What does Tesco do?
It’s just a supermarket, right?
According to Angela Maurer, it’s Head of Innovation, Tesco is also a technology company set on developing the future of retail – and that includes experimenting with grocery shopping via a Google Glass concept app.
Earlier this month, Maurer told Internet World the supermarket giant had a staggering 5,000 technologists working across its global business, helping serve more than 75m weekly shopping trips with advanced retail media.
To stay on top of disruptive technologies, and to understand the changing nature of customers in the digital age, Maurer outlined how Tesco has put together an innovation department to safeguard its technological future by thinking about how the business could look in five-to-ten years time.
With a team of 25 researchers, data scientists, designers and developers based in three locations across the globe, Tesco Labs’ not-so-small aim is to act as a thought-leadership group to help the business innovate and shape its future.
The speed with which customers have adapted shopping habits around digital technology – particularly mobile devices – has forced supermarkets to respond quickly.
As a consequence, Maurer says, Tesco has moved from a ‘Brick & Mortar’ approach – where stores were paramount – to a ‘Bricks & Click’ philosophy, where brand experience is seamless across shops and digital platforms.
As part of this, Tesco Labs is tasked with looking at product design and research, and helping drive and sustain an innovative business culture.
So what exactly does it do?
Formed six months ago, Tesco Labs experiments include the recent development of a shopping capability for Google Glass.
Using an application programming interface (API), the lab built a prototype app to allow users – theoretically, at least – to quickly and easily shop for groceries while going about their daily tasks (See video above).
Given it’s just a concept, it’s unlikely this prototype will get anywhere near public release, but the fact that Tesco Labs is working on such developments gives an idea of the company’s direction of travel.
In fact, the lab is already innovating for the good of the business. It has built and launched its first ‘colleague’ app.
Called ‘Inform’, the app allows store managers to have product information at their finger tips. Using a smartphone, managers can scan barcodes to get stock information – via the app – from Tesco’s central system to ensure shelves don’t remain empty for long.
The company has also hosted a ‘hackathon’ where innovators across the business had 24 hours to create new apps and services for customers or colleagues to use.
In addition to this internal development programme, Tesco Labs runs an open innovation programme to collaborate with external start-ups and SMEs to develop future product and technologies.
With Rainmaking Loft, a London start-up hub, Tesco runs sessions where start-ups can pitch ideas. It also runs a project called T-jam, which is a quarterly ‘tech speed-dating’ event that brings Tesco technology enthusiasts together with start-ups looking to trial products or for investment for their products or services.
Away from research and development, Tesco Labs also publishes an aggregated technology news site – called Discovery – to help educate the rest of the business. It may be simple, says Maurer, but providing distilled, relevant innovation news via Discovery is hugely useful in keeping other departments up to speed on the technological changes.
Tesco Labs, she adds, is always looking at technology that could be disruptive for retail business.
So what topics does she thinks could change the way retail works in the future?
Digital ‘haptic’ technology, she says, has the potential to allow users to touch, taste and smell without being in store, while the use of drones in agriculture and digital augmentation are probables.
But possibly the oddest technology that could disrupt the retail space is food that can be downloaded and printed in the home… I kid you not.