Innovation at Tesco
6 February 2013 By Paul Wilkinson
If you’d told me while I was at University that I was going to end up working for a supermarket and loving it as much as I do, I wouldn’t have believed you. It's not an obvious route from studying nanotechnology then a PhD in electronics, but I've been described as having “the best job in the company” and I'd have to agree.
I lead a small IT Research team (part of the larger Research & Development Team). We spend a lot of time applying new technology in-store so that we can improve the shopping experience for customers or make lives easier for colleagues around the business. A recent example was the introduction of mobile apps in-store, which enables our colleagues to use their phone cameras to scan products and find out further information, such as stock levels, which means they can be even more helpful to customers.
The journey from laboratory to store can sometimes take a couple of years, as several teams of experts collaborate with people across the business to make sure the finished product is useful and relevant to customers. It’s incredible to see the technology we’ve worked on go into our stores, such as our ‘Virtual Changing Rooms,’ which allows customers to try on clothing virtually, in front of the mirror. The screen superimposes an item over them and tracks their movement, so it really looks like they are wearing it. Children love it!
The opportunity to create new experiences and technology for millions of our customers means that my role changes constantly. One minute I'll be working out how technology can help us provide customers with more information and extend our product range in-store, the next I'll be helping our teams in Hungary install electronic shelf edge labels.
Good communication and teamwork are essential if we want to devise creative solutions. It’s important to gather ideas from people around the business, share our research with them and, most importantly, listen to our customers. My proudest moment at Tesco so far came at one of our regular events, when my team won the Tesco Hackathon . The new app we created, Tesco Discover , was then built and made available for customers to download.
I think there’s been a shift in the way people think about innovation. At Tesco, we’re really open to new ideas and more creative than ever, but that’s been driven by changing customer habits and the fact that people are much more comfortable with technology – it’s just a natural part of everyone’s daily lives. In my team, I find that exciting because it gives us much more scope.
At the moment, we’re doing a lot of work on integrating different platforms to ensure our customers have a multi-channel experience – people are so used to jumping between their mobile, tablet and computer (in store or at home) that they don’t really differentiate between channels anymore. Personalisation is another big trend and one that gives us the opportunity to have a much more personal relationship with our customers – which is really what it’s all about.
Watch this space for more updates on some of the exciting things going on at Tesco, including our second Tesco Hackathon and the launch of more new mobile apps for colleagues.
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