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.

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.

Our dynamic advertising has changed

Last month, we introduced you to our F&F Forecaster project. We’ve learnt lots since installing the screens at our Hammersmith Metro store and we’ve made some updates.

You can read our first instalment about this project here. The purpose of the very big, very bright screens was to tell a story to those who passed by:

“You know, you can purchase clothes online from F&F and collect them in store the next day.”

We decided it would be fun to achieve this by displaying a weather forecast for the following day, and presenting relevant clothing choices.

F&F Forecaster v1

Next we asked you, the public, what you thought. You told us you liked seeing the weather forecast. We get that – it’s useful, and we’re not asking you to buy anything. However our story, as described above, proved difficult to understand in the environment. Outside our Hammersmith Metro store is certainly a very busy place, but not many of you spend much time there as you’re usually on your way to or from the tube station nearby.

So in the spirit of iterative design, we changed it. We removed our Click & Collect message completely, and refocussed on the link between the weather forecast and clothing purchases.

F&F Forecaster v2

Our revised designs see the weather forecast visual duplicated on the first and third screens. We also redesigned it to make it even simpler to digest. Specifically, it includes a summary (e.g. “It’s going to be cloudy”), the felt temperature and the chance of rain. Each of these facets of the forecast appear sequentially, one at a time.

The clothing carousel visual remains on the middle screen, but we have also added a visual cue to look down toward the interaction points, as you suggested that they weren’t prominent enough:


Having made these changes, we spent the day in Hammersmith speaking to you again, and we learned some more, valuable lessons.

Our trial in Hammersmith has drawn to a close. We appreciate all of the feedback you’ve provided in Hammersmith, on Twitter and indeed on this blog. We’ll learn from all of our findings to make an even better proposition for you next time!

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

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…

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.


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.


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.


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…

Getting back in touch with the Internet of Things

Our second instalment in an increasingly inaccurately titled series of blogs about the Internet of Things, or IoT to those in the know 😉

Nine months ago I posted about a project we were working on to make some of the stuff we use in stores a bit smarter and more communicative. Things were going pretty well: we’d built a Proof of Concept device, based on an Arduino micro controller, and got a few people excited about the possible applications. But then we learnt a hard lesson concerning the difference between a Proof of Concept and a prototype, a pain which I shall attempt to convey in the following paragraphs.

Most people use the terms Proof of Concept (PoC) and prototype interchangeably, but in truth they are very different things. The PoC demonstrates that something is physically possible to do in its broadest sense. With a PoC, the little details can be put aside. Worried about battery life? No problem, attach it to wall socket. Heat problems? No drama, put a fan over it. Two weeks to build and test each unit – fine, it’s just a proof of concept. Conversely, the prototype demonstrates exactly how it will be implemented in an operationally viable way that won’t bankrupt the company. Battery life – how are we going to monitor it? How does it get recharged? Will it last long enough between charges? Is it easy to find the socket to plug it into? Can it be recycled?

The first challenge we faced when moving to a prototype stage was how could we make the electronics come in at a reasonable price point. It’s worth noting that, in our naivety, we thought we could pass the PoC to an electronics company and get back a complete solution. However, we found the costs were prohibitively expensive, so we were back to doing it ourselves. But this was a good thing because we made a rather marvellous discovery: it’s possible to get a small run of printed circuit boards manufactured for under £100. So using some free software, called DesignSpark, we were able to build a nice circuit board that we could assemble in a couple of hours. How cool is that? The second discovery we made was that the expensive, and rather unwieldy, Arduino could be replaced by a much smaller and cheaper ‘Pro’ version. So a couple of revisions later, we had a very robust and economically viable ‘brain’ for our device.

Our second challenge was which sensors to use. Our Proof of Concept detected changes in state using magnetic switches. Unfortunately, this would have meant installing powerful magnets to the equipment that would be used with it: a big no-no as far as economics and health and safety were concerned! Micro switches were too hard to mount, optical switches didn’t work reliably and laser range finders seemed a bit like overkill. Fortunately we discovered some infrared proximity sensors that could be used. These are fairly useful, and some are supplied with a big rely such that they could be used to control mains voltage. Not for this project, but worth keeping in mind.

We still have a few challenges to overcome, but I think we’re on the final strait. Hopefully in my final instalment I’ll be able to give the ‘big reveal’ and say what it is that we’ve actually been working on.

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.

Cities Unlocked!

Our work on the project to enable people with visual impairments to enjoy an easier and more enhanced life through technology.

Cities Unlocked is a collaborative project between Guide Dogs Association, Future Cities Catapult, Microsoft and other partners. The projects aims to demonstrate the way in which future technologies could enable people with visual impairments to enjoy an easier and more enhanced life through technology. The Guide Dogs Association and Microsoft previously created the concept video below to demonstrate how a day out for a visually impaired individual could look in the future!

The Cities Unlocked project is focused on making the concept video as much a reality as possible. The Guide Dogs Association has partnered with many organisations that people come into contact with in their daily lives; transport, council, retail and entertainment.  I am currently working with the Guide Dogs Association and Microsoft towards enabling Tesco to provide an enhanced retail experience for our visually impaired customers through use of technology.

The project is an exciting one, we are currently investigating solutions using a number of interesting technologies including Wi-Fi, NFC and low energy Bluetooth beacons. For more information on the project please see the link below, and keep an eye on the Tesco Labs blog for future updates!