And the winners are…

It’s been quite the week for the Tesco Labs team: we’ve been heavily involved in Tech. powered by Retail Week and were delighted to be named as winners in last night’s awards.

The team were delighted to hear that we had been shortlisted not once, not twice, but three times at the Retail Week Tech awards. The Tesco Labs team was listed in the “Tech Team of the Year” category, whilst Kunal Ramkumar and Vidya Laxman were recognised in the “Digital Transformation Pioneer” and “Digital Native” categories respectively. The awards ceremony, held at London’s Hawker House, was an exciting take on the usual format, and brought together the leading names in retail technology to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the last year.

We’re pleased to share that we took home the award for Digital Transformation Pioneer. This award was well deserved by Software Development Engineer Kunal Ramkumar, who, having identified operational inefficiency issues within our solutions for planning in store displays, with scope for huge improvement. Through looking at the basic principles of merchandising, and applying technological solutions to a basic merchandising problem which affects all retailers, Kunal found a solution which is both cost and time effective, the impact of which could change the face of future retail merchandising.

The Labs team was also named silver award winners of Tech Team of the Year, recognising the continuing innovative work that the team produces. With the consistent aim of improving the retail experience for both Tesco customers and colleagues, and with our sights fixed firmly on emerging technology, the team strive to ensure that Tesco remains one step ahead of the curve. Work with trends such as voice activated assistants, connected home devices, and VR and AR particularly impressed the judges.

But that’s not all…

On Wednesday, Angela Maurer, Head of Tesco Labs, took to the stage to talk about our schools outreach activity, promoting STEM subjects in schools, and diversity in the technology industry. Her grand finale was the announcement that we are open sourcing all the materials needed to deliver the activity, enabling other companies all over the world to reach out to this important demographic and help to shift the needle on these key issues.

Thursday saw Paul Wilkinson, Head of Research, Tesco Labs, addressing the audience on our work with voice activated assistants, and what this could mean to the future of retail.

Throughout the 2 day event, Tesco Labs was also delighted to be the headline sponsor for the Retail Week Tech Sprint. Billed as a “technology battle royale”, the Tech. Sprint brought together leading visionaries in retail tech to generate new and innovative ideas. The Challenge: 24 hours to build the shopping experience of the future in a connected world, was set by the Retail Week team and Tesco Labs. The teams pitched their solutions to an expert judging panel (led by Paul Wilkinson) with the three best teams battling it out on the Discovery Stage.

Congratulations to all the awards winners, and thank you to Retail Week – we’re looking forward to next year already!

Innovation through Inspiration: open source announcement

Earlier this year, the Tesco Labs team began looking into how we could inspire primary school children to study STEM subjects – today, we’re delighted to share what we’ve developed.

Through our research into diversity in technology, we discovered that children as young as 4 years old form stereotypes around gender roles in various careers; with the result that many girls are less keen to study STEM subject than boys. As a result, we’ve tailored our outreach activities for primary school children to impress upon them that technology is not just “for boys” and that opportunities exist in a range of diverse roles within the technology industry. You may have read about our first activity, when we spent the day with Key Stage 1 students at Roundwood Primary School in Harpenden. (If you missed it, read the blog post here).

We used “Cubetto“, Primo Toys’ friendly wooden robot which teaches children the basics of programming through hands on play and adventure. In order to give the activity a retail technology slant, we worked with Ape Creative to produce customised accessories for the robot, giving it a simplified Tesco store layout to navigate around, whilst challenging the children to collect specific items from a bespoke shopping list; all to be gathered in their personalised shopping trolley.

The success of the activity, and the popularity amongst both schools and parents, has been overwhelming. We’ve connected with around 250 children so far, and intend to continue to grow this as much as we possibly can. So, we were delighted to be invited to talk about our work on stage at Retail Week’s Tech event this week.

The talk about our work, given by Head of Tesco Labs, Angela Maurer, not only covered the why, where and how of our work, but also the passion that the team have for continuing to address the gender imbalance in our industry, and the challenges that we face if we try to continue to do this as individuals. Which is why we are delighted to be able to open this activity up to other retailers, and look to give the opportunity to connect with schools in the same way to as many companies as possible.

From today, we are open sourcing all the materials we have used to bring this activity to life; from the tried and tested activity plan through to the bright and beautiful accessories created specifically with this in mind. If you would like to deliver this activity then all you will need to do is download the items and purchase the Cubetto kits that you need.

The links below allow you to download the pdf files of the original artwork. If you would like to download the indesign files, please email the Tesco Labs team who will be happy to share these.

Activity playbook
Download 

Print materials
Shop Layout Mat
Produce Cards
Shopping Lists
Trolley

Contacts
Primo Toys

Ape Creative

Finally, we’d love to hear your stories of the activities you lead using these tools! If you’d like to share them, please feel free to share them via email or twitter.

Arcohol – a collaboration from Tesco Labs and ribot

An innovative experiment to help you pick a great bottle of wine, every time.

Tesco Labs and ribot are both passionate about driving change to improve the lives of customers. The customer is at the heart of everything we both do. ribot innovate through the use of technology, behavioural psychology and design to build great products. The Tesco Labs team are building a culture of innovation and focussing on serving their customers a little better every day. Wherever, whenever and however they want to shop with Tesco.

Together Tesco Labs and ribot have created an innovative experiment that will assist customers to choose a great bottle of wine, every time. The Internet of Things shelf concept lights up to help customers navigate the complex category of wine in the supermarket aisle. You can come and try the prototype at RBTE on 8th & 9th May 2017 with ribot at stand number 1107.

Tesco Labs is currently investigating ways in which the Internet of Things can help enhance its customers’ shopping journey; something which Paul Wilkinson, Head of Technology Research at Tesco Labs will be discussing  in his Keynote in Theatre 2 on the 9th May at 10.30. Tesco launched on web platform IFTTT [If This Then That] earlier this year as a significant step along the road to using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to help automate certain elements of internet shopping in the UK. The creation of an IFTTT channel has allowed the retailer’s shoppers to devise shopping-related actions based on certain triggers, as well as expanding the channels through which they can shop, as IFTTT is now available through both Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.

Just how do you select a good bottle of wine?
ribot first started working with Tesco Labs back in 2009, when they designed and built the first Tesco grocery shopping app. During that time, they worked with the team at Tesco Labs, who had identified an area in which they wanted to improve the shopping experience for customers. How could we help customers navigate the complex category of wine, beers and spirits in the supermarket aisle? How could we simplify choice for Tesco customers?

As part of the ribot innovation process, they interview and observe customers and create personas based on core segment types. Their findings showed that wine, spirit and beer selection is still a mystery for many. They wanted to discover if there was a simple way to educate customers about wine and to encourage wine exploration.

ribot’s goals for this project were to educate customers about wine choice and make the whole experience more personalised, inspiring, engaging and fun. The solution should also help users discover the wider Beers, Wines and Spirits range and could create more engagement and dwell time in the Beers, Wines and Spirits department.

They looked at possible solutions to the problem and worked through a process of innovation in order to create a prototype.

In summary, the people they observed and interviewed in the study tended to choose whatever was on promotion, something they were already familiar with or what they saw or knew someone else had chosen.

So how could choosing the perfect bottle of wine be made both easier and more fun?
As part of the innovation process they looked at possible solutions to solve this and asked some key questions:
– How can we simplify wine choice and make it both simpler and more fun?
– Can we use the Internet of Things to help solve this problem?
– Can we encourage customers to explore more and make better wine choices?
The ribot team mapped the user experience and generated a number of ideas using different creative techniques, then chose a preferred solution to prototype and build as a proof of concept.

Arcohol
A key part of the proposed solution was to enable users to select wine by pairing it with food they plan to eat. Everyone eats! Using food first is a more approachable way of accessing wine (or beer, cocktails or spirits!). It felt like a natural platform on which a customer could base an exploration of wine and make an educated, inspired and confident choice. The proposed solution – Arcohol – was to build an interactive wine shelf, helping users discover a personalised range of wine options providing both inspiration and education.

The prototype itself is a simple shelf connected to an app launched on a tablet at the point of sale. Customers can use the prototype to select the type of food they plan to eat, using food icons in the prototype app. This simplifies choice.

The proposed solution also lets customers filter choices by region, colour, grape and price. The app includes handy tasting notes that use keywords customers can recognise and associate with. Suggestions are made based on flavours that will complement the food. Wine suggestions shown on the app correspond to LED lights on the shelf. These light up, guiding the customer to make their final selection.

The psychology behind the solution
The prototype allows the user to narrow down options available, based on what they plan to have for dinner. This both limits choice and provides an element of closure. The LED lights on the shelf help create a helpful contrast, displaying the products that suit you and those that don’t. Items that stand out from their peers are more memorable to customers.

The tasting notes in the app are brief and use keywords that will help users identify the types of wine they might like, the Speak-Easy effect. There is enough information given in each description to enable users to make a confident choice about the wine.

The prototype app works with the interactive shelf using LED lights to highlight the chosen wine. The LED lights bring a sense of fun and theatre to proceedings. The prototype could be extended to mobile and could be personalised to work with Tesco Clubcard. Both the tasting notes and LED lights on the shelf arouse the interest and curiosity for users. The whole concept is fun and users remember choosing their perfect bottle of wine this way.

What’s next
ribot are in the process of testing user reactions to the shelf and installing an improved prototype at the Tesco Labs HQ. For a chance to see the interactive wine shelf in action, visit stand number 1107 at RBTE, London Olympia on the 8th and 9th May.

To find out more about how Tesco Labs are working with the Internet of Things, join Paul Wilkinson, Head of Technology Research, for his keynote session on 9th May at 10.30 in Theatre 2.

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…

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.

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.