Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Tesco's first QR-code enabled print advert

Mike Fethers, a buyer for Tesco Entertainment, has sent me Tesco's first QR-code enabled print advert!

You should be able to scan the QR code on the image he sent me below (click image to show larger version if needed) using your smart-phone with a suitable barcode-scanning app.

The QR-code contains an HTML link which is which gets converted by into 

That page is a deep link into our Tesco Entertainment site that enables you buy the game direct from Tesco. It's great to see QR-codes make the light of day at Tesco!

UPDATE: You can find out how many times that the HTML link has been followed by clicking this link! (Hat tip to @edent on Twitter)

How to make "Sat-nav" work inside a Tesco Store

If you have been reading in the media about my proposal to have a form of in-store "satellite navigation"-style location based awareness for Tesco Finder app users, I thought I would take you on a dive into the sort of research we're doing to see if we can make this work.

Now we don't do 'tech' for its own sake so let's examine the use cases:
  1. "As the customer, I wish to be guided to the product I am looking for in the store".
  2. "As the customer, I wish to be alerted by my phone whenever I am close to a product I have stored in my shopping list".
  3. "As the customer, I wish to be alerted by my phone whenever I am close to products on special offer that are similar to products in my shopping list".
  4. "As the customer, I want you to show me a map of the store layout, and on it show where both I am and where all the products in my shopping list are located".

Wow, we need some good data to satisfy these requests! Let's see what we have:
  1. We know where all grocery products are in every UK Tesco branch as long as it is bigger than an Express-sized format. This data is already provided to Tesco Finder users.
  2. We are already obtaining good aisle and shelf location spatial data from software that is used by Tesco merchandising teams that creates planograms. We haven't made this live yet but it's looking good. Tesco Finder would take this data and draw out all the aisles on the screen. We're making sure we describe the layout using as few characters of data as possible (I hope other app writers think as carefully about your data plan limit and keep the amount of data transferred down as much as all Tesco app authors do).
So we know every product that every Tesco branch stocks, and where it is laid out spatially in that branch. We know what products are on special offer and what the nature of that offer is. We just need to update the Tesco API server interface to make the spatial/map data available in as few characters as we can, and code a version of Tesco Finder to support the store map. That work is in progress, and we have found everything we need to make it work.

So "all" that is left now is to work out where the customer is, on a phone that loses the GPS signal as soon as they enter the Tesco branch. Hmmm...!

As you can imagine, all of our Tesco stores have wifi wireless network access points built into various parts of the building. These provide staff with the ability to enjoy network connectivity from their various handheld devices as they go about their tasks, so this is a critically important part of our in-store infrastructure.

Each access point has a unique identifier - a Media Access Control (MAC) address - which it supplies in every piece of signal data it transmits. We can tune into the wireless data chatter and read the MAC address without actually having to connect the phone to the access point. Indeed the phone doesn't have to transmit anything - just listen.

If we were to:
  1. Tell the phone (using the API) where the access points are on the store map and what their unique MAC addresses are, and
  2. Get the phone to measure the relative signal strengths of the wireless signals coming from these MAC addresses...
..then we could get the Tesco Finder app to work out where it thinks it is on the map.

Some fairly simple mathematical formulae is all that's required but given that a picture paints a thousand vector symbols, you can see how it would work in this diagram (click image for larger version):
I have colour-coded 6 access points so you can see how the phone might work out where it is in the store. Given that the lower signal strength is most likely to mean a more distant access point, and because the phone knows where all the access points are located, it can work out where it is.

Job done? Not quite... radio waves are a finicky phenomenon (I should know as I am a licensed radio amateur). From a radio point of view, Tesco sells a diabolic mix of products that reflect, refract and absorb signals. As the phone moves around, these three corrupters of signal purity will be in full force wrecking the ability of the app to work out where it is.

For example, walk down the aisle full of bottled waters and it is quite possible that nearer access points will become weaker than more distant ones as these stronger signals are absorbed more by the water. Walk down the baked bean aisle and those tins are reflecting signal like you wouldn't believe. These rarely affect the staff equipment since the system allows staff devices to roam quickly between access points. It's only us who needs to know about each particular access point. 

So now you know why this an R&D project. Tesco Finder needs to work out (probably through some sort of averaging) where it thinks it is in a way that is quick and accurate enough to be credible to the customer. If we crack this, it means that we can provide in-store "satnav" style help with zero change in the infrastructure. We're going to have a damn good go!

P.S. Once again can I point out to journalists that I am Head of R&D for (which just so happens to that part of Tesco pushing apps out in an R&D context). I am not Head of R&D for Tesco. Somebody else is!

Nice review of Tesco Groceries app by BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones

The BBC's Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, has written a nice blog article on the Tesco Groceries app now we have updated it to include barcode scanning.

It's always good when people I respect are enjoying the fruits of the work coming out of!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tesco Groceries for Mobile - Infographic

I absolutely love this info-graphic that has been created describing how our Tesco Groceries app works with the rest of our service.  Now do you see why I so enjoy working with the marketing team? A picture paints a thousand words, and us geeks should remember that a little more than we do!

Join the Tesco Freeview Broadcast Experiment



I've joined up with my colleagues in the Tesco Electricals team to launch a nationwide experiment to transmit personal messages and useful content straight to your Freeview set-top box over the UK's digital TV broadcast network.

I'm looking for volunteers to help me with the experiment - and for a lucky 20 of you I'll provide the set-top box equipment you need - and which you can keep - for free!

The objective of the experiment is to bring Tesco to your living room so that you can see content and 'do useful Tesco things' while you watch TV. I'll expand on that notion shortly. R&D has been given access to a 32kbps digital stream being broadcast from all main service transmitters listed on this web page link, and my first objective is to send individual messages direct to you on your set-top box.

Now this won't work on just any Freeview box, it needs to be a Tesco Technika or Dion branded box with 'Channel Zero'. Here are two examples of compatible set-top boxes in the images below - you'll see the 'Channel Zero' information on the box and often a leaflet inside:

Now don't be confused here - most Freeview set-top boxes can see a "Channel Zero" on channel 306 (multiplex C) but most set-top boxes can't pick up (or indeed understand) the information contained in it. The above boxes can read the content of this channel - it's this channel I have been given access as a conduit to delivering content.

Here are some objectives of this R&D experiment (mostly in chronological order):
  1. Provide a web page where both we and you can send messages to your own set-top box. This proves that we can identify and broadcast messages to individual boxes.
  2. Create content that will sit on your set-top box which allows you (for example) easy access to product offers and "what's new" in such a way that you can add products straight to your online basket. This will require your set-top box to be plugged into the internet via your router, and for us to find a simple way for you to "join up" your grocery account with your set-top box's unique serial number so you don't have to login each time.
  3. Build on (2) to provide you with your own personalised details such as your online grocery favourites list so again you can add products straight to your basket.
  4. Ultimately, my objective is to see if I can implement a vision of adding products straight to your grocery basket as soon as you are inspired to do so when watching TV without disturbing your viewing. Examples of inspiration might be a commercial, or your favourite cookery show.
I can imagine getting marketing to sponsor a cookery show and allow compatible set-top box (or TV) users to get the ingredients listed on the screen at the push of a button and they use the remote control to quickly add one or more of them to their online grocery basket without getting in the way of the watching the show. Importantly, this would work whether the show is being watched live or played back via PVR (on future PVR-enabled boxes).

But hey let's prove the technical R&D point before we get too carried away.

In the next couple of days on this blog I'll be inviting you to sign up on a web page committing to taking part in this Freeview experiment. If you don't have a set-top box with 'Channel Zero' but want a chance to get one of the 20 Freeview HD boxes I will be providing (which you can keep for free), you'll need to check the following:
  1. You shop with Tesco Groceries online (or via mobile) regularly - at least once a month.
  2. You get a good quality TV signal (whether digital or analogue) from a main TV transmitter and NOT a relay. You'll have to convince me of this so you'll need to investigate! If you already have Freeview then check that you pick up channels Dave, E4+1, and Price Drop TV (all of which broadcast via Multiplex C along with Channel Zero) without any problems. There are plenty of resources on the internet including a postcode checker at to help you find out. Also observe the direction your aerial is pointing and look at Google maps or Bing maps to see if it is genuinely pointing to a main transmitter. You have to accept that if you are not getting a decent signal from a main transmitter then it would be unfair for me to send you a set-top box.
  3. A way of connecting the set-top box to your router and thus to the internet. I know - us geeks don't mind trailing ethernet cables everywhere but most of us have partners who regard dangling ethernet cables as 'unsightly'. If you can't get yourself a powerline adapter or wifi games adapter (that allows games consoles to be connected to the internet wirelessly), and your negotiations with your partner regarding cables fails, then alas my free box can't come your way.
  4. Finally some commitment to try this service out at my request on a regular basis. Your box will receive special updates from the transmitter and I'll need you to spend a small amount of time trying out the updates according to my instructions. Don't worry it'll only take a few minutes each time, after which an email to me about what happened is all I need.
Ideally I want each of the free set-top boxes I provide to be used to pick up signals from different transmitters, although this is not an overriding concern as Multiplex C (on which Channel Zero is broadcast) is being transmitted equally nationwide (including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland transmitters).

So if you'd like to take part in my Tesco Freeview experiment - with your own compatible box or a chance of obtaining one from me - go to the top of this article and follow the link.
Don't forget to check out which transmitter you get your TV signals from, and how you might connect your box's ethernet socket to your router!

Tesco Groceries for iPhone - now with Barcode Scanner

Our Tesco Groceries for iPhone app has been updated to enable you to scan barcodes using the iPhone's camera (the same way that Tesco Finder for iPhone does).

Now you can scan any EAN barcode and, as long as the product is sold in your home store, you can see the product's details and add it straight to your current shopping basket. This should really add to the convenience of grocery home shopping, so enjoy this new facility.

To update the app, just launch App Store on your iPhone or iTunes on your computer and follow the easy instructions to download the free update. If you're now convinced to download Tesco Groceries for iPhone for the first time, click here to get the app.

Friday, 22 October 2010

BREAKING: Tesco Online voted most accessible website by RNIB members

Jack Bennie, IT manager and colleague here at, has just alerted me to the fact that Tesco Online has just been 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.

Jack's team have engineered much of the technology to make this work and he wanted me to particularly credit Zara Hughes, Sweta Subramanian and Sarah Bruce for the huge effort to bring a great grocery home shopping experience for customers who cannot see.

This is a humbling achievement, mostly because grocery shopping is often the final barrier to full independence for people with sight loss. Imagine trying to go grocery shopping with your eyes closed and finding all the tins, packets and boxes feel the same, with no clue as to what they contain. Internet grocery shopping is the ideal answer, and I'm glad visually-impaired customers have such passionate champions here at that they have voted us to be the most accessible site.

Search the Tesco Recipe site using an SMS text message

Text COOK and two or three key ingredients to 83726 (TESCO on your keypad) and get back a great recipe from Tesco Real Food.
Texts are free for Tesco Mobile customers, other network customers may be charged at their standard network rate.

With our focus on Tesco apps for the latest generation of mobile smart phones you might be given to wondering if we've forgotten customers with ordinary mobile phones with simpler internet access - phones which support a simple web browser but where 'apps' are beyond their capability.

Steve McArdle hasn't forgotten. He works in our marketing team has alerted me to a new service we are launching for ALL customers with mobile phones using SMS text messages.

Steve has been working with my colleague Lucia Del-Prete whose previous role at a mobile operator has given her tremendous insight into the enduring 'power' of SMS. Steve also worked with Tesco Mobile and their agency, InfoMedia (who did the technical legwork), to launch this service that will take your food ingredients and look up a great recipe for you.

All you have to do is:
1) Open your larder and fridge and observe a couple of key ingredients.
2) Type 'COOK' followed by two or three of the key ingredients you have observed.
3) Send the message to 83726 - that's "TESCO" spelt out on your phone's keyboard.

So I sent the message:  Cook baked beans potatoes  to 83726
Back came the message:
Tesco Real Food> Thanks for your request. To view your recipe please clic

The link took me to "Bubble and squeak potato cakes with bacon" complete with a picture that does indeed show baked beans and potato.

Thanks to Steve and team for creating an "app" for more mobile customers, not just those whose phone has app capability.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Shortlisted for the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2010

(Falls off chair)

A hat tip to @MadMaxMel on Twitter who has just alerted me to the fact that this blog has been shortlisted for the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2010.

If you enjoy reading this blog and find it of value, then on behalf of IT and the R&D team I would love it if you cared to place a vote in our favour. The blog has been shortlisted in the following two categories:

  • CIO / IT Director (the best blogs written by and for CIOs and IT directors, where you will find insights from senior management across the industry), and
  • Individual IT professional male (blogs that detail an individual perspective, not a company line, of life in the IT industry. Any male blogger working in IT is eligible).

It's fantastic to even have reached the shortlist - it's a credit to the great innovation undertaken across Tesco and that enables the content of this blog to be of such interest to people inside and outside of our organisation.

(Do you mind if I pick myself up off the floor now?!)

Rakesh's Interactive Visual Feast for Tesco Groceries

I'd like you to meet another of our R&D team and introduce to you his pursuit of making searching for products on our website rather more interesting - indeed exciting to use - than it is right now.

So here is Rakesh Ravuri. Say hello!

We're going to get you to experience this proof of concept right now on your computer if you like - but first a little background from Rakesh himself:
This proof of concept explores a new way of searching on This is based on Microsoft's Seadragon and Deep Zoom technologies. The demo highlights a new way of searching using a series of linked data and demonstrates going from many things in a search, down to a few things using the filtering and being able to see clear patterns amongst that data. The demo uses Pivot's main feature "Collections", they combine large groups of similar items in product catalogue, so you can view the relationships between individual pieces of information in a new way. By visualizing hidden patterns, Pivot allows users to interact with thousands of pieces of data in a unique way with multiple page refreshes and minimum server round trips.

Before you delve in, read through the instructions below so you are clear about what to do and what to expect. You'll need to have the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight installed on your computer to make it work - and we're finding the Mac version doesn't work as well as the PC version for this demo (no images appear) so get thee to a Windows XP/Vista/7/Server2008 computer before continuing:
  1. When you have read these instructions, head to this web address: where you should see an outline of our grocery service and you appear to be logged in as Rakesh.
  2. Now type in a grocery search word into the text box on the right and press the Return key (for example, enter apples or chocolate - or anything else you think we sell):
  3. Next the screen will change and load a Silverlight control. If you don't have the most up to date version of Silverlight installed, you will be prompted to download and install it. If you have to install Silverlight you will need to close the browser and open it again, then go back to and start again. This time after pressing Enter, you should see an explosion of products appearing in squares on the screen, and a set of filter boxes on the left (click any image below to see a larger version):
  4. Use your mouse to drag the squares around, and use the mouse's zoom wheel to scroll in and out of this landscape of squares:
  5. Zoom right in and you will see the product's description fade in. Zoom out and the description fades away:
  6. Now click on some of the filters and sort options on the left. These filters are derived from the various attributes of the set of products that were initially returned from your search. Note how some product squares zoom away if they are not in the filtered list, and soar back in if you change the filter and they are now relevant again:
  7. Type in more search words in the box at the top left (above the filters) and note how products are being suggested to you (just the same as Google and Bing searches now offer suggestions as soon as you type in a character). Note how you can get to your wanted products with far fewer keystrokes than before.
The interface is completely absorbing (indeed mildly additive) to use and you will soon find yourself adept at whirling through the various products searching and sorting filters. I showed this proof of concept a couple of weeks ago to a mesmerised audience at an IT showcase, some of who were wanting to grab hold of the mouse and try it themselves.

Rakesh's quest to make grocery searching more of an interactive visual feast has certainly worked, so go and try for yourself (it's running on a powerful but lone lab server so not too many of you all at once please). Just don't forget that this is proof of concept - R&D are here to excite the business and prove the point that this is all technically possible. Job done spectacularly well, Rakesh!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Dragon's Den comes to

Deborah Meaden (seated) with Carol Savage from MyDish and a BBC camera crew
outside HQ in Welwyn Garden City, UK

Look out for Dragon's Den on BBC2 at 9pm this Sunday. It will feature Deborah Meaden who recently visited us to film Dragon's Den winner Carol Savage, founder of, as part of a new partnership deal with

The MyDish website enables customers to upload and share their own recipes and the new deal means that MyDish users can now order all the ingredients they need in just a few clicks from The MyDish team have used our very own grocery API to achieve the connection between their site and our grocery service.

In addition, the MyDish technology is now included in our Real Food site so that customers can upload and share recipes, with the option to order the recipe ingredients from while they're online.

You can check out customer recipes on Real Food by clicking here.

(Images and text in this article mainly authored by Tesco Staff UK Communications team, with my 'using our API' sentence added for context)

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Nice write-up about Tesco Groceries iPhone app in Daily Mail

The Daily Mail reporter Claire Coleman has written a nice write-up of our Tesco Groceries for iPhone app in her article "Think iPhone apps are just for geeky blokes? Read our Girls' Guide to making the most of your mobile.".


Best for supermarket haters
Tesco, free
If you want to shop from the bus and have dinner delivered to your door rather than struggling home with bagfuls of shopping, try a supermarket app. Tesco and Ocado both have ones that work in a similar way to their online shopping sites. You choose a delivery slot, pick the items you want delivered, and pay. For me, Tesco's has the edge as, if you have one of their loyalty cards, all previous purchases will be stored in the favourites section the first time you log on – saving you a trawl through the aisles.

Read more: 

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Thanks to you my 10K run raised £596.92

Justgiving have just emailed me to say that they have now closed the page of donations made for my reecnt 10K run in London.

Techfortesco readers donated nearly half the money raised so thank you very much for your generosity alongside viewers of London Landscape TV who raised the other half (thank you all!).

I just wanted to let you know, with your help I was able to raise £525.00 for my recent London 10K run on behalf of Albert Kennedy Trust, with an extra £71.92 in Gift Aid giving a total of £596.92

All the money you paid has now been sent to Albert Kennedy Trust so that they can continue to help with lesbian and gay youngsters rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation. Given the recent spate of suicides by gay teenagers in recent weeks, their work is needed more than ever.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Meet the developers behind our Windows Phone 7 app

I'd like you to meet a couple of people - Sangeetha Rao and Rajiv Agarwal.

Not heard their names before? Well that's about to change - indeed not only will you know them - you're about to trust them. After all, if you have a Windows Phone 7 mobile and you download our Tesco Groceries app onto it, it's their code you'll be running!

So I better introduce them to you:

photo of Rangeetha Rao and Rajiv Agarwal sat next to their development environment PC showing Windows 7 Phone Tesco groceries implementation.
Image of Sangeetha and Rajiv next to their development machine
(photo taken by Vishwa Kiran)

Sangeetha and Rajiv are part of the Strategy and Innovation team based both at HQ in Welwyn Garden City, UK and in our development centre in Bangalore, India. It has been their considerable task to take Ribot's design and make it real on Windows Phone 7. They did everything: XAML, C# code, multi-threaded architecture, the lot. What's more they did it in record time to match Microsoft's unmovable launch deadline and they delivered code of such a high standard that it passed Microsoft's rigid phone testing procedures with flying colours.

Sangeetha and Rajiv are graduates from India's exceptionally high quality university talent pool. Their thoughtfulness, intelligence, and passion to push the boundaries of innovation have really blown me away. I'm deeply proud that they have delivered such an exceptionally good app that Microsoft are saying that their phone can be aimed at Tesco shoppers.

Their boss (and mine), Vishwa Kiran, Head of IT Strategy and Innovation, has been deeply impressed too. In an email to the team Vishwa said, "A successful mission for the Innovation team. Great effort all around. Thanks and congratulations !!".

Windows Phone 7 Design

Ribot and our innovation team at have really done us proud in the design and development of Tesco Groceries for Windows Phone 7.

If you imagine that the phone's screen is a vertical window over a portion of the application, then this is what the full screen would look like (click for larger version):

It's an absolutely clean and fresh design, and you access its various elements by swiping your fingers left and right across the phone.

(Incidentally 'Becky' is our very own Rebecca Pate who has helped project manage this application from the marketing and design perspective. A job well done I think!).

Tesco Groceries app logo on Windows 7 Phone

Great still from a BBC video of the Tesco Groceries logo sitting nicely in a square on a Windows 7 Phone.

See the full video of the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones interviewing Microsoft's Ashley Highfield here. Thanks to Twitter followers for pointing this video out to me!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Speaking at 'Internet Retailing' and 'Apps World' conferences

At short notice (I learned at 12:15pm today!) I am giving a speech and presentation as part of the Internet Retailing Conference at Novotel Hammersmith, London, tomorrow.

I'll be replacing my CIO, JJ VanOosten who has had to pull out at short notice.

Given that I wrote his presentation, JJ kindly suggested that I may as well go and present it myself!

I'll be replacing JJ in this conference stream (link goes to conference stream page). on "How To Win In The Digital World of Retail". Yes well I think I know something about that! I'll be talking about how we have applied innovation in the digital world of retail to make the experience better for customers, simpler for staff and cheaper for Tesco.

I'll also be covering the same subject at two more events:

MBlox are hosting a mobile retail event at the Paramount Club on the 31st floor of Centre Point, Tottenham Court Road on 21st October. I'll be joining Orange, Firezza, Virgin Active and my good friends at the IMRG discussing innovation in mobile.

Apps World conference is taking place at Kensington Olympia in London on 30th November - 1st December. I'll be covering mobile innovation in the keynote speech at 9:30am.

It would be great to meet you at any of these events - you can learn from me and I can learn from you. Sounds like a deal?

Tesco Groceries - for Windows Phone 7

Yes we've made a Tesco Groceries app for Windows Phone 7!
Designed by Ribot, built by our newly formed mobile development team (well done guys and girls).

Watch the live webcast here - the Tesco app is part of the demo in this webcast.

I'll update the link to archived footage showing the app when Microsoft make it available.

(Android - Android - Android .... work in progress...!)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Web browser trends on site

As part of my fact-finding role I have received statistics that reveal the web browsers that customers are using to access the web site.

The background for wanting to acquire this information was to discover what influence mobile browsers are having to the overall mix. As I uncover this more precise information (which I am keeping internal for the time being), I thought it would be good to share with you the more general trends.

As you can see in the graph below (click graph to see larger version), Microsoft's Internet Explorer still dominates but its overall influence (across all IE versions) has declined from 72.7% to 65.6% between January and September  2010.

This reduction is taken up by the small but increasing influence of Safari from 4.8% in Jan 2010 to 8.1% in Sept 2010, and Google Chrome doubling from 3.7% to 7.4% in the same time period. Firefox has hardly moved - from 16.1% to 16.6%.

"Other" browsers have declined from 2.7% down to 1.9% although I am uncovering some evidence that a few such browsers masquerade as leading brands (indeed you can change a setting to select a suitable masquerade from IE to Firefox!). I guess this is happening to 'fool' web sites that check if a browser is valid for the functionality on their site.

Taking just the Internet Explorer trends, I obtained the graph below over the same time period (click for larger version). I don't think there is much of a surprise here. IE7 is giving way to IE8, although IE6 battles onwards if downwards! In September 2010 IE6 represented 8.3% of all visits, more than all the other individual competitor browsers other than Firefox. Given that it launched in August 2001, IE6 has served its Redmond master well, even if it has caused us a few headaches over its interesting take on HTML, Document Object Model, and JavaScript compatibility over the years...

Thanks to Dave Merrilees from's IT user-interface team for sourcing this information for me.