Friday, 18 November 2011

Tesco demonstrates augmented reality with Kishino

As you have no doubt gleaned from the media by now, Tesco is taking augmented reality seriously as a great way of bringing a great experience of our products and services to customers.

Until now, a lot of augmented reality has been marketing led. The experience you get when you use your smartphone or iPad with the Blippar app and point the camera at our ‘Price Drop’ logo you’ll see what I mean. I include the logo below so you can try it on your smart phone with Blippar right now:




The first thing I thought of when I saw augmented reality in action was to consider how it might help customers visualise the size and shape of our products better. This is particularly true of products you can’t see fully-formed such as toy construction kits (for example, lego and airfix models). It’s sometimes difficult to visualise the size of a fully formed kit when its in pieces in a box and all you have to go on is the photo on the box cover.



Here is what you get if you hover an iPad 2 over the image above (click for larger version):


Augmented Reality can also solve a slightly different problem - how about TV sets where you wish you could turn the TV around so you could see what sockets are available on the back?

Problems solved - R&D and marketing teams worked with Kishino (formerly Total Immersion) who are trialling a list of TVs and construction kit products on a web page at:

http://www.tesco.com/augmented-reality

Congratulations to the team at Kishino who have done a great job - and even produced a video demonstrating how it works, available on Youtube:




So go have a play at the web address above and let me know what you think!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for inspiring me so much.

I join many of my colleagues in being saddened to hear the news of the death of Steve Jobs last night.

Apple, through Jobs' leadership, used disruptive innovation to smash through the complexity of using mobile devices by making the utterly simple to use. For the first time, anyone - young or old - techno-savvy or techno-phobic - could pick up an iPhone and iPad and immediately 'get' how to use it. The massive complexity of the underlying technology was hidden under the covers of a simple and intuitive user interface.

The iPhone certainly inspired me to 'see' technology from a non-technologists perspective. The first Tesco-branded iPhone app, Tesco Finder, came from the R&D team as we worked through the (then) unknown process of programming for iPhone and getting it through into Apple's App Store. The app was an instant hit because, we found, many customers could use the simplicity of their iPhone to locate their nearest Tesco - then products in that Tesco branch - using the simplest of taps and swipes of the finger. We could do it because the tools to allow the simplicity of that user-interface were, for the first time, at our command.

Now we have the situation where many senior managers and directors in Tesco are using an iPad to do their job. Indeed a few have shunned their laptop in preference for using their iPad!

Tesco 'gets' mobile; we are so enthusiastic as a company about the future of this technology on behalf of customers, and the work of Steve Jobs and Apple has had a profoundly positive contribution to that enthusiasm.

Thank you, Steve, for being one of the greatest innovators and inspiring me so much.

A simple apple.com home page honours Steve Jobs today.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Tesco Triathlon app review

We've been evaluating a mobile application we set up for those participating in the Tesco Charity Triathlon last month. The app was created by mobile specialists mBlox so that triathletes could enjoy personal updates as the triathlon deadline approached. In this article, Ben Martin (who took part in the triathlon itself and raised £370 in the process!) shares his experiences with how the app - and its underlying content delivery system - worked for our event.

Ben writes:


Last month we trialled a pre-release beta technology from mBlox in an exclusive Tesco Charity Triathlon 2011 application. The application provided a method of keeping participants posted with the latest information about the event.

For this year’s Tesco Charity Triathlon we thought it would be great if the participants who attended the event could receive automatic updates about what was going on before, during and after the day. We worked closely with mBlox to create a mobile application for Android devices that could do just that.

The finished application had an HTML5 dashboard widget for uploading content (images, blog/Twitter posts, plain text and even video) that could then be sent to everyone who had the application installed on their Android device. We could even restrict the distribution to a defined location of our choice. The widget also provided analytical data reports of users who had downloaded the content and time they had spent viewing.

Before the Triathlon we used the app to send out useful information such as charity details, training tips/advice, blog entries from our leadership team, race numbers and race day details. During the event we published images of participants taking place in each of the activities and contestants could send images to us, which we could upload. After the day we sent out info on the winners, final messages from sponsors and info on the total raised for charity (impressively it was over £200,000!!).

Here’s an example screenshot taken from within the App:


The purpose of the trial was not only to keep participants up to date on the event but also so we could investigate the process of sending and receiving relevant information, and the value this would provide to the end user and to Tesco. We were also very keen to find out how valuable the analytical data was and how it could be used to improve future communications.

Sending and receiving information to mobile phones in a timely manner using technology is a research topic that we wanted to get some experience. Once we have completed the research we can think about how we might use this to incorporate this functionality into our existing customer applications or use it for our own internal communication methods. An idea that springs to mind is an app that can send delivery details to Tesco.com van drivers and we would receive confirmation on them receiving the info.

What we found out:
The application proved to send relavant information very quickly to the end users mobile device (instantly in fact) and was very reliable. It was really useful to have data that confirmed delivery of the content and even detailed when it had been read. Potentially this information could allow us to become more effective at our communication.

Another valuable learning from the trial was the speed in which mBlox helped us to deliver such a technology to market. Without their help we would not have been able to achieve this on such tight timescales due to our other commitments – thank you mBlox!

Thanks to all those who took part in the technology trial, we will continue to investigate its value and have passed on our learnings to our Mobile Development team.

Friday, 8 July 2011

7am: Social Media's Finest Hour

There's something about 7am.

It's at that time when I am still in bed with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 sounding in the background and the smell of freshly brewed coffee indicating its presence on the bed-side table.

However the start of the 7am news usually causes me to sit up and reach for my smart phone, which has been charging-up nicely through the night.

So what do I see first? A selection of a few unread email messages, Facebook updates and Twitter tweets that came in just before 7am.

A quick glimpse of each (no more than 2 minutes in total) is all takes before getting up. In that time those snippets of incoming information have entered my waking brain which, absent of anything else to start the day, has entered my conscious thinking.

This morning - at 7am for 2 minutes - I ingested snippets of breaking tech news from Computing, New Media Age and Tech Crunch, contemplated today's London Groupon voucher, look through the Google News10 email with search results for 'Tesco', and read a message from those members of the R&D team working 5 hours ahead in Bangalore.

These short snippets of tweets, updates and email headlines continue to swirl through my mind as I stand there in the shower / search for clothes / sip my coffee. I ponder what I've learned - and I keep thinking of it randomly throughout the day. Basically this information has, whether I wanted it to or not, set my day's agenda!

I actually became conscious of the 'power' of 7am a few weeks ago when I was on holiday. Bizarrely I actually missed it! The 7am info-buzz connected me back to the world after a night of sleep. Without it my mind seemed to feel it was missing something.

I raised my awareness from 'conscious' to 'wildly aware' when I attended a Microsoft Creative Technology showcase last week. One of the presenters has a company that runs social media on behalf of several celebrities and sports-people. He spoke of the '7am broadcast' that occurs 24 times a day, time-zone by time-zone around the world. Twitter Followers and Facebook 'Like' Fans would receive their favourite celebrity's tweet at 7am. Feedback had found that this was the most effective time for the celebrity or brand to be remembered for the rest of the day.

The effectiveness of Social Media continues to fascinate me - and now it has a 'power time' of 7am. These days it seems that millions of people are experiencing that '7am' moment as they wake and pick up their smart-phone left charging by the bedside.

If they follow you - and you talk to them at 7am - they are likely to remember you all day. 7am is, quite literally, Social Media'a finest hour.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Speak or Scan - Tesco Groceries for Android launches

Please welcome the newest member of our mobile app family, Tesco Groceries for Android.

Yes, I know, you've wanted this app to launch for a long time. But the management team, designers and developers were patient, considered, and did things right so that we could launch an app to be proud of.
So take my hand and let's journey together through the delights of this android application. Would you like to be downloading while we walk? Sure, follow this link.

We start with the opening screen. with the various options for searching for products listed - including barcode scanning using the phone's camera:


However our team always likes to get better with each version of the app, so here we introduce voice searching for the first time:




Many customers of our other grocery apps love the concept of capturing their sudden thoughts of grocery products they need, even if they have no mobile signal, so here is the android recreation of the shopping list. Once you have a signal, tap what you have typed and a text search for that product will take place:



For all our customers who love to shop by department / aisle / shelf, of course this app caters for you too:



Here are your favourites - all product search results look like this, allowing you to see all products matching your search request, and a filtered view of just those on special offer. Once a product is in your basket, that same product has a green background if it appears in any search results:


Here is your basket:



...and you can choose a delivery slot at any time from a formatted view that can see up to three weeks ahead:


Congratulations are due to loads of people from the design prowess of Ribot, our fantastic new in-house mobile development team led by Hilda and Owen, and of course our amazing product owners for mobile, Annabel and Becky.

You'll find the Tesco Groceries app in the Android Marketplace, so download and enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Why losing to a womens network made me stand up and applaud

Sorry for not getting any blog posts up recently. I decided to go on holiday but the rest of Tesco decided not to pause while I did so!

Still, madly trying to catch up with projects is always 'fun' and being able to write blog posts (my lowest priority, alas) at least shows I am back on course now!

The New Media Age Awards took place last week. As you may be aware, Tesco.com R&D had been nominated for what the organisers referred to as its "Outstanding contribution to new media" with all our various projects. We didn't win, however, but the people who did win had me on my feet offering them genuine applause: The winner was "She Says", an organisation  established to encourage more women into creative roles in the digital industry through events, mentoring and awards.

"She Says" - http://shesaysus.com/ - started as a small community in London - and has grown into a 3000-member network across seven cities worldwide, and its success can be seen in the recent announcement that Lariu, one of the founders, was leaving her job to work for She Says full-time.

Why was I on my feet showing a happy 'losing Oscars' face? This is exactly the sort of thing that Tesco encourages through our 'Everyone is welcome at Tesco' work. At the head of this work is Tesco Diversity Council (TDC), a steering group .TDC is chaired by Tesco board member and Corporate & Legal Affairs director Lucy Neville-Rolfe (and I am privileged to be a TDC member) and provides advocacy to such staff networks as Tesco Women's Network (http://cr2010.tescoplc.com/our-people/inclusion.aspx) who perform a similar role to She Says but inside Tesco.

Creating a level playing field for all people is vital in our industry so that we can all get maximum access to the best talent out there. It's great to see that this work is appreciated and award winning.

That's why I had no problem losing to such a worthy contender, and why I stood and clapped as She Says took the award. Well done!

Monday, 23 May 2011

In-store 'Sat-nav' up and working now in a Tesco branch - come and try it!

We now have a comprehensive 'sat-nav' system working INSIDE one of our Tesco stores!

The new service is able to show you where all your wanted products are on a store map, show you where you are on that map, and guide you round the store to pick up your products using the shortest route.

The prototype system is installed at the Tesco Extra, Romford (Gallows Corner) in north-east London, and we need to recruit a large control group of customers (including staff) who would like to try it out on their Android smart-phones.

Would you like to give it a go? If so apply to join our control group (info below) which will assess the accuracy and reliability of the service from a technical perspective.. If you're accepted, here is what you'll experience:
  1. Install our prototype app on your Android smart phone (it's not in the Android Marketplace, you'll be sent a link to download it directly and you'll need to change a setting temporarily to allow non-marketplace apps on your phone to install it).
  2. Build up a shopping list on it (just like you can with Tesco Finder).
  3. Send that shopping list to another customer with the same app on their phone so they can go shopping on your behalf (so I'm happy for members of a household to be in the control group).
  4. Head to Tesco Extra Romford (click for map link).
  5. Start the app as you walk through the front door.
  6. See a comprehensive store map with all the items in the shopping laid out on it.
  7. Press a button and the app will find the shortest distance between the products and create a route for you.
  8. Show you where you are on the map with a blue dot with an accuracy of within 3 metres.
  9. Walk the store following the route. The blue dot will move around the map as you move around.
  10. If you want to find any product 'adhoc', we'll find it in the store and show you where it is on the map. 

So now we need your help. If…
  1. You live or work near Tesco Extra, Romford, and
  2. You have an android phone with Android OS v2.2 or later installed on it, and 
  3. You're prepared to change your phone's application settings temporarily to allow installation of apps from 'Unknown Sources' just while you install our app, and
  4. You are prepared to run an R&D app and accept no liability from us if we cause your phone problems (although it doesn't do anything more than require access to your wifi and location-based services on your phone), and
  5. You accept that the app, being R&D, is a bit geeky but you are prepared to fiddle and play with it, and
  6. You accept the system, being R&D, may just not work from time to time.
...then I would love to hear from you.

To join the control group, write to our R&D project manager Ben Martin at ben.martin@techfortesco.com with subject 'SATNAV APP'. Ben (@realbenm) has been running this exciting project from the start, so he'll look forward to hearing from you. Indeed you'll receive further instructions in a few days after contacting us. In the message please indicate what make and model of Android handset you have, and the version of Android it is running.

The service is only available publicly to Android phone owners at this time, because we don't want the app in it's current state going into the public app stores. Only Android easily offers the ability to install apps from 'Unknown Sources'.

Please note that we won't be rolling this out to customers in general for a while because we have to think about how useful it's going to be. The system involves a lot of infrastructure installation in the stores so we need to get all kinds of people involved in thinking about the customer experience. It would be awful if we did all this work but few customers really used it.

We must also see how we would put the technology into our production applications and make it really easy for everyone to use. There's also the possibility that the infrastructure is not reliable right now.

This project is in R&D for a good reason, and we are allowed to prove the viability - or otherwise - of anything we might wish to offer our customers. Sometimes R&D is close to production, and at other times it is far away. 


Apologies to other companies offering this service who contacted me after my original blog post that kicked off this project. We've had to operate under strict NDA with our chosen provider and not even intimate there was a such as system under construction. Until now!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Tesco.com R&D Day Out


Sometimes it's worth taking the team and escaping from the office for some fresh air and fresh thinking, specially when some of the extended team are joining us for the week having escaped from Tesco's offices in Bangalore, India.

The thinking doesn't get any fresher than when it takes place at TechHub London, the community office space reflecting the vibrancy and global outlook of the technology scene right on the 'silicon roundabout' at City Road/Old Street in central London. We spent the day looking through our R&D backlog and ways of working to plan our work for the months ahead.

The air doesn't get any fresher (in London) than when some of us finished the day by travelling on the London Eye (Millennium Wheel). In the photo we have, from left to right: Prasad, myself, Ben, Murralee and Sangeetha.

Yes yes we're back in the office working hard now...!

Philip Clarke blogs about 'Out at Tesco' gay staff network

Forgive me for my occasional digression from tech, but occasionally such interesting events happen that I sometimes decide to cover them here. Regular readers will know that I am a member of Tesco Diversity Council which ensures that 'Everyone is welcome at Tesco'. I am also a committee member for our lesbian, gay, bissexual and transgender staff (LGBT) support network Out at Tesco.

Tesco's new CEO, Philip Clarke, has written on his internal blog about Out at Tesco. Our network's sponsor, Dan Gilsenan, has asked me to recreate Philip's blog article here and I am very happy to do so.

Tesco is sponsoring the Family Area at London's Gay Pride festival on Saturday 2nd July 2011. I'll be there helping out with my fellow committee members so come over and say hello!



Out at Tesco
by  Clarke, Philip  on 18/05/2011 09:28
Category: Values
In a meeting earlier today with the senior sponsor, Dan Gilsenan, I was reminded about how challenging life can be for our colleagues in the LGBT community. The work of the Out at Tesco network has been transformational for us and we need to keep on supporting it. Dan has decided to leave to be head of M and A at Intercontinental and will be sadly missed by the network, amongst others. We need a replacement senior mentor. If anyone out there wants to act as the mentor please let Andy Higginson or Therese Procter know. The role is to act as the bridge between the network and my senior team. 
I am really pleased that the company has sponsored the Family Area at this year's London Pride celebration. I hope you all have a great day.


Monday, 9 May 2011

Microsoft Kinect opens the 'Recognition' door

Reading this article, on the surface you'll think of us as boys playing with toys.

The actual thing is, Microsoft's new Kinect XBox games controller offers so much opportunity in the retail and business space that we've already thought of uses we could put it to inside Tesco.

Why? Well it's the ability to program it to recognise the people in front of the Kinect device, and possibly, if my imagination takes flight for less than 10 seconds:
  • Augmented Reality: Wrap clothes around the body so a customer could understand how an item of clothing looks on them.
  • Recognise the 'body signature' through a mix of visual signals (and sound) and thus identify a particular person - and possibly greet them.

So here in Tesco.com R&D we're going to try and create a proof-of-concept that uses the Kinect as a form of person-recognition or play a part in augmented reality.

In its raw state, the incoming data from the Kinect device is itself fascinating in revealing how it goes about identifying body shapes in 3D. First here's Ben Martin (@realbenm) and myself standing in front of the Kinect (photo by Rob D'Amico):


...and here is what it looks like on the computer screen. Note how the Kinect has identified the two humans separately and colours them... oh wait...three humans - that's Rob taking the pic and being identified in the process! The Kinect is just above the laptop screen with a glowing red light (click for larger image).




Although not easy to spot in the photos above, notice that Rob's hand is slightly in front of Ben and his body slightly in front of my leg - but Kinect has correctly kept identifying Rob and not become confused. 

Also notice that the colours are brighter for the hands and arms that are closer to the Kinect device - that means it's detecting our shapes in three dimensions. Clever stuff! If we know how far away any pixel of the body is away from the device, we could use this information to accurately wrap bitmap images such as "clothes" around the body.

Just as fascinating is the fact that Kinect is also able to calculate skeletal geometry. In the image below, not only has it identified three separate people, but on two of them it has managed to create a wireframe skeleton, showing arm, torso, hip and leg positions and movements. Although not shown, the accuracy is maintained if one arm is passed in front of someone else's body image.



So we're up and running. Ben is going to develop this R&D project into a proof of concept which we'll install down in the atrium of Tesco.com HQ so people can have a play when he's done. It'll be interesting to see what he comes up with!

We're using a somewhat unauthorised software development kit right now but I spoke to Microsoft today and they say an official Kinect SDK is in the pipeline and will get a copy to us as soon as they can.

I get a feeling they're rather delighted with the journey we intend to take this project on...!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Cable Guys (and Girls)


Another day in the office for the R&D and Mobile teams!
(click for bigger picture).

A photographer from The Grocer magazine was in our office during last week taking pics as part of a profile interview of Tesco.com R&D, and I insisted that the key players who had helped shape R&D and mobile join me in a group picture. 

The photographer's remit was to be artistic and not take a boring corporate picture, so I took everyone to our lab where the tech 'happens'. The photographer immediately spotted boxes of ethernet cable and the next we know we were draping ourselves in this season's network colours!

The picture you see above was taken by Doug Graves, our highly bemused colleague who works in the lab. I'm sat down in the picture (click for a much bigger version) and from left to right we have:
  • Owen Day, IT Mobile Development Manager (@owenday)
  • Mike Brearley, Lead IT Developer (@brearley)
  • Rebecca Pate, Web Development Manager and Mobile Product Owner (@rpatey).
  • Annabel Thorburn, Senior Marketing Manager with accountability for Mobile.
  • Hilda Jenkins, IT Project Manager for Mobile.
  • Jerome Ribot, Founder and Creative Lead of Ribot, our mobile design partner (@ribotminimus).
  • Ben Martin, Developer and Project Manager in Tesco.com R&D team (@realbenm)

So watch out for a pic from the many that photographer took appearing in The Grocer soon!

Windows Phone 7 - This Week's Unexpected Joy

My Windows Phone 7 phone arrived this week in the form of the HTC 7 Trophy. After the joy of iPhone 4 and the unexpected sluggishness of my HTC Desire HD, how would the new phone stack up - and how easy is it to develop for?

In this image Nick holds his HTC 7 Trophy Window Phone 7 handset.



Firstly, the phone was easy to set up. It downloaded all the appropriate cellular settings (such as voicemail number and data connection info) from my cellular network, 3, quickly. Then it was a case of linking to my Windows Live ID / XBox Live account which I have had setup for my Xbox previously.

Next, the phone's setup wizard guided me through linking to my various email accounts and associated contacts lists, which updated speedily. Linking to Facebook was just as swift - and afterwards many of my contacts had images just as they had before on the Android phone.

The WP7 then amalgamated all my contact/friend information into a 'People' app which is easy to use and joins up Facebook comments to contact phone numbers. The linking worked well. I could take individual people I contact regularly and pin them to the home page to form their own square for quick access.

The 'home page' of the phone is a series of boxes - mostly square but some rectangular - that act as mini-screens for the apps they represent. It was easy to move the squares around, unpin them, and pin other apps from the list. The squares themselves are rarely static, instead sliding up images of friends, email counts or the weather symbol and temperature.

I noticed how speedily the phone operated, with smooth graphics and a sure-footedness when finger-swiping that was often lacking on the two android phones I have owned (Google Nexus One and HTC Desire HD). By this I mean that on the android phones, I would often have to swipe twice or more to get an icon to move to operate a function. I did wonder if this was HTC hardware, but I have never yet experienced this problem on this HTC 7 Trophy phone, so I'm focussing the problem towards android itself.

Even more interesting is how sensitive this phone is to mobile signals (from the 3 network) compared to my HTC Desire HD. Not only are the signal strength bars reading stronger but I can use the 3 network throughout my house whereas the Desire only works upstairs - and poorly at that.

If Apple iPhone 'insists' on the presence of iTunes, then the WP7 'desires' (not insists on) the presence of Zune, Microsoft's equivalent media syncing application. Unlike iPhone, the WP7 phone works straight out of the box once you install a SIM, whereas the iPhone has the stark 'connect me to iTunes' graphic and is locked until you do so.

However, like iPhone (but unlike Android) the WP7 phone cannot perform its own system updates unaided. I am impressed how Android can perform its own updates. I needed to update WP7 twice using Zune - a short February update and and a very long March update, the latter which took the phone out of use for over 30 minutes. However it was worth it for the copy & paste capability that then appeared. This morning another update arrived, which took about 10 minutes to complete.

As we know, there are a lack of apps in the Zune Marketplace at the moment, although the ones I use a lot such as eBay, Twitter and Kindle were present - oh and two Tesco apps of course! The apps that are there are useful - such as the London tube network journey planner. More apps will come (and I will help by developing myself!) - time will resolve this problem.

So to development: Oh wonderful! A download of the Windows 7 development tools and then into Visual Studio 2010 and my beloved C# programming language. Not the hugely cut down .Net Compact Framework either but a really big subset of the full Framework.  So a spot of C#, a smattering of easy Silverlight XAML, 2 minutes and I had an interactive app running in the WP7 emulator phone. Five more minutes and £65 poorer, I had joined the Microsoft App Hub application development portal which, on activation, will unlock my phone so I can test apps directly on it (much like the iPhone development system).

I did wonder if Windows Phone 7 could match iPhone and I declare them equal apart from the app count - and no need to develop using a low-down and frustrating programming language such as Apple's Objective-C - thus my "unexpected joy". I also see clearly that Android seems to need more power than the same hardware affords it compared to the other phones. 

So Windows Phone 7 is a hit with me and this phone is now my primary handset - that's saying something. Well done, Microsoft; well done!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Wow! Nominated for Greatest Contribution to New Media!

You know, just when you think that work couldn't get any more, well frankly exciting - along comes something that blows me away completely,

New Media Age have just nominated me, along with five other worthy individuals, for their "Greatest Individual Contribution to New Media" category at this year’s NMA Effectiveness Awards 2011.

According to NMA's announcement, "Nick Lansley, head of research and development on Tesco.com, is nominated for helping to push mobile to the core of the retail giant’s offering".

Now I must point out to you - as I have pointed out to NMA - that a core group of people have walked along besides - and in front of - me in "helping to push mobile". However NMA pointed out that only one name could go in for each nomination, and that the name concerned represented that group in public as far as they are concerned.

So, dear reader, if you think that our merry group of mobile creatives here at Tesco.com deserve recognition fot all the hard work making mobile 'real' for customers, then what you need to do is text "NMA2" to 82100 before 5.30pm on 6 May.  Messages will be charged at your standard network tariff.

What's that? You want to see all the nominees before you make your decision? Well of course: Click this link and you can see the shortlist, along with the "NMA number" to text if you prefer them...! By the way don't be put off by the rather smug look on my face in the photo shown on that page - that was taken for a completely different reason - instead imagine me with a surprised/delighted look instead!

Best of luck to all nominees - and, on behalf of our merry mobile team at Tesco.com, thank you NMA for nominating us for the 'greatest contribution' category. That is praise in itself.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

VACANCY! Come and join the mobile team at Tesco.com

If you love what we, at Tesco.com, have created with our mobile apps (and think we could 'do better' of course!), it's time you came and joined the team at Tesco.com HQ in Welwyn Garden City.

Yes we have an amazing vacancy for a 'Mobile Product Owner' who will help shape our mobile/device offerings going forwards. It's an amazing chance to be in at the heart of what we do at Tesco.com.

To quote the description, your job will be "To create and manage the mobile backlogs for Android Groceries app, iPhone Groceries app, iPad Recipes app and future applications. Work with the IT development teams to plan and implement releases across the products. Support the Product Owner and contribute to the wider mobile project stream.".

Is that you? Oh that's fantastic - click this link to read more about the role - and apply.

If our interviewing team think you have what it takes to enable us to be first for customers in the mobile space, I'll see you in our state-of-the-art Tesco.com HQ building in a few weeks time.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Buy the right to watch the movie and NOT worry about the format

Tesco has just taken a majority stake in local video-on-demand service BlinkBox with an 80% stake in that business.

Blinkbox is the UK's leading movie streaming service, offering thousands of titles streamed on the internet to 2m users each month. Their catalogue of more than 9,000 titles is available to rent or buy, alongside a host of free-to-view movies, TV shows and trailers, on PC, Mac, PS3 console, tablet devices and internet-enabled connected TVs.

Tesco has bought an 80% stake in Blinkbox from Eden Ventures and Nordic Venture Partners.

Richard Brasher, Tesco UK CEO said, "Whether customers want to own the DVD, download a digital movie, stream a rental or all three, Tesco is committed to giving customers choice. We want to allow them to decide how they access entertainment content and on which devices, whether it’s on PC, TV or tablet. The acquisition of blinkbox, together with a range of other services currently in development, means we can link physical purchase of a product to the building of digital collections in a new and seamless way. Working with the blinkbox team and our content partners, we will bring these compelling propositions to life for our customers."


So what's the deal? As a customer, traditionally you buy a DVD and the reality is that you have really only bought the right to watch the movie on that DVD. If it gets damaged or lost, then no more viewing of that movie is available. The right to watch the movie is tied to the continued good condition of the medium and format on which it is embedded. Another example: the loss and non-replacement of my VHS machine means that I have lost the ability to play my old and substantial VHS movie collection.

Using this service Tesco can “link together” the physical purchase of films and entertainment with digital technology to create a multichannel entertainment offer. That means that when you buy a movie, you buy the right to watch it in any format and device covered by Blinkbox technology, not just on the physical DVD.  In future there might be a lo-res version for your mobile phone, standard definition for an average TV, and an HD version for your high-bandwidth broadband and HD TV.

I should point out that this is a long-term aim. The team set up to run the service will need to walk before they can run - and at each step offer a really good service for customers. Nobody at Tesco is going to rush into this without geting every stage of this journey working perfectly. Deep breaths, dear reader, this journey to Utopia will take time!

The Blinkbox technology exists today on Sony PlayStation/3 consoles (I use mine far more for watching content than playing games) and also on Samsung's Internet@TV service which is available as soon as you plug in an ethernet cable or wifi dongle into the back of the TV.

I've been a 'technical consult' on this project working with the business development team, which looked into the possibility of on-demand media for customers last year as a way of augmenting DVD sales. That's the real reason I ended up at CES Las Vegas last year. My role was to see how we could make this work technically from end-to-end. Buying into Blinkbox with their massive media library of more than 9,000 movies and proven delivery technology makes this somewhat easier.

So in future you buy the right to watch the movie, and no longer get tied to the format or medium on which that movie gets to your screen. Exciting stuff!

Further reading:
Tesco Press release: http://www.tescoplc.com/plc/media/pr/pr2011/2011-04-20/

Media coverage examples:
http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/sectors/retail/tesco-buys-into-blinkbox/3025698.article

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/8463413/Tesco-buys-video-on-demand-company-Blinkbox.html

Monday, 18 April 2011

My London 2012 Olympic Games Maker Tech interview

Image: Sign pointing the way to the Games Maker Selction Event
Click on any image in this article for a much bigger version and, where applicable, read some of the detailed text on the boards shown in the photo. You can re-use any of these pictures without permission as long as you credit them to my name and this blog.

Yesterday (Sunday 17 April) I arrived to attend my scheduled interview to become one of the many thousands of Games Makers who will turn the London 2012 Olympics "from a good Games to a great Games" according to Lord (Sebastian) Coe.


The interview day had a technology twist to it, as everyone who attended yesterday had been invited because of IT skills and experience. So, at 11:30am I arrived at the LOCOG's special interviewing centre set up in the ExCel conference center in east London's Victoria Dock.

Image: Check-in area inside the Games Maker hall, showing "Your Route" to registration, exhibition, cinema and interview areas 

I arrived at the 'Check-in' where my name was checked on a list, then offered a blue wristband, thereby joining the 'blue interviewees' team. We then sat on some London 2012 Olympic logo-shaped couches while eating handfuls of Cadbury's chocolate from nearby bowls, and awaited registration.

A very jolly lady (considering she was inside working on a sunny Sunday morning) looked at my registered identity, checked my driving licence and passport to confirm I was who I said I was, then took a photo of me using a webcam. She then told me to "enjoy the experience!".

The "experience" consisted of a 20 minute wait for the 'cinema' as indicated on a countdown screen, and the use of that time to talk to a Games Maker Technical Expert who described the various technical roles available to us.

The 20-odd roles were mostly about entering data or maintaining data flows between buildings and the various Olympic teams. For example I could be watching a tennis match and press the appropriate button whenever an event took place, such as "deuce". Yes, a button marked "deuce" would have to be pressed there and then, thus building up stats about the game. I could do that!

I could also certainly do the "print run" which consisted of anything from running with printed results from one building / team / organisation to another, through to keeping the printers going. Maybe I would have to look after laser printers 20-39 in a series, keep them filled with A4, tend to paper jams and refill them with replacement ink cartridges as needed. I did wonder what paper was doing in the electronic age but it was pointed out that it was a backup to the electronic means in case electronic communications stuttered or broke for a while. Made sense I suppose!

Image: "Our vision" presentation unit with messages and a video showing just how nice hosting the Olympic Games is going to be for everyone. 

Surrounding us in our wait for the cinema were presentation units showing a mix of video, audio and text about "our vision" and "our heritage" which contained inspirational messages about the games and the roles of Games Makers turning good into Great!

Image: The Games Maker presentation unit, inviting attendees to write an inspirational message about what they hoped to get out of being a Games Maker.

One unit invited attendees to write some words about why they had chosen to apply to be a Games Maker. Most were inspired by the games. I wrote that I wanted to give back something to London, my favourite world city (which really is true).

Image: The "teams and roles" presentation unit showed the various headline roles being offered to Games Makers

Finally the 20 minutes were up, and we entered the cinema, consisting of a 60" plasma screen showing video from Lord Coe about how excited he was that we had applied, and an amusing message from Eddie Izzard about how we had to be "ourselves" in the interview that was to follow.

There was a slightly bizarre promotional message from sponsor Cadbury's about how they were aiming to turn half of the people of Britain into "spots" and the other half into "stripes", then get spots and stripes to compete with each other at various fun games throughout the country. The on-screen presenter, purple-clothed in Cadbury's brand colour, then tried to make us play a game of scissors-paper-stone with him! We just sat there and looked at him on the screen, then each other, and just smiled at the bizarreness of at all without moving...!

Lord Coe came back on to wish us luck, the screen went blank, and we were ushered to one of about 40 interviewing cubicles, all made from 'walls' of triangles built at the slightly bizarre angles that make up the London 2010 logo.

The interview lasted about 30 minutes. My interviewer was a second-year graduate at a marketing organisation who was just as jolly as my registration lady. I did wonder how many hours they kept up being joyfully positive. Maybe every so often they the run off to a special room to curse and punch soft padded walls for a bit before returning to joy. Maybe I would have to learn to live this joy for the two weeks of being a Games Maker...

I digress. The reality was I was asked a series of fairly standard "We need skill X, give an example of demonstrating that skill recently in your work or personal life" questions. So, "We need someone who can keep their head under pressure, give an example of keeping yours under pressure at work". Whereupon I pointed out that I still had my head, as could be plainly seen.... (no I didn't but you get the point!).

The 30 minutes passed quickly and pleasantly, I was thanked very much and it was hoped I had enjoyed the experience. I was passed along a corridor to write something lovely on a white board. No doubt my interviewer went off to punch the soft room wall for a bit.

I'll be told if I have made it through to the next stage - working as part of a "shadow" team at a real championships alongside the real admin team there - by the end of 2011. Actually I really can't wait!


Image: A white board filled with messages from attendees who had completed their interview. Click this image for full size and you can read many of the messages on the closest white board.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Today is "Email: Say It In The Subject!" Day

Today is "Email: Say It In The Subject!" Day!

This is where the emails you write to your friends and colleagues have all the vital information contained in the subject of the message rather than in the body.

The aim of today's experiment is to see if, when you receive such emails, it becomes easy for you to scan the subject list and quickly receive all the essential info you need, without opening the messages.

Examples:
Need that R&D Q4 review report by 11am for meeting with Chris. Ready by 10?
Happy to meet about XYZ proposal. Thursday at 2pm free for me. You?
IT Clinic - get your Tesco laptop super healthy - see us Thu 31st March in Atrium!


In summary, the theory of "saying it" in the subject of an email:

  • Conveys information quickly
  • Allows recipients to receive this information without opening your message
  • Recipients prioritising email messages to open still always get the info in your message
  • You get your message across just by appearing in their list of emails!
  • Reduces bandwidth and spam if adopted everywhere


Join the Tesco.com R&D team to see if we can prove we can make emails quick to read (and quick to write) by taking part in the experiment today!

Come back to this blog after the weekend to answer a couple of questions to see if it worked for you, and what benefits - and concerns - you experienced.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Take part in our "BIG Collection" for Alzheimer's Society


This blog is committed to doing its bit to help the Tesco Charity of the Year 2011 - Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Scotland - and I need your help!

On Friday 27th and Saturday 28th May is the first nationwide Tesco charity event taking place with help from the local community, called the BIG Collection.

On these two days, we would love for 10,000 volunteers to come together to collect at Tesco stores throughout the country. All the money raised during the BIG Collection will fund essential research and bring dementia information, advice and support to communities all over the UK, helping to build a better future for people with dementia.

The goal is to raise £350,000 over these two days and we need your help by asking you to do one (or both!) of the following two tasks:

  1. Become a BIG Collection volunteer at your local Tesco (whether you are a Tesco employee or just willing to help us!) committing to shaking a bucket for up to 3 hours - click here for more info and to register your name.
  2. Come and visit a Tesco store on one (or both) dates and pop some cash into one of the BIG Collection buckets being carried by volunteers. 

Please help us raise money for this most important cause, whether it's slipping some coins into our bucket, or holding that bucket.


A big thank you to Rob Green for alerting me to this great fundraising event in order for me to let you know about it. Rob is Digital Fundraising Manager for the Alzheimer's Society

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Benedictus benedicat!

"Let him who has been blessed, give blessing."

I would just like to thank Professor John Naughton and his team for giving me the opportunity to speak last night as part of the Arcadia lecture series at Wolfsen College, Cambridge University.

I enjoyed the most interesting of conversations with some of the students at the college, many studying post-graduate courses there. Topics included animal and human psychology, "big data and big brother", and the challenges around an internet that never forgets the content posted upon its many social media sites.

The evening included 'Formal Meal' which required jacket and tie, and (where applicable) gowns for dinner. I enjoyed the fomalised traditions around the event, from the sounding of a gong to the saying of grace in latin - Benedictus benedicat - spoken by the most senior fellow in the dining room.

It was great meeting a selection of people who read this blog (thank you!), and I thank Professor Naughton for his most excellent hospitality and for enabling me to stay overnight at the college.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tonight's Lecture at Cambridge (Arcadia Programme)

A reminder that if you are a student at Cambridge University I am giving a lecture on Tesco's customer-focussed mobile journey (those HuntersGatherers and Groundhogs!) at the seminar room of Wolfson College starting at 6pm tonight.

The lecture forms part of Cambridge University Library's Arcadia Programme - for more information follow this link. I look forward to seeing you there.

The address is:

Wolfson College,
Barton Road,
Cambridge
CB3 9BB

Friday, 8 April 2011

Evolved: The Tesco.com "Can and Hand" logo

Those of you who read the blog via its web page will have noticed the graphical makeover and the appearance of a can of Tesco Baked Beans & Pork Sausages being nudged by a robotic hand:


The "can and hand" logo is one that stretches back to the dawn of Tesco grocery home shopping, with its origins as a special windows icon that appeared in our very first grocery home shopping application, Tesco Home Shopper, in 1996.

Installed from CD-ROM sent through the post to customers on request,  Tesco Home Shopper came with a glossy brochure showing how to use the program. Have a look at this page (click image for larger version):



One way to add a products to the grocery basket was to drag it from the list on the left to a blue square with shopping trolley graphic on the right. The drag event caused the mouse icon change to a yellow hand holding onto what had a passing resemblance to a grocery can:




The 'can and hand' symbology is close to my heart as it was me who created and developed the application back in 1996 (there was only one person in the IT development team...hello!).

The application was built for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 customers using Visual Basic 3.0. An application was needed rather than a web site because everyone was on 9.6Kbps or 14.4Kbps dial-up modems back then. So the catalogue of products was local, and you only needed to go online to upload your order - and even that uses an internet protocol that I entirely made up called THSTALK (Tesco Home Shopper Talk').

On the Windows NT4.0 server (yes, a single server) I wrote a server application called THSSERVER also in Visual Basic 3.0 which listened on internet port 81 and responded to THSTALK instructions. THSSERVER could cope with up to 10 simultaneous connections as a time.

The CD-ROM application was only retired in 2003. With that event, the 'can and hand' slept until 2011 and this blog - restoring it brings back great memories.


Why a can of Tesco Baked Beans & Pork Sausages? When I was young I enjoyed going round for what we called 'tasty tea' at my Gran's house. It consisted of baked beans & pork sausages from a can, along with crinkle-cut chips. Hmmm..! Sometimes when the hubby and I are culinarily challenged after both having a long day at work, 'tasty tea' is the perfect quick convenience evening food, so a can or two of Tesco Baked Beans & Pork Sausages is always to hand. For me that can is all about tasty convenience, a really good metaphor for what we do here at Tesco.com. The digital hand is nudging the can to push it forwards so that we make shopping even more easy and convenient going forwards... (Good grief, I'm sounding like I've been in too many design and marketing meetings...)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Two of our delivery vans are missing...

If you've read the post showing the 'heat map' of our Tesco.com grocery delivery vans across the UK, you'll come away with a great feeling that we know where all our vans are. Which is true.

The trouble is, the truth can sometimes hurt - in this case there's something we uncovered in getting the material for that blog post that we decided not to show you on Monday until we investigated more.

You see, when we zoomed out the map to get a nice view of the UK to take the snapshot for that blog post, we accidentally zoomed the map out too far. We could see all of Europe with a UK 'blackened' with van positioning icons, as expected.

What was somewhat less expected was that two positioning icons were not in the UK. They were in Poland.


So we conducted an emergency data investigation to ensure that we hadn't received corrupted information, or miscalculated anything. Everything came back as OK - indeed one of the vans was following a road in Poland from the live feed. Someone was driving a Tesco.com grocery delivery van in Poland live as we watched!


Two Tesco.com delivery vans signalling live on 31st March 2011 from near Starogard, Poland.


So Mike contacted the van team to mention that two vans were, you know, not exactly in the UK...

Fortunately, the van team were able to look up the registration plates on the two vans and quickly found that the vans had been retired from service. The vans had also completed decommissioning (primarily, removing our tech equipment and Tesco livery) but for some reason, the hidden signalling box had been missed. This equipment is wired such that it signals 24 hours a day, not just when the ignition or engine is on. As a result, it has to be located deep down within the vehicle's wiring system - it's not a "box on the dashboard".

After 5-6 years, our vans are retired from Tesco.com duties and sold on to the second-hand market and are given a new life elsewhere beyond the control of Tesco - in this case, it seems, the Polish market. It would be great to know the sort of uses these vehicles (with built in fridge and freezer compartments) are put to. I guess they end their days still delivering food or similar temperature-controlled goods.

There is an interesting question to be asked about the ability of the equipment (or more accurately the cellular data accounts) to roam onto foreign networks with an inevitable roaming charges. Fortunately (for us) this cost is borne by our partner who operates the van location service. They are used to many clients requiring tracking of commercial vehicles into Europe and beyond.

The van team were able to get in touch with the new owners, who were able to remove the equipment which is on its way back to the UK. They were able to block the SIM card quickly, too.

Still, it underlines the message that we really do know where all our delivery vans are!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Where's My Shopping?

Mike Brearley is Lead IT Developer at Tesco.com's Central Delivery Service team. Authoring this article, Mike reveals how tracking our delivery vans is adding value to the service we provide customers.

Currently we have thousands of Tesco delivery vans delivering to our customers across the UK and Ireland.  Each van is fitted out with GPS tracking so we can see their location on an almost real-time basis.

Using this information we’re able to better plan journey times calculate how many deliveries we can fit into a slot, and ultimately be better at being on time.

Sometimes unavoidable things happen, traffic, mechanical breakdown and all number of emergencies can all delay a delivery but using this information we can let our customers know in advance to give them a heads up about what’s going on.  Reassurance that the order is definitely on the way and exactly where the van is can really help in those situations.

I’m working on how we can make sense of this information and present it to colleagues and maybe even customers in a useful way - It’s a huge amount of data we’re collecting; millions of data points are generated in just couple of days

As a taster of what this data looks like I’ve plugged a snapshot of these points into Google maps.  A picture definitely gives a better idea than words in this case!

These screenshots were taken at 10.32am on 31st March 2011 - click the images below for a larger view of where all our delivery vans were located at this precise time.



Friday, 1 April 2011

Tesco Express opens on International Space Station

Congratulations to my colleagues in the branch team for the new Tesco Express opening today on the International Space Station.

It took some doing but the team tell me they wanted to provide great food to the astronauts - somewhat better than the gooey tube food they have had to 'enjoy' until now.

I think it will be great for astronauts to arrive at the I.S.S. after their dramatic journey into space, and pop in for a Tesco Ready Meal, and perhaps a bottle of Tesco Value Champagne to celebrate their stay (and get Clubcard points too).

So now, wherever you are in the world, your nearest Tesco may be above you!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Email: Say It In The Subject - and take part on Friday 15th April!

I'd like you to take a look at a section of my email inbox showing incoming email subjects:



Taking a look at the subject list above -  what are these emails about? Which ones allow me to get a good understanding of the content without spending time opening them - especially when I get more that 200 emails to my work email address a day and have to prioritise opening so that it doesn't become a full time occupation?

Looking at the list above, I'd say that I have some fairly good info received about:
  • The SharePoint workshop (what it's about, date and location),
  • The IT Clinic happening 31st March (though what is an "IT Clinic" without reading the email?).
  • There's some sort of Mobile Business Briefing on 29 March (but is it general or specific?).


The rest is a mystery. So do I spend time opening them to get the info, or ignore them?
  • "Out at Tesco" must be about the Tesco staff gay group but "what" about it?
  • What is the "API question"?
  • "Call for entries" for what?


So...

I'm going to (try and) launch a new movement called "Email: Say It In The Subject!". This is where you always say the essential information in the subject of your email. 

But it's more than that: If you are writing an informal email - say to a colleague or friend - why not say the entire message in the subject?

Examples:
  • Need that R&D Q4 review report by 11am for meeting with Chris. Ready by 10?
  • Happy to meet about XYZ proposal. Thursday at 2pm free for me. You?
  • IT Clinic - get your Tesco laptop super healthy - see us Thu 31st March in Atrium!
By reading those email subjects on incoming emails it would be easy for me to scan the subject list and quickly receive all the essential info I need, without opening the messages.

Of course some messages will be easier to say in the subject than others, but even then getting the essential info into the subject is better than not trying, as you can see from the examples in my real inbox this morning.

Try replacing "R&D Q4 Report" with "R&D Q4 Report - 4 new projects and great feedback from Mike M on ABC prototype" which would make people want to open the message to learn more.

Even more importantly, those receiving this report by email but can't give it a high priority would still get some essential elements of the report's content to take away.

If you are dealing with suppliers, customers, and the boss's-boss's-boss then a more formal approach is required, but still saying it in the subject will give them greater insight into the content.

In summary, saying it in the subject of an email:
  • Conveys information quickly.
  • Allows recipients to receive this information without opening your message. 
  • Recipients prioritising email messages to open still always get the info in your message.
  • You get your message across just by appearing in their list of emails!
  • Reduces bandwidth and spam if adopted everywhere (thanks @inksmithy!)

I accept this is going to be easier if you are experienced in shoe-horning interesting comments into the 140-character limit of Twitter. Indeed using that social networking tool got me into "saying it in the subject" in the first place. The number of times I have written in the body of the message, "subject says it all!" has been quite frequent in the last three months. Saying it in the subject is an even greater challenge since you only have 70-80 characters maximum. Now that's great Twitter training in itself!

So here in Tesco.com R&D we're going to try an experiment:

On one day - Friday 15th April - we're going to try and persuade colleagues in Tesco.com (and the wider Tesco organisation if people are willing), to write their emails by "saying it in the subject" - and to expect incoming emails to say it in the subject from their colleagues - just to see if we can get this to work and prove the three benefits listed above, as well as uncover any concerns.

You are welcome to join in! If your organisation / department / just your fellow team members are willing to give it ago on Friday 15th April then fantastic. I'll get some poster content ready for you to download, print out and stick on the wall in your place of work (or email for that matter).  Stay tuned to this blog for download details over the next couple of days.

If there are any journalists or bloggers reading this who would like help get the message out, that would be fantastic and great fun if you think it's a good idea - it would be awesome if the entire nation tried this for a day.

It would be great to find out who is taking part so drop me an email or write a comment below if you would like to do it. Tell me what you think, including any concerns.

Come on - let's make emails quick to read (and quick to write) by taking part in the experiment on Friday 15th April - Email: Say It In The Subject Day!

UPDATE: I have had some feedback by one T4T blog reader who finds that subject-only messages can feel insulting - as "no effort taken". That's why I've set it to a 'day' when people should expect such messages and won't be insulted. It would feel more like receiving instant messages from Live Messenger or an SMS message.

If readers perceive the benefit of extracting info and saving time over the 'insult' of brevity, then I think we're getting somewhere.

Again it's about protocol - nothing important should be sent subject-only.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Tesco Wine Finder application reaches R&D end-of-Life

After 16 months of loyal service to customers, our R&D project application Tesco Wine Finder for iPhone has now been finally removed from sale.

The application has reached a natural end-of-life as an R&D project. It has been downloadable from the iTunes App Store since December 2009 using our Tesco.com R&D Team account (compared to production apps which are published using the Tesco PLC account)..

We hope to include visual searching again in our main production apps at some stage in the future, as we process our learnings - mainly about how customers used the app to search for products.

I have blogged before how I personally think that barcode scanning is only the beginning of a journey into visual searching. How great would it be to scan the product by simply taking a photograph of any part of the product, not just its barcode? Indeed I visualise taking a photo-scan of an entire meal and getting an app to reveal all its ingredients!

The results from using Tesco Wine Finder prove that visual scanning of a product - not just of the barcode - has a great future. It just seems such a natural thing to do. That's really good news - and thank you for telling us through use of this app.

Why withdraw it now? Simply maintaining the service supporting the app to cover the latest Tesco wine data and labels was getting too great for a Tesco.com R&D project, and we felt it might become an unfair reflection on our excellent partner, Cortexica Vision Systems, who worked with us to create the service for you.

However the excellent findings that ourselves and Cortexica experienced with you using Tesco Wine Finder means that we'll aim to do more in the future. No plans yet but keep watching.

In the meantime, please download Cortexica's own excellent visual Wine Finder from the iTunes App Store - click here for a web page with more information

I'd like to thank all the team at Cortexica for their help developing, launching and supporting the app. Their 'vision' (pun intended) really made a difference to our thinking about how to give customers simple yet effective searching tools. I respect all the work of the team there for a job spectacularly well done.

If you have already installed Tesco Wine Finder, it won't be pulled from your iPhone but you are likely to find the R&D server service supporting the app unresponsive very soon. Let it go and use Cortexica's own Wine Finder instead!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Next-Generation Picking Computers

Every morning at 6am, our army of thousands of personal shoppers across our biggest 300 Tesco stores and 3 "Dotcom-only stores" ('sort of' picking depots) set to work picking the first of tens of thousands of grocery orders on a typical day.

The technology they use - we call it 'teampad' - is a tablet computer running Windows XP Embedded and an application we have written in Microsoft .Net and C# to help the personal shopper pick accurately and quickly. You can often see our personal shoppers in action in Tesco with their distinctive trollies with on-board tablet computer.

The service has worked well this way for years - we've tuned and improved the software in response to our personal shoppers' feedback, but nothing major has happened beyond getting later generation tablets (as old ones reach end-of-life) and better batteries.

However, there has been one issue that staff have kept encountering over the years - and now Dotcom R&D is involved in solving it.

The issue is this: Often, if an aisle is crowded with customers, it is better to leave the picking trolley (and thus teampad) at the end of the aisle and walk down to pick up the products.

The issue is that sometimes you may not pick up the product the teampad asked for! The subtlelty of different product sizes comes into play here and you think you have picked up the product described on the teampad but have not. You've then walked all the way back to the trolley, scanned the barcode and told it was not correct, walked all the way back to the shelf to replace the product, and picked the correct one (hopefully) to try again.

That's a terrible waste of precious time - and our personal shoppers are telling us this. Indeed the argument they use is that it would be more useful if the information was always on them rather than on their trolley.

So we're currently experimenting with a range of portable - some wearable - computer devices to see if this new technology helps. After all, equipment with the sort of computing power we require is now smaller, lighter and with a much longer battery life than before.

I spent part of last week down at one of our stores starting early with a group of picking staff to see what they thought of the new kit and to get them picking with it to see how they got on.

Experiments continue inside R&D and with our experimental picking team and we'll see where this goes. There are no plans to roll out any new equipment until our personal shopper test team say that it fits their work better than existing technology. Even then we'll have a long distance 'race' between old and new technologies to be sure that "new is better".

This is definitely a case of "getting it right" to make tasks simpler for staff rather than using new technology for its own sake.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Ocado admits to scraping Tesco web site to get price-matches

At the Retail Week conference, Ocado CFO Andrew Bracey admitted that they scrape the Tesco grocery site in order to get Tesco prices with which they price match with 8,000 of their own products.

Sitting in the audience, I was intrigued by Ocado's admission that they scrape our site (that is, run scripts from client machines that mechanically operate our web site pretending to be a human customer. Such scripts will loop through every department, aisle and shelf, and then harvest the text of all the products that appear on the page).

It seems that the days of getting prices by wandering around competitors' branches and making notes has long gone in the digital age!


Please note: It is possible to use the Tesco Grocery API to copy all the products from our site, However using such data for price comparisons is expressly forbidden in the API's terms and conditions of use. If we detect this happening, we reserve the right to suspend or terminate your Tesco API's developer account.