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 and voice activation for a seamless shopping experience. To date, the Tesco applet on 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.

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.

GoT summit: Taking retail everywhere with connected commerce

Tesco Labs’ Paul Wilkinson was invited to speak at the IBM Genius of Things summit, introducing the audience to the IoT work that we’ve been doing.

February 16, 2017
Steve Laughlin, General Manager, Consumer Industries, IBM and Paul Wilkinson, Head of Technology Research, Tesco Labs, explore how connected commerce is changing the face of retail.

The original post by Jen Clark can be found here.

Changing customer expectations
While 85% of consumers still prefer to shop in-store, their expectations are shifting. Now, they are demanding experiences that transcend physical and digital boundaries.

The retail industry landscape reflects this emerging need: margin pressure is increasing, with a 1.9% profit decline despite a 4% spending increase this holiday season. Technology is advancing dramatically, and 52% of retail CEOs are concerned about the pace of technological change. The competitive landscape is shifting too, and 60% of CEOs now expect more competition from other industries.

With the help of the IoT, retail is expanding beyond simple online transactions and in-store shopper experiences. Let’s look now at some of the top areas of IoT value creation.

Top areas of IoT value creation in retail
Retail operations:
Predictive maintenance: instrumented devices in-store can monitor the health of physical assets
Inventory management: a real-time picture of stock levels
Staff optimization: using staff members’ time more effectively
Customer experience:
Individual engagement: via personal devices
Associate clienteling
Automated checkout: no more waiting in line
Business model transformation:
IoT commerce
Fulfilment innovation
Data monetization

The future of retail
A connected world brings retail experiences to the individual wherever they are. Connected appliances such as smart washing machines can automatically order detergent when you run out. Developing infotainment systems in vehicles mean customers can shop from their cars, or receive reminders to pop by the store on their way home. Items can be delivered by drone.

The bricks and mortar store still matters, but it needs rethinking. A store instrumented with IoT devices can impact:
Food freshness
Energy use management
Foot traffic monitoring
Shopper insights
Real-time stock-out monitoring
Item location tracking
Smart signage / pricing
Assortment optimization

How do you get started?
The IoT has a lot to offer the world of retail, but how do you get started? Here are three key suggestions:
Partner to innovate
Pilot in store
Scale based on real ROI

Getting results

Stores that have implemented IoT capabilities report clear positive outcomes. At Tesco, real customer pilots around food freshness and shopper insights have led to up to a 40% cost reduction and up to 5% productivity improvements.

IFTTT Scoops Retail Week Innovation Award

The Retail Week Tech and Ecomm Awards are the definitive awards for retailers who are setting the agenda in etailing and IT.

The ceremony, held on 14 September at the Intercontinental O2 in London, was a great success, with the leading names in retail technology and ecommerce coming together to celebrate the outstanding achievements of the last year. We’re delighted to share that Tesco Labs took home the Innovation of the Year award for our work on ‘If This Then That’ (IFTTT).

You may already have heard of ‘If This Then That’ – a platform for joining different online accounts together to enable customers 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.

With the rise of connected home devices we’ve been running a variety of experiments to see how we can help serve shoppers a little better every day. One of the results has been the creation of a channel on the IFTTT platform which enables customers to set up triggers for certain products. For example, if a product drops below a certain price, our customers can set up a trigger so that the item is automatically added to their shopping basket online. It’s another great example of how we’re making the shopping trip a little easier for our customers.

To get started you just need to have an IFTTT account and add the Tesco channel. We’re really interested to see what uses people come up with for this so publish your recipes on IFTTT and get in touch if you’ve got any feedback or ideas.

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 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).

Launching Tesco on If This Then That (

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 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.


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…


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.


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.

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).


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.


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!


Look forward to meeting the next batch!