Creating a better checkout experience at Sainsbury’s — A UK supermarket first

Ben Brewer
Dec 18, 2018 · 6 min read
SmartShop with Mobile Pay — How it works
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Winner of two UXUK 2018 awards: ‘Best innovation’ and ‘Best transactional experience’.

“Queuing”. That’s what our customers told us when we asked “what’s the most frustrating part of your in-store shopping experience?”. Customers explained they want to be in and out of the store with their purchased items as quickly as possible, and checkouts are often responsible for delaying this process.

So what did we do? We assembled a small, cross-functional team of passionate, talented experts, from Product Owners, to User Experience Designers, Architects, Developers and Format Planners, and gave ourselves a bold mission of “reducing friction from the in-store checkout experience”.

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Creating experience maps to identify pain points

When we started, everyone had different ideas, experiences and assumptions on what would and wouldn’t achieve our goal. Rather than voting for an idea and investing lots of time and money into developing a complete solution, we captured all of our initial assumptions and logged these on a hypothesis matrix. We then prioritised our hypothesis based on risk, and set about trying to answer each of these in a lean and agile way. As we were stepping into the unknown, it was important for us to be flexible with our approach, to expect the unexpected and be able to pivot and learn at pace.

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Using wall space to display our wireframes and discovery work

Due to the speed we were working, following a test and learn approach, it was critical that the cross-functional team sat together. We found a space in the office and made it our home, using whiteboards and wall space to display our sprint board, wireframes, process diagrams and our hypothesis matrix. Our daily stand ups focused around the problem we were trying to solve, and how we could accurately validate our hypothesis as quickly as possible. Having the team sat together was a huge benefit, boosting motivation, team morale and ultimately a feeling of ‘owning the challenge’.

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Early storyboards

So, we had our talented cross-functional team sat together, and our prioritized assumptions matrix to work from. The next step was to identify the quickest way to start learning and answering our hypothesis. As a team, we spoke to lots of customers, through surveys and focus groups, and hypothesized that a mobile Scan & Pay app could be a possible solution, allowing customers to scan their own shopping and pay in the app without having to go to the checkouts at all, potentially eliminating the problem completely! We storyboarded a possible solution, built several prototypes, both paper and using Invision, and tested these with colleagues and customers to get early validation. We also mocked up a fake store environment in the office and asked people to walk around pretending to scan items using their phone! This allowed us to test our product in context, identifying key risks and focusing on solving those in more detail first.

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Early Invision prototypes — The Meal Deal app

The next step was to take these learnings and build a functional app that could be used in a nearby Sainsbury’s Convenience store, helping us test the experience in a real life environment. The engineers built the app in a number of days, however one blocker we identified was the payment mechanism, as it would take an additional week or so to build in real payments to the app. Following our lean test and learn approach, we realised that we didn’t need real payments to answer many of our hypothesis, so instead, the developers ‘faked’ the payment experience in the app which allowed us to test with colleagues and gauge their honest reaction to paying anywhere in-store.

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Press coverage from our 1 store launch

A few days later we had our initial app in customers hands with real payments working, and the whole team took part in customer testing in our Euston Local store. This was a perfect testing ground due to its large influx of customers who want a frictionless checkout experience. It was great to see customers reactions to the service we had built in such a short space of time, and for us to witness first hand whether it’s proving our assumptions true or false. The reaction and feedback was really positive, with customers seeing huge benefits in this new way of checking out in store. In fact, the experiment itself created a lot of buzz and resulted in various articles being written in the national and local press! (BBC & Telegraph coverage).

UPDATED: December 2018

Since our initial 1 store trial, we’ve been working closely with a team of talented engineers, Product Managers, Delivery Managers, Marketing Executives, Formats and Planning Designers, Store Managers and Store Colleagues, to roll out our checkoutless service to more stores across London, which has been no easy task! We’ve had many hurdles to overcome, from incorporating this technology into the SmartShop app (and redesigning many aspects of the SmartShop app to accommodate mobile payments), to rethinking elements of our physical store layout to improve the customer experience. For example, as customers no longer need to visit the checkouts, their flow around the store changes, so we’ve had to adapt different parts of their journey such as providing carrier bags at the front of the store.

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Redesigning the SmartShop app to accommodate mobile payments

And after months of hard work from a wide range of super talented people, I’m proud to say that the updated SmartShop app has been released on iOS with Apple Pay (with Android coming very soon!), allowing customers in 8 stores across London to pay anywhere in-store using Apple Pay and just walk out, without going to a checkout! This was a UK supermarket first, and something else we’re extremely proud of.

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Final UI from our SmartShop app with Apple Pay

We’ve worked closely with the stores, alongside colleagues and customers to help validate our proposition as we go, continually getting feedback about ways we can improve the service, from allowing customers to purchase Think 25 products, to adding in reminders about packing as you shop. It’s been a huge team effort and we’re not finished yet!

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Launch day in our Clapham North store
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Marketing comms in-store

And finally, the cherry on top of the cake was winning two awards at the UXUK 2018 awards event in November, for ‘Best Innovation’ and ‘Best Transactional Experience’. It was very humbling to receive this award in recognition of the great work the team have done over the previous months, making what was once just an idea by a group of people in a meeting room, in to a service loved by customers across London.

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One of our two UXUK 2018 awards

Ben Brewer — Senior User Experience Designer at Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s Experience Design

Read stories from the Experience Design Team at…

Ben Brewer

Written by

Senior Product Designer

Sainsbury’s Experience Design

Read stories from the Experience Design Team at Sainsbury’s. A group of creative specialists of copywriters, experience designers and researchers, who work hard to know our customers and colleagues to design UK firsts!

Ben Brewer

Written by

Senior Product Designer

Sainsbury’s Experience Design

Read stories from the Experience Design Team at Sainsbury’s. A group of creative specialists of copywriters, experience designers and researchers, who work hard to know our customers and colleagues to design UK firsts!

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