Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 - The Year We Made Contact...

...with customers on their mobile devices rather than ‘just’ our web site!

If I were told to describe the work we did in 2010 in just one adjective, I would say ‘tumultuous’! 2010 was the year everything changed as we focussed our efforts to bring the Tesco online experience to mobile smart phones.

You could argue that actually we started this in Autumn 2009 when Tesco Finder launched  but, let’s face it, customers were asking - in droves - for the full grocery home shopping experience on their phones.

So that’s exactly what we did. First Nokia, then iPhone, the Windows Phone 7, and now the delicious and sumptuous iPad experience.

In terms of R&D, our delivery into this adventure is of course the Application Programming Interface (API) that abstracts all the complexity of our grocery service into a simple set of ‘commands’ that are easily used by the phone apps. It’s a mix of pride and concern that the R&D API (rather than a production version) is supporting everything. Pride that it all works a treat and needs virtually no handholding, and concern that “things” moved so fast that there was no time for one of our agile IT teams to write a production version first.

Actually this is my fault. I have - within professional boundaries - “refused” to let production teams just take the code and tune up a production version. Instead I have insisted that they design everything new from scratch. The R&D API being used by one million Tesco Groceries and Tesco Finder customers has evolved from a proof of concept through to its present pseudo-production format. Along the way I have discovered coding practices and taken on board the great new functionality of Microsoft .Net Framework 4.0. The latest commands in the API uses the latest coding techniques. The earliest commands do not; reading the API source code is to learn of Nick Lansley’s journey from basic C# coding through to XPath, Regular Expressions and Generics!

Let's take a look at this mighty year:

In January was a about my visit to CES 2010 - with revelations are still echoing through my work backlog. TVs and set-top boxes with internet connection; tablet computers; devices for the kitchen, and so forth.

February saw the launch of the Tesco Clubcard application for iPhone (and now on other phones too). R&D played only a consultancy role in helping the developer, Ben Martin, locate the clubcard points data. I was so impressed with the results that I decided to persuade Ben to come and work in R&D! More results of his handiwork are already appearing in public with the new version of Tesco Finder and there’s a lot more to come.

In March our 10-day trip to visit to Microsoft in Redmond, Google in Mountain View and Mix 2010 in Las Vegas opened up new avenues and new ways of thinking which has helped inform R&D projects - and strategy - for the future. In the meantime the work to rebuild our grocery service into a much more scalable and modular system, Project Martini, was rolled out to more and more customers.

April saw us taking steps into providing support for customers via Twitter. The insight team started monitoring tweets to uncover customer sentiment about Tesco (documented earlier in this blog). We also switched off the old proof-of-concept API and moved to a rather more elegant - and RESTful - interface suitable for mobile phone app access.

In May, my name reaching number 35 in Wired UK’s “Top 100 Britain’s top digital power brokers” was incredible, and showed that finally was being noticed for its innovation in the world of e-commerce.

In June Tesco Finder for iPhone, now under the guardianship of Ben, received its functional update to include a barcode scanner. Ever since the update, barcode scanning is the most popular form of product searching on that app. Throughout the summer we kicked off various projects (some behind-the-scenes) to improve various aspects of our service was very enjoyable. It’s no good hiding the fact that we can be a little selfish with some of our projects: Everything we do is about taking an extra step in service for customers - because we are customers too and we build what we would want to use!

In July Tesco held its Annual General Meeting and it was great to see Tesco apps being mentioned by the main board in their presentation to shareholders. It meant that the highest people in the company could see the importance of a Tesco presence on mobile phones.

August saw the launch of our Nokia groceries app with attendant fanfare and media interest in why we chose Nokia first (documented ‘as it happened’ earlier in this blog) with much quoting of my ‘Busy Mums” theory. That no doubt helped my CEO, Laura Wade-Gery and myself together reach the RetailInsider Top 20 major players in Multi-channel and e-commerce!

September saw the launch of our totally gorgeous Tesco Groceries for iPhone app which became an even greater joy to use after adding the barcode scanning functionality a month later.

October was the month when we launched Tesco Groceries on Windows Phone 7. The app was demo’d as part of the UK Windows Phone 7 launch! October also saw the first QR-code let loose in Tesco marketing advertising, and Deborah Meaden from Dragon's Den visited us to help launch her investment: the MyDish recipe web site linked to your Tesco grocery account via the API. Tesco Online was voted the most accessible website for visually impaired computer users by members of RNIB and listeners of Insight Radio, the RNIB's online radio station for blind and partially sighted people in the UK.

November saw the launch of our mobile-enabled Tesco Direct web site. We’ll see over time if customers prefer apps or mobile web sites now we have both!  This month also saw the publication of a couple of interviews with me in Computing and New Media Age magazines. I valued the opportunity to talk about what we do in because I want to let people know that it’s a great place to work because we’re all encouraged to act like entrepreneurs. That's refreshing in a company as big as Tesco and one that no doubt helped CEO Laura Wade-Gery get to number 3 in Retail Week's inaugural Etail Powerlist 2010 - Retail Week’s ranking of 50 most powerful people in online retail. And yes, I was mentioned on the same list as a "rising star", both humbling and fantastic!

December saw the launch of our Tesco Recipes app for iPad, a more gorgeous design you ever did see! In R&D we kicked off the Tesco Freeview Experiment which gets underway in January.

Quite a year!

Within blog entries I have already thanked so many people for the work they did in delivering some amazing innovative projects in 2010. You should re-read some articles in this blog and get to know some of these names. It would be great to see them entering a ‘Top X E-commerce people’ chart.

Happy New Year to you and all my other blog readers! Keep feeding back what you like and hate about what you read so I can continue to improve what I write here.

And here's to a happy, successful, and hey, tumultuous 2011!


  1. Any chance there will be an Android app of the same class as the iPhone app?

  2. January - Android Groceries App?! I blimmin well hope so, long overdue. In the US Android is already more prevelant than iOS, not sure about the UK. I am not saying Android is better than iOS but the userbase is huge and should not be ignored.

  3. Can we have an Android app please. The Android OS is more popular than IOS. Dont understand why there is not one allready


As this blog grows in readership - and because it carries the Tesco brand - I have had to become more careful about the sort of comments that are acceptable. The good news is that I'm a champion of free speech so please be as praising or as critical as you wish! The only comments I DON'T allow through are:

1. Comments which criticise an individual other than myself, or are critical of an organisation other than Tesco. This is simply because they cannot defend themselves so is unfair and possibly libellous. Comments about some aspect of Tesco being better/worse than another equivalent organisation are allowed as long as you start by saying "in my personal opinion.." or "I think that...". ... followed by a "...because.." and some reasoned argument.

2. Comments which are totally unrelated to the context of the original article. If I have written about a mobile app and you start complaining about the price of potatoes then your comment isn't going stay for long!

3. Advertising / web links / spam.

4. Insulting / obscene messages.

Ok, rules done - now it's your go: