Big Four Grocers Under The Microscope: Six ways Asda is tackling retail technology

The Northern-based supermarket has traditionally been better known for its keen pricing than for its adoption of cutting-edge technology. But with the increasing customer usage of online grocery shopping in the UK, and its parent company Walmart accelerating its digital activities, Asda has been more proactive with its technology innovations.

Here, we give you a run-down on the latest technologies Asda is currently developing.

1. Improving search capability

With the benefit of the work undertaken at the Walmart labs in the US, Asda has been able to implement much more sophisticated search functionality on its website compared with its competitors, suggests Simon Mayhew, online retail insight manager at IGD.

He says it has clearly prioritised search and enabled shoppers to very easily add products to their basket and efficiently refine their search. On screen it concurrently shows the image of the product, the description of the item, the opportunity to refine the search, and the option to add the product to the basket.

As voice comes to the fore and shoppers become ever more impatient, then it is these almost innocuous, subtle improvements that will make significant differences to the experience of customers when buying outside the physical store.

2. Building a cost-effective loyalty platform

Asda has avoided the need to implement a costly loyalty programme by taking what is now a mature technology, Scan & Go, and linking it into its other channels.

Andrew Mann, former VP of insight, pricing & digital CRM at Asda, tells Essential Retail: “It has been a late follower but the technology is now cheaper, more effective and flexible. Asda has built a proposition to be used by mobile phone (using an app) or hand-held [scanner] terminals.”

To start the process, customers either open up the app or enter a code into the scanner. Because customers have to register ahead of them using either option, they will also be identified when they shop online.

This enables Asda to link the channels and provides it with the opportunity to send customers insight-driven offers and promotions – just like a loyalty programme – that takes into account previous purchases across all channels. This could help the company build a more personalised shopping experience over time.

At the end of the process in-store, the scanned total is downloaded onto the till and payment is made via any of the regular options. “The value given back to shoppers is the time-saving [rather than points]. The running total of their shopping is also useful for value-conscious Asda shoppers. The solution can also handle promos and multi-buys unlike the other major grocers,” says Mann. 

The solution is being rolled out across the whole of the Asda estate and is presently available in half its stores.

3. The future of Click & Collect

The value-focused nature of the typical Asda shopper has been a driver in the importance of Click & Collect, according to Daniel Lucht, director at Research Farm, who says there is a desire by its customers to avoid having to pay delivery charges.

An interesting development in this area is the introduction of the C&C towers at the Asda store in Trafford Park where goods ordered online can be collected in less than 60 seconds, and also returned.

The technology was developed at Walmart in the US and has been rolled out across the country. They operate like giant vending machines with customers entering a code before they can access their items. It removes one of the key bugbears of C&C – the time taken in-store when collecting goods. Each tower can hold up to 500 parcels.

4. Voice shopping

Asda has teamed up with Google to use its Home/Assistant technology to offer its shoppers the opportunity to build their shopping basket – and order their goods - via voice. Mayhew says it is effectively “making the online store invisible”.

He also says there are the ‘skills’ accessible on the Home platform to enable shoppers to ask for product information and also query the availability of items in their local store.

5. Shining light on dietary requirements

For people with specific dietary needs, the search for ingredients online has been made significantly easier through a partnership Asda has struck with Foodmaestro. The personalised online nutrition search tool introduces custom filters that allow shoppers to remove any products outside their diet or nutritional choices from appearing in any searches they make on the Asda website.

Phil Wilkinson, senior director for online grocery at Asda, says: “Our partnership with Foodmaestro will help us deliver an even better shopping experience for customers with specific dietary requirements in their household.”

The benefit of this solution compared with others is that it enables shoppers to save the filters for when they next use the website, which is another example of time saving solutions improving the shopping experience.

6. Self-service checkouts are still under cloud

Although Asda has used tunnel checkouts from NCR at a store in York, there have been some concerns expressed by senior executives who are worried it will detract from the level of personal service that Asda gives its customers.

Bryan Roberts, global insights director at TCC Global, says: “Asda was famous for its friendly service from staff members and there is a risk of this declining. It could be very uncomfortable for a customer with a £200 shop who does not speak a word to any members of staff. People want some interaction. Studies of self-service have shown it’s not quicker and it’s not about convenience or choice either. It’s about reducing staff costs. There has also been a lot of shrinkage from self-checkouts.”   

For more insight on the grocers' approach to retail technology, read the rest in our series 'Big Four under the microscope':




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