The Next Generation of Innovators

Our Technology Graduates could be developing the next big innovation for Tesco right now.

One of the things we’re clear about at Tesco Labs is that we’re not the only innovators in the business. Everybody at Tesco is constantly thinking about how to serve our customers a little better.

One way we help to facilitate this is through our Early Careers programme. For the last five years we have been running an Innovation Placement for Technology Graduates which gives the next generation of Tesco colleagues an opportunity to share their ideas and apply their own solutions to business problems.

Although the format has evolved over the years the essence has remained the same. It’s an opportunity for all Technology Graduates to run their own project from idea creation through to proof-of-concept. This involves identifying an opportunity or need, doing their own research into the problem space, generating ideas, planning, designing and developing a working proof-of-concept, and then finally presenting this back to senior stakeholders from across the business.

We support the graduates through the placement, sharing tools and processes and providing technical training that will help them on their way, but we try to allow as much autonomy as possible. It is this autonomy that makes it equally challenging and enjoyable.


“It was 100% the most enjoyable month I’ve had so far at Tesco and I learnt a hell of a lot while doing it.”

Nick Wake, Technology Graduate

The graduates will typically work in groups of four, so collaboration is key to a successful placement. For many it can be a steep learning curve as they will be learning and applying new technologies in an extremely short space of time, they only have 3-4 weeks during the build phase to actually develop a working proof-of-concept that they are able to demonstrate to stakeholders.

We have so far seen 82 graduates come through the placement, working on 28 different projects over the five years. Every single proof-of-concept that we’ve seen demonstrated is an impressive achievement and is testament to the hard work put into it.

Although we don’t measure success in how far the ideas are taken beyond the presentation stage, as it’s really about what the teams learn along the way and the skills they can take forward into their future career at Tesco, we are always pleased and extremely proud to see ideas picked up and developed further.

One such idea is Tesco BackIt which launched last month. It’s a wonderful example of how nurturing even the earliest seed of an idea can help it grow into something great.

Tesco Labs Developer Portal

We’re happy to be exposing our grocery product search functionality on the new Tesco Labs developer portal.

Sound interesting? Head on over to devportal.tescolabs.com where you’ll find all the details including how to sign up, documentation, and example code.

This is the first step on a roadmap that will see more of the services that we use internally, made public. The next step is to provide more extensive and detailed product information, including nutrition and ingredients as well as the full product catalogue, not just groceries. Then we’ll aim to add Tesco store locations, addresses and opening hours.

Beyond that, the roadmap also includes things like creating and modifying baskets and retrieving your order history.

If you’re planning on making anything using this and future APIs, or have any feedback let us know using the contact details below.

Don’t forget you can use IFTTT if you’d like to create and modify your basket using all sorts of custom triggers (including product price changes).

Ok Glass, Find a product…

A developer’s perspective on one of the most talked about wearables of recent times.

My colleagues have heard me say this several hundred times over the last few months. They have taken delight in the different search terms I have had to come up with; partly to test the glassware, but also just to entertain them. It’s rather liberating to talk to yourself at your desk, despite the ridicule from your colleagues.

Of course, you can also scan a barcode: “Ok Glass scan a product”.

We started this experiment in June last year. We had a prototype working, and filmed a conceptual video about how customers might use the glassware. Since then, it has changed substantially, although the principle functions remain. We have refined and shortened the user journeys and also clarified the experience to make it consistent with the Glass design patterns. 

If you are already a Glass wearer, you should find the experience very familiar and you can try the glassware out. As this is a very early experiment you can only add items to your basket and view nutritional information, but it’s enough to give a sense of what it would be like to interact with Tesco on this type of hardware.

Download it

More info and support

From a developers’ perspective, working with Glass has been a joy. The updates to Android Studio that have made Android development more accessible all apply to Glass development. The Glass Development Kit (GDK) documentation is good and getting better. The community is helpful and proactive about sharing knowledge, especially on stackoverflow. The Glass team at Google does all they can to try to make sure the glassware delivers the best experience possible.  This is a challenge given how Glass is still being developed, so it can be somewhat of a moving target. The Glass software platform went through 6 updates in the time we worked with it, which shows how much Google is still investing in the platform.

Given the steady flow of software updates, and the various articles that have been published alluding to updated Glass hardware,  I can’t help but feel this is still the beginning of the journey for Glass and for Tesco.

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.

Project: Health Buddy

What role can Tesco play in promoting good health and wellbeing?

Background and Introduction

What we eat can contribute a huge amount to our general health and wellbeing. As the UK’s biggest supermarket, Tesco recognises the key role it can play in promoting good health and wellness.

The app and wearable tech market, in particular, has grown dramatically over the last 3-4 years. Health products from Nike, FitBit, JawBone and Pebble have emerged on the market as fantastic Health aids.

In the lab we wanted to see whether we could develop a product that would harness the excitement generated by this new app and wearables market, but put a Tesco spin on it.

Goals and Objectives

HealthBuddy is ostensibly research driven, we’ve had ‘fun’ exploring:

  • Alternative ways for customers to record their daily calorie consumption.
  • Utilising in-built android phone sensors to track customers daily activity.
  • Pairing an Android application with a wearable hear-rate monitoring device.
  • The latest Android UI patterns.
  • Activity based gamification mechanics.
  • How to build mobile apps using the Xamarin platform.

Our aim has not been to produce an application we would immediately give to customers.

Where We’re At Now

We have built and Android app that delivers on what we set out in our goals and objectives. Customers can use HealthBuddy to track their calorie consumption in multiple ways and monitor four variations of physical activity.

Customers can select an activity goal when they setup a profile. A simple overview screen is available to track progress. Rewards are released for achieving activity goals which can then be shared socially.

Our next step is to test HealthBuddy with a control group and gain feedback on potential uses for the prototype moving forward.

Where’s the milk?

We’ve been checking out Google glass for a few months now; experimenting with applications for colleagues and customers while evaluating the technology itself.

Immediately, we thought about how our colleagues might be able to use Glass to check stock hands-free, or how our customers might be able to add a product to their grocery delivery basket while making a cup of tea. Getting to that stage has been a journey into entirely new areas of user interaction: new gestures, user interface elements, and input mechanisms.

Most of all, it’s about trying to understand the use-cases for Glass. It’s unlike any other hardware technology we’ve had before, so we tend to try and apply the use-cases we see for mobiles, tablets and desktop computing to see if they stick to Glass. They mostly don’t. Glass isn’t the kind of tech you use for 15, 10 or even 5 minutes at a time. You’re not going to comfortably do your entire grocery shop by staring at the top right-hand corner of your field of vision, but you might just add a single item, see some nutritional information, and then move on. You might get a notification about your delivery, including a photo of your delivery driver.

Shopping with Glass

Click to play video.

Other than some time-compression between adding items to the basket and the actual delivery, the prototype app is real; no smoke and mirrors there. Every once in a while, a new piece of technology comes a long that pushes the boundaries of science-fiction, making all sorts of potential use-cases an immediately reality. Glass feels like one of those technologies, in the sort of way WiFi or Smart Phones changed things. This is just the beginning of our journey with Glass, but we’re very excited about it and other wearables, and most importantly how you will use wearable technology to interact with Tesco.

Let us know your thoughts!