Tesco checks out with IoT, robotics and augmented reality

Retail giant Tesco checks out with IoT, robotics and virtual reality
Retail giant Tesco checks out with IoT, robotics and virtual reality

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Tesco CTO Edmond Mesrobian believes that the key to deploying IoT and other new technologies in retail is asking the key question: how does it benefit the customer?

Speaking at the Internet of Retail in London yesterday, Mesrobian gave an interesting overview of retail technology, documenting Tesco’s vision for the future as well as detailing some of the firm’s recent trials with IoT, robotics and augmented reality (AR).

And yet despite the excitement over those new technologies, Mesrobian said that retailers should always be asking if they are using the right technology to fulfil customer needs.

Tesco, he says, would often ask: “How do we delight the customer and get them to engage with us across the enterprise? How do we empower them to have a rich experience?”

The retail giant has been looking to answer those questions by using connectivity to sense what matters to the customers, and to make data-driven business decisions based on that information.

However, he suggested that the same age-old problems stop retailers from being truly innovative.

“The fundamental problems haven’t changed in retail. When I first arrived at Tesco, we said we’ve got to improve range, we’ve got to improve availability.”

IoT and robotics

Mesrobian listed Tesco’s numerous technology initiatives, from using shelf-edge labelling and a RFID-scanning ‘broccoli camera’ to using the Internet of Things (IoT) for logistics.

The retail giant has also been working closely with a robotics company to roll-out RFID-scanning autonomous robots which go up and down the aisles to measures the gaps in the shelves. These robotics then inform staff to replenish stock.

On the latter, he said that – like Ocado – Tesco has been using location-tracking sensors to monitor home delivery. These sensors track everything from the status of the van to whether the goods have been delivered on-time.

“It’s an important tool because you can use it to inform the customer if the delivery is on-time or late, if scheduling algorithms are appropriate or can be improved, and you can also figure out driving patterns and fuel cost.”

However, the Internet of Things (IoT) does have numerous challenges and the Tesco exec says that brands must understand the privacy concerns around location-based services.

Mesrobian says that there has been “twenty years of painful failure to understand Internet personalisation”, adding that “it’s not trivial to translate personalisation into the retail space.”

Tesco also worked with Microsoft in experimenting with augmented reality (AR) so that a visually-impaired shopper can shop more easily at Tesco Express. Using AR, the shoppers get signals and clues for navigation, while they scan the aisle to get product information. Mesrobian says the retail giant is now wondering if they can use this technology in other shopping scenarios.

The connected home is another opportunity for retailers, through the likes of Amazon’s Echo. Tesco has recently partnered with IFTT to offer a subset of APIs for the larger ecosystem to innovate.