The power of voice

Update: 27 August 2019. A beta version of Tesco on Google Assistant is now available. Ask your Google Assistant to “Talk to Tesco” to get started.

It’s been some time since voice emerged as a trend in tech, and 2017 saw a number of large retailers take their first steps to engaging with voice-activated assistants.

The last week has also seen a range of stories on this theme emerge from CES in Las Vegas, highlighting advances from both Google and Amazon, and showing that this trend isn’t going anywhere.

It was back in May 2017 that we announced that Google Home users could integrate their device with Tesco home grocery shopping using IFTTT.com and voice activation for a seamless shopping experience. To date, the Tesco applet on IFTTT.com has run over 74,600 times, with more than 5,500 people connecting through Amazon Alexa, and over 2,400 through Google Home.

We were also interested to see a strong peak in use on Christmas day (below) – we’re assuming that lots of you received voice-activated assistants as gifts, and had fun setting them up!

Want to get started? To set it up you need to have Google Assistant and Tesco accounts and have them both connected to IFTTT. You can then go here and switch on the applet.

We’re always keen to better understand how customers are using these devices, and how we can improve your experience. If you’d like to share any feedback, please feel free to contact us.

Adding Multiple Products via IFTTT

An update for our IFTTT channel users – new and old.

When we launched the Tesco channel on If This Then That, we were keen to hear how it was being used, and if there was anything that you – the user –  would change, or like to be added, to improve the functionality. We were delighted that so many of you got in touch via twitter and email to let us know that you would value an amend to the “Add Product to Basket” action – allowing you to add multiple products at a time, rather than just one.

IFTTT Tweet

We’re pleased to confirm that this development has now been completed, with the Add Products to Basket action triggered by IFTTT in the same way as before. This allows a list of products to be easily generated by searching for keywords, brands or products and adding or removing them from your list; which can then be copied and pasted back into the IFTTT action. For ease of use, existing product lists in IFTTT can also be copied into the Tesco Search page and amended there.

We think that the potential benefits of using this multi-product function are almost endless, but here are a few of our favourite ways to use this update which you may wish to try to get you started:

  • If you know that there are items you need regularly, but not with every shop, why not set up a recurring action to add all the items you need at a suitable frequency. For example, add all household cleaning products every 8 weeks, or baked beans every fortnight.
  • By associating products with a special calendar event (for example, parties, birthdays or barbeques), you can ensure that you never forget these items again.
  • Why not create product lists associated with specific meal plans or recipes? You will then have the ability to add products to your basket based on your meal planning for the week.

IFTTT is now also compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, so you can employ voice activated assistance via the Echo or Dot. Here at Labs, we think that Conversational Interfaces in general are hugely exciting, as they provide the ultimate convenience experience. As a food retailers, our first goal is to understand how our customers would use such technology and for what purpose. We’ve already seen mCommerce accelerate ‘little and often’ – the concept of adding grocery items to their basket every now and then (rather than sitting down to place one big order), so the question is whether this tech will enhance that experience or change it completely.Watch this space for news on future Labs experiments and learnings!

As ever, we look forward to hearing about how you’re using this new development – let us know your feedback via email or on twitter.

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.

Blue sky thinking (with a % chance of rain)

We’ve been working with our F&F clothing team on a dynamic advertising concept.

These days, customers can order their F&F clothing online and collect it from their local Tesco store the next day. This service that many customers love is available in over 900 stores, but not everyone knows about it. That’s why Tesco Labs recently teamed up with F&F to find new, creative ways to spread the word.

The latest concept we’ve been experimenting with is the ‘F&F Forecaster’: a new approach to digital signage, where we dynamically display clothing options from F&F based on weather forecasts.

The F&F Forecaster at Hammersmith Tesco Metro

The design process for this product has been really interesting and a testament to the power of starting user testing at a very early stage.

In iteration 1, we ambitiously tried to communicate all of our core messages on one digital display. However, we soon found that the display was looking too busy and unclear as a result. So we settled on splitting the messaging across 3 screens as follows:

Screen 1: Tomorrow’s weather forecast (powered by http://forecast.io/).

Screen 1: Tomorrow's Forecast

Screen 2: F&F clothing recommended for the forecast.

Screen 2: Recommended F&F Clothing

Screen 3: Click & Collect countdown – customers who order before the timer runs out can collect their items from store the next day.

Screen 3: Click & Collect Countdown

Communicating the messaging across multiple screens made the concept easier to understand. An alternative approach would have been to cut down the number of messages we were communicating. But as we were keen to learn which messages really resonated with customers, we decided to start broad with a view to later focusing in on the most compelling elements.

The findings from customer testing also drove the designs of each of these screens individually. For example, our original intent was to display a fairly comprehensive weather forecast on screen 1. However, our insight showed that this was too much information to digest quickly and that the weather facets that customers really cared about for clothing decisions were ‘temperature’ and ‘% chance of rain’.  We therefore simplified the design to make these points more prominent.

Screen 1: Early Iteration

Screen 2: Current Iteration

In addition to raising awareness, we wanted to give customers an easy way to order the clothing advertised on their mobile and try out the store’s Click & Collect service. We facilitated this by including a URL, QR code, and NFC tag below the screens, so customers can interact in the best way for them. It will be interesting to see the uptake of this shopping journey in an outdoor environment and which interaction method proves most popular.

NFC Interaction

3 Ways to Interact with Mobile

The ‘F&F Forecaster’ is now live in Hammersmith Tesco Metro (just outside Hammersmith underground) and we’re continuing to gather valuable insights which will shape further iterations of the design. This will help us ensure this product is as engaging and useful as possible to our customers.

We’ll let you know how we get on, but in the meantime if you have any thoughts on this project then we’d love to hear from you…

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.

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. 

Project: Meal Deal Express

We’re running a live experiment in our Dean Street Metro store next week!

Background and Introduction

We’re working on a project with the London Format team which will ultimately achieve the goal of “I Don’t Queue”. Queuing is real issue in central Metro and Express London stores particularly at lunchtimes when customers are choosing the popular £3 Meal Deal and proceeding to the checkouts faster than the checkouts can process them.

The latest checkouts can process customers faster (as can ‘scan as you shop’) but checking-out at the end of the shop can still be improved. So our aim is to find a way where we completely eliminate checkouts. In our vision of a future customers walk into any Tesco, fill their basket or trolley, and walk straight out again.

Goals and Objectives

To start the first phase of this work, we’ve created a one week (Monday to Friday) experiment called “Meal Deal Express” where we have taken queuing and completely designed it out.

We have built a ‘Meal Deal Express’ zone in the centre of Dean Street Metro in Soho which consists of three adjacent ‘stations’. Customers move along the stations choosing one item from each. They then checkout by either tapping a contactless payment card on an NFC terminal constantly set to debit £3 from any card tapped on it, or by using a mobile payments app that makes them scan a QR code then tap ‘Pay’. These two options were chosen because it takes no more than 5 seconds to process the transaction. The entire checkout time is 5 seconds. The customer then happily walks out of the door.

The ’30 second challenge’ is on!

Summary (for those in a hurry)
• Tesco Labs are conducting an experiment to speed up the purchasing of popular Meal Deals.
• We are running the experiment for one week (13-17 Oct 12-2pm) in one store, Dean Street Metro, London
• We are working with innovative suppliers to see how fast customers can purchase their meals with new technology.
• Results of the week-long experiment will be fed in.

Lunch & Learn with Dovetailed: 3D printing edible fruit

That’s right, 3D printing edible fruit! Our fascinating Lunch and Learn session with Dovetailed.

August’s Lunch & Learn session was one about which I was especially excited: Dovetailed, a Cambridge-based UX studio and innovation lab, was to come and give a talk and live demo of 3D-printing. Big whoop, some of you more cynical Tesco colleagues may cry: ‘3D printing’s been around for ages – we all know you can 3D-print plastic dolls in your own likeness, and other stuff of questionable usefulness.’

Fair enough, I’d say – except that these guys don’t print plastic stuff: they print fruit…edible fruit!

The concept began from work that Gabriel, Dovetail’s Chief Innovator, had done at Oxford for his dPhil: using a 3D printer to create mimics of biological tissue without using living cells. However, another use for this technology soon emerged. Gabriel says: “The aim of the project was to print something that behaved a bit like a tissue, but personally, when I saw these things, I thought, ‘they look delicious!’”.

Gabriel saw many similarities between the structures he’d created, and fruit. His creations were composed of water droplets separated by very thin membranes – almost like soap bubbles, with a very thin film between them.

An orange, for example, is also made of lots of liquid compartments separated by thin membranes – not quite as thin as his 3D-printed creations, but nevertheless, the structure was similar.

The rest was history. Gabriel decided to apply his experience with 3D-printing liquids, combine it with a different science – molecular gastronomy – and create edible things using a 3D printer. Heston, eat your heart out! Gabriel uses a technique called reverse spherification to create layers of jelly-like structures, one on top of the other, that stick together to form a 3D structure.

You can customise the colour, nutritional content, texture, flavour and shape of these creations, and this technology could be applied much more widely than just within the food industry. You could use it to create personalised make-up; perfumes; easy-to-take supplements or medication for the elderly, or children…and I bet the cocktail bars in Chelsea would lap this up.

‘Sweet sugar pie’
Vaiva, founder of dovetailed.co, also talked to us about how you can change the way people experience food and drink – for example their perceived taste – through technology. She used her stamp system as an example: she simply stamps QR codes onto coffee-shop napkins which, when you scan them with your phone, plays music that makes the coffee you’re drinking seem sweeter – without resorting to unhealthy sugar.

‘Beautiful lasers’
Vaiva also introduced the idea of using laser technology to ‘print’ information on fruit and vegetables, reducing packaging and keeping the customer informed at the same time. For example, not only could you put things like cooking instructions or best before dates on an aubergine, but you could also provide the customer with data about the fruit – its nutritional values, provenance etc.

‘Push it real good’
The final treat Dovetailed had to show us, was their trolley handle add-on. After conducting market research, they concluded that a lot of people felt overwhelmed by choice when shopping in supermarkets. So, they designed a device that clips onto the trolley handle (thus letting the shopper push the trolley as usual), which has a barcode scanner in it. The customer simply scans the product to get information on that product that isn’t usually instantly available, at a glance – and what’s more, the information is personalised.

You scan a card to tailor the results before setting off. So, for example, you could say you’re interested in food mileage, or that you have a nut allergy and wish to be alerted to products containing nuts.

So, when you scan a pack of beef, for example, the more LEDs that light up, the further the meat has travelled to the store. If the product contains nuts, then an unhappy face will appear on the screen. You can even have a running tally of how healthy your trolley is: the scanner can keep track of the amount of salt, fat etc. per portion in your trolley, and can tell you how well you’re doing on average.

Do you think 3D printing your dinner instead of cooking it is the future? Do you think this technology is something that supermarkets could – and should – be exploring? Tweet your thoughts to @TescoLabs

To watch Gabriel and Vaiva present all their inventions, go here.

Helping you experience the future

The journey we took in becoming the team we are today.

I thought I’d write my first blog post based around our team mission statement; to share the journey we took in becoming the team we are today and our thoughts that went into creating the statement.

Creating a Labs team represents a real shift in the way that Tesco thinks about innovation. We’re developing a culture that will allow innovation to thrive in the long-term and we’re already working collaboratively with start-ups through networking events like T-Jam and our sponsorship of the Rainmaking Loft. We are devising a series of internal events such as hackathons and invent’athons which we’ve found are a great way to harness the collective power of people at Tesco.  It’s all very exciting!

So with a new team we set about defining our core purpose and mission statement – we wanted something simple that we could all remember, that reflects the work that we do, and something that helps to keep us all aligned and united as a team and heading in the same direction.

After much debate and discussion we came up with “Tesco Labs: Helping you experience the future”. Here are our thoughts behind the words in that sentence.

Helping

This could be anything from having a chat and helping someone set off on a journey of discovery to creating something to show people so their imagination doesn’t have to do the hard work

You

You the customer, you the colleague or you the supplier

Experience

We want to create new experiences, they could be simple, lightweight prototypes to help us understand people’s thoughts and opinions or they could be fully working and integrated so that we can actively test them and learn with our colleagues and customers.

Future

We are creating hypotheses / products that we can use to demonstrate what we think the future of retail will be like in 5 – 10yrs, but as you know the future is hard to predict! The real aim here is to be ambitious, not to just to solve tomorrow’s problems but to collaborate across the business and the world of technology and solve bigger, harder problems. It’s a mindset thing….