time in my phone’s calendar so I don’t have to connect to wifi in a foreign country and search through emails to find my reservation number. Cronofy will make sure all the info is available easily to you when you need it. There are lots of other areas where this sort of seamless integration will be really useful too and only having to use a single platform to be able to integrate with all the different calendars your customers use will make it feasible.

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The second was Sam Labs who have created an Internet of Things platform along with a hardware development kit. The most impressive thing about their pitch was that they did a live demo (which worked seamlessly). With a few clicks of the mouse they posted a webcam photo to twitter at the press of a small wireless button from their dev kit. Their vision for a connected world is really nice, a bit like IFTTT for hardware and a kit will definitely be on my christmas list!

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Look forward to meeting the next batch!

Builders, value creators and innovation constraints

Inspired by a trip to Dublin and the people of Web Summit.

I came back from the Web Summit in Dublin (November 2014) both overwhelmed and inspired by the number of individuals and organisations building risky and innovative hardware. It’s incredible given how risk averse people can be. Maybe they’re too aware of how risky it can be to try to create a new product on a shoe-string budget, with just a few people and a lot of blood, sweat and intellectual capital.

Perhaps I saw so many great examples in Dublin because it’s not as risky as it used to be.

Plate divider made out of purple potato by Foodini
Plate divider made out of purple potato by Foodini

From 3D food printers, to custom toy designers, plug & play circuitry, and tablet-controlled cooking scales, these companies are using their intellectual capital to deliver products that couldn’t have existed five or 10 years ago.

Example prints by MCor
Example prints by MCor

Modern industrial design, manufacturing, and outsourcing systems have allowed them to concentrate on using and acquiring the capabilities that make their products unique and useful to customers. They’re not as constrained by geography, physical presence, or manufacturing expertise. That’s not say these things aren’t important, they’re just not getting in the way of producing great products as much as they used to.

Drop by Adaptics

Hardware incubators like PCH International are doing great things to liberate innovators from these constraints, while keeping them grounded in the realities of making physical things. They remind me in some way of how Azure, AWS, and Rackspace have revolutionised software infrastructure and provisioning.They allow you to put more of your value creation time into the software itself. It’s not like you can click and your totally custom mobile phone comes off a production line, but it’s remarkable how it’s enabled ideas to become reality.

Personally, I look forward to engaging with this revolution in value creation and I hope that we can do more to librate more ideas and make them reality. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.