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Woolworths develops ‘shelf of the future’ app

Woolworths develops ‘shelf of the future’ app

App suggests products based on recipes that are relevant to what customers are purchasing in store

Woolworths has developed the foundations of a ‘shelf of the future’ app that suggests products to customers based on recipes that use ingredients they are purchasing in store.

Working with IT consultancy ThoughtWorks, Woolworths developed the basic app in five days. Within that timeframe, a team of two developers, a designer and a handful of other people steered the project into a completely new direction, developed a basic app, tested it in store and added to it from customer feedback.

The app was deployed on an in-store iPad for customers to try. The customer may be purchasing chicken, for example, and the app can trigger lights on the shelf under products that can be used to make a particular chicken-based recipe.

Woolworths also rearranged products that are commonly used in many recipes to be placed together on the shelves.

“Each light was individually mapped and was set up against the recipe, so the recipe knew which coordinates to light up each time it was pressed,” explained Wayne Ryan, business support manager at Woolworths.

The idea is to stop customers from having to wander around in circles in the store looking for ideas on what to cook for dinner or lunch.

“We found that people like the idea of having a recipe and going to get items as opposed to walking around the store to get it,” said Lee Venaruzzo, Agile program manager for the project.

"One of the experiments we ran was to put the recipe items next to [each other]… but [customers] didn’t realise the items were all together on the same shelf because historically they were not usually placed there.

"That’s where we came up with the idea of lighting up the parts of the shelf with the items so they can see that they are right there."

Being on the shop floor and talking with customers, and developing the app in the environment where the customers actually shop, was a valuable experience for the team.

“If you look at any sort of development that you involve end users in where they feel part of it, they are more likely to adopt it. Don’t just be in a secret lab somewhere, develop something and then push it out to people,” said Ryan.

“It's very easy and fun to make up stories about who customers are, what they're trying to do, and therefore what they'll want and buy. No matter how compelling those stories are, unless we actually check, we shouldn't assume those stories are true,” added Jason Che-han Yip, ThoughtWorks Principal Consultant, who led Woolworths’ Innovation Lab.

Obtaining feedback directly from customers minutes after deployment allowed the team to make a quick turnaround.

The initial idea of a self-scanning app wasn't engaging or useful for customers, so the team decided to observe what customers do on the shop floor and talk to them about their shopping experience.

This spurred the idea for a product matching app that would allow customers to find items needed for a recipe that would make a healthy meal.

“It’s about how to give customers the option of having a healthier meal or pick something up extra that’s going to make their shopping experience better,” said Venaruzzo.

The team credits the use of an Agile methodology for being able to change course and develop the ‘shelf of the future’ app in two to three days.

“Having that visible board [central repository] meant people could see what was going on at any moment or any time, and also add to ideas or solutions. As we were starting to think about new ideas, as people came in, they could see where they were up to and start to contribute straight away as opposed to us having to take 20 minutes out to bring them up to speed,” Venaruzzo said.

The app is being developed into something more robust and will likely be trialled this year. It will be developed for both iOS and Android users.

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