Launching Tesco on If This Then That (IFTTT.com)

With the rise of connected home devices we’ve been experimenting with ways to help serve shoppers a little better every day and today we’re happy to announce one of these is now available to try.

At Tesco we’re always on the lookout for new and exciting ways for people to shop. In the past this has led to Tesco.com as well as the first barcode scanner in a mobile app etc.

If you’re reading this blog then the chances are that you might already know about IFTTT – it’s a platform for joining together all your different online accounts to enable you to do clever things. At the most basic level it lets you update Twitter and Facebook at the same time, get email alerts when rain is forecast or make sure you’ve got a backup of your phone contacts in a Google Spreadsheet. The basic structure consists of a trigger and an action. For example IF I change my Facebook profile photo THEN change my Twitter one too.

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From today you’ll be able to do some simple actions with Tesco online too.

We’ve created our own channel on IFTTT with two triggers and a single action. You can now trigger any other action on IFTTT if the price of a Tesco product changes or if it goes below a certain price. On the action side you can use any of the triggers to add a specified item into your basket.

That might sound a bit complicated but here’s a few examples to illustrate…

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To get started you just need to have an IFTTT account and add the Tesco channel. When you set it up you’ll have to sign in to your Tesco Groceries account to prove who you are but then you should be away.

We’re really interested to see what uses people come up with for this so publish your recipes on IFTTT and get in touch (in the comments below or on twitter or email) if you’ve got any feedback or ideas.

The other side of NRF…

…this year we exhibited at the world’s largest retail show in New York, the National Retail Federation’s Big Show.

This year’s trip to NRF’s Big Show, which is the largest retail tech conference on the planet, was a bit different for us. Instead of just going as visitors we were there exhibiting alongside IBM.

We’ve been working on a project with one of their research teams in Israel for a while now on a platform that recognises products on a shelf and feeds back whether or not they’re in the right place according to the plan, or flags them if they’re out of stock.

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It was great to hear from other retailers on what they thought of the system and how it might be able to help them too. You can see a video about it from last year here if you want to know more.

It’s not just for store colleagues though, it can also overlay nutritional information on a photo of a shelf so you can easily see, for example, which product has the lowest sugar or fat. In the future this sort of tech could be combined with wearables to enabled personalised merchandising – imagine having a peanut allergy and your glasses hiding or marking all the products with peanuts in them?

Some of the highlights of the rest of the show included HPs new Sprout concept which brings together a 3D camera, projector and large touch surface along with an all in one PC to great effect. The way it made digitising a fabric sample so it could be manipulated and shared was really quick and we’re sure there will be lots of interesting things we can do with it.

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One of the partners on Microsoft’s stand had rigged up a Kinect high above a set of Xbox game shelves. When you reached out for one of the games the trailer for it would start playing on the screen above. Really simple idea and execution – we’ve dabbled with this sort of thing in the past at a hackathon but every product had to have a switch underneath it. Using the Kinect meant there was no need to instrument everything.

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Following on from last years trends there was a continuing growth in wifi and video analytics and adding in new data sources to better understand customers behaviour and improve their shopping experience.

After the show we visited some interesting stores which we’ll save for another post…

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!

Game design competition mentoring

We’ve been mentoring the next generation of designers and developers at BAFTA’s Young Game Designer competition.

You might wonder what game design has to do with a supermarket, but you’ll see from this blog soon enough that we’re not your average supermarket team. Recently a few of the team took part in some mentoring sessions as part of BAFTA’s Young Game Designers competition  (http://ygd.bafta.org/). The idea was to give them help develop their concepts and work out how they were going to build the games themselves.

The first stage was to visit them at their schools. Before the mentoring session itself took place we presented some of the things we’ve been working on to a couple of classes studying computing to show them how some of the subjects they’re studying might relate to real life use. It obviously got their imaginations going as at the end of the talk they asked plenty of questions and had some ideas about how we could use some of the technology we had talked about to make things better for customers and colleagues. We like to think we’re pretty up to date with technology and how to use it, but we think it’s really important to make sure we talk to young people about their views on the future as they are the customers of the future. It was impressive how switched on they all were when coming up with different ideas too.

After a call in-between meetings the teams came to visit us at Tesco and Dunnhumby HQ where they got hands on with some of the gadgets we’ve got in the lab. We also got an update on their progress and a chance to make sure they had everything lined up for submission.

We think it’s really important that we get involved in outreach opportunities like this and do all we can to excite young people about possible careers in technology and other STEM subjects as they grow in importance for organisations like ours.

Now the entries have all been submitted for the judging now so we’ve got our fingers crossed for the teams we helped!

CES and NRF

We have visited the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the National Retail Federation’s Big Show (commonly known as NRF) in the U.S.

I’ve just got back from a busy couple of weeks at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the National Retail Federation’s Big Show (commonly known as NRF) in the U.S. CES is the biggest technology show in the world with over 150,000 people attending and NRF is the biggest retail tech show in the world with a crowd of around 40,000.

At CES there was a definite focus on wearable technology. We met companies that provide all sorts of wearables from watches and fitness trackers (now even for your dog!) to a variety of companies that are building head mounted displays. There is definitely a lot of potential for these devices to change how customers interact with us in the future. For example, imagine being able to add products to your shopping list or your online grocery order just by looking at them and tapping your glasses, or just by saying the name of the product out loud.

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Trying out one of the watches at the CES

At NRF in New York, the trend for wearables was similar if less pronounced. Epson showcased their impressive augmented reality glasses with a partner of theirs who had created a product picking app. We thought this could easily help Personal Shoppers in our dotcom stores, because it could visually show them where a particular product is located on a shelf, leaving both their hands free to pick it up and pack it for the customer.

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Mike trying out the Epson glass

We also recently got hold of Google Glass, and CES was the perfect environment to give it a longer test (thanks to the techy crowd attending, where I definitely blended in a bit more with other “Glass Explorers” who were a common sight around the show.) Watch this space for news on what we’re up to with that.

As Mike mentioned in his blog post, there were lots of innovations at NRF that have the potential to have a positive impact on the customer and this was reflected at CES too. You may have heard about 4K displays, which people are saying is the next big revolution in TV. 4K displays were originally developed for use in digital cinema projection and offers four times the resolution of existing Full HD, 1080p TVs. They feel much more immersive, especially if you are up close and within touching distance. We also saw some holographic-like technology that felt like you were interacting with an image that appeared to float in mid-air as though it was a touch screen (although it was impossible to photograph properly). This combined with the larger screens and integrated mobile experiences could add a bit of theatre to the store environment.

Another big trend at CES this year was the growing emergence of self-driving cars and more generally connected cars. This might have a huge effect on how we shop, from cars that park themselves when you get out at the door right through to a car that goes to a drive-through click and collect whilst you’re at work… imagine that.

The car of the future? The self-driving car at the CES.

Silicon Valley Trip

We’ve been to Silicon Valley in California, in search of the latest innovations and best innovators.

As you’ll remember from my last post I was due to jet off to Silicon Valley in California, in search of the latest innovations and best innovators.

On my trip I was joined by some of our IT leadership team, who – like me – were keen to visit this huge and thriving area. The aim of the trip was to engage with some of the vast amounts of innovation going on and to figure out how we can best tap into it, in the future. Strategically it’s really important that Tesco is in the thick of it, meeting the right people so that we’re well placed to take advantage of innovations which can really develop how we do business.

What really impressed me was the sheer volume of start-ups and the amount of investment flowing into them, which is around $3bn a year. Many of them are working on retail issues or areas that are associated with retail and it left me with the feeling that it really can’t be long before we see that next big thing.

Whilst I didn’t spot anything this time around which is likely to be a game changer in the near future, there were a few companies which still really caught the eye.

One company organises rewards for customers based on their achievements. Say for example you have a running app and you go jogging every evening, it might be that one day you check your rewards account and find that you beat your personal best and that there’s a present waiting for you. They’ve flipped the typical model on its head and it has proved very successful. Rather than registering for incentives, people go about their normal lives and are given ‘presents’ for achieving certain things. People don’t expect the rewards but from time to time will be entitled to them. This has led to really high rates of engagement and people love the surprise.

The other concept I want to mention, is a way of measuring the world around us. We saw a couple of companies that could use existing technology to accurately measure an aspect of your life (like your home, or your body) to help you make better choices when buying items online. For example, using the Matterport scanner pictured below you could take these computer ‘models’ and dress them with furniture or clothes in order to see how they might look once they are delivered. These 3D models are interactive and allow you to remove, move and insert items so that you can build up a new outfit or room layout.

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(Matterport Scanner)

I also spent a few days in San Francisco as ‘the valley’ is expanding its northern reaches into the city. I was lucky enough to meet with some really big players as well as those who are part of fast growing and exciting start-ups. The start-up industry is an interesting mix of venture capitalists, incubators, start-ups themselves and larger companies who still thrive there.

It was fantastic to be out there meeting some of these really interesting people and I’ve definitely built up my network of useful contacts! My trip reaffirmed to me the importance of having an open, creative and innovative working culture. As we look ahead to the changing retail landscape we know that innovation will be key to ensuring that we are successful and continue to deliver an outstanding customer experience.

3D Printing

Every time our research and development teams meet up there is one item guaranteed to draw a crowd, the 3D printer. Read on for a summary of what we think the future might hold for the technology.

Every time our research and development teams meet up, which we do regularly to show off some of the technologies we’re looking at and working on, there is one item that is guaranteed to draw a crowd, the 3D printer. It’s great that we have one to test out and to be able to look at how they might change the way stores work.

There’s been a lot of buzz recently about 3D printing and what it can do. In medicine it can be used to build custom prosthetics and even implants and all with similar technology to the device that’s sat on our desk in the office. There’s even a group in the Netherlands who are planning to “print” a whole house.

If you’re not familiar with how the whole thing works then you’re not alone. There are a few different technologies, but generally layers of material are built up on a platform one at a time from resin that is melted and then cools in place. The platform moves down a bit before each new layer is added and over time, the item that you want to make begins to emerge.

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The 3D printer in action. For more information you should watch this youtube video too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEKns8T7yUA

So what does this all mean for Tesco then? Well I’m making no promises, but there are a few things I can predict for the future. We already print photos and posters in many of our larger stores, so why not other gifts and personalised items? How about letting kids design their own toys and then actually being able to get them made. What if we had a digital catalogue of spare parts for items that you’d bought? They could be printed on demand and ready for you by the time you’d finished your shopping. You could even take a broken item in to store; we could scan it in 3D, repair it digitally and make you a new one. The potential for 3D technology to revolutionise the way we view stores and what we can get from them is vast.

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(My desk)

We’re pretty excited about 3D printing and we’ll be working hard to see how we might be able use it to make things better for customers. We won’t stop there though and as always we’re constantly seeking out the genuinely ‘next big thing.’ Up next I’ve got a trip to Silicon Valley – the heart of the technology industry, where as well as meeting some of the big names I’ll also be getting together with lots of start-ups and trying to find that idea or product that might just change the retail world. Watch this space to find out more about what I get up to.