Retail Insider Awards – Meet the ‘Overall Technology Innovation of the Year’

Retail Insider recently announced the shortlist for its ‘Transforming Retail Awards’ and over the next few weeks we will be focusing on each of the six categories in the awards.  For each we will be providing a profile of each of the shortlisted entries.

Overall Technology Innovation of the Year (sponsored by Webloyalty)

1. Provenance

At Provenance, we are building a future where every great product comes with accessible, verifiable information about its history and creation. Provenance is a software service powered by mobile, open data and a game-changing new technology: blockchain. The platform gathers product information, substantiates product claims, and tracks product journeys in a way that is secure, trustworthy and accessible.

Provenance exists to enable more transparent supply chains, forging greater trust in businesses all along the chain, while helping us all make positive choices about what to buy.

Our initial focus is the UK food retail market where there’s pressure from legislation, PR scandals and shoppers seeking to know more about the things they buy. In particular: fresh produce, products associated with food fraud, and those carrying premiums and claims such as Fair Trade or ‘Made in Italy’. Beyond this, sustainability, organic and free-from are all big in the food sector.

Food brands and retailers benefit directly from our software service by reducing the risk of releasing products or ingredients with false or unproven claims, as well as providing the data to back factual claims. Our system also aids business in gathering and sharing data with their suppliers, ultimately enabling everyone along the supply chain, from farmer to end consumer, to forge stronger relationships while making better choices for people and the planet.

Today, we have over 200 brands and retailers using our platform, including pioneering new retailers like Hisbe and The People’s Supermarket and start-up food brands like Pact coffee, as well as more traditional food suppliers like Rookery Farm. We signed The Co-op supermarket as an enterprise client in July 2016, and have since attracted deals with other large brands.

Working with these businesses we have built a fully functioning disruptive platform, and conducted successful pilots: tracking tune through the SE Asian fishing industry for the UK market ( as well as tracking fresh produce for the Co-op, the world’s largest consumer cooperative. We are in partnership with many food industry auditors and certifiers (e.g organic) and tagging companies (e.g. NFC manufacturers), that support and augment our product offering.


2. Elevaate /

Not On The High Street (NOTHS) has worked with Elevaate to enable its sellers (Partners) to promote their products throughout its website. Under this initiative, aptly named ‘Top Spot’, Partners are able to increase visibility for their products and drive sales by promoting their products to the top of relevant list and category pages, as well as high traffic eventing pages and across categories.

The technical platform to manage these promotions is fully self serve so it overcomes historical scaling issues and puts the Partners in control. Top Spot achieves its scale and performance as it runs in parallel to wider trading activity and doesn’t cause additional workload to internal teams at NOTHS.

Furthermore, by leveraging the Partners expertise, NOTHS have been able to drive consumer product discovery. Having the ability to promote products outside of the site owned search algorithm, provides NOTHS Partners with additional opportunity to take more control of their performance by increasing visibility on the marketplace.

The data received using Top Spot helps Partners to get a deeper understanding of product demand, price elasticity and product development opportunities (Top Spot is particularly helpful to Partners wanting to experiment and understand the demand for new creations).

The value of each ‘sponsored’ location on the website is determined in real-time through a sophisticated automated bidding engine, charging Partners a cost per thousand (CPM) rate which varies based on demand.

In addition to providing Partners with a tool to self-select the products they wish to surface, this programme has created a new revenue stream for NOTHS, allowing the business to help offset increasing customer acquisition costs while reducing their financial dependency on a fixed commission model]

The Vision

The vision for this programme is simple, to give all Partners an active voice and the ability to directly influence their performance while allowing NOTHS to leverage real estate on its website and creating new revenue streams without interrupting the customer or Partner experience on the platform.

Elevaate helps solve this problem as NOTHS is able to provide clear customer journeys onsite highlighting key products and Best Sellers aligned to its brand, while Top Spot allows for new, promotional, seasonal or low visibility products to share key real-estate to kick start sales at scale.

Importantly, as sales increase through Top Spot promotions, there is an organic benefit for the Partners in the natural rankings of which cause an added halo effect. This ensures there is a Partner and product churn cycle within Top Spot, giving every Partner the ability to participate and ensuring the end user experience isn’t stagnant.


Top Spot launched to all 5,000+ NOTHS partners in June 2016 and there has been 17 weeks of consecutive significant revenue growth through the programme. Over 1,000 partners are now engaged and promoting product through the ‘Top Spot’ initiative.

The programme has served over 92 million sponsored products to end consumers, with consecutive massive growth and a 10x increase since launch. Partners are seeing ROI of up to 25-1. There are no setup fees, licence costs or management fees for Partners as they purely pay for customer impressions.


3. Tossed

In March 2016, Tossed, the healthier eating place, made headlines when it launched Europe’s first cashless stores at its new Coleman Street and Upper Thames Street shops off the back of a successful crowdfunding raise.

The technology supporting this market-first innovation are its unique kiosk-based ordering points which had been 18 months in development together with EPOS provider Pointone. Operating on Android tablets and housed in attractive-looking stands on bespoke Corian counters, these kiosks allow Tossed guests to browse the menu and place their order at their own speed.

The menu navigation system is intuitive for users and operates much like an online shopping interface, whilst it showcases product with attractive visuals. All of the characteristics that make Tossed’s menu special have been retained, such as the ability to customise products and view nutritional content before purchase.

Guests pay by card, contactless or phone on PDQ machines that are integrated with the kiosk ordering points. After payment they receive a ticket printout with their order, complete with a randomly-allocated celebrity name which is called when their order is ready for collection.

Alternatively, they log into their account to re-order their favourite dish and collect with their own name. Mobile and web technology allows Tossed to take the kiosks one step further, and it has recently relaunched these to provide guests with a “kiosk in their pocket” meaning they can order from the same intuitive interface at their convenience.

Better instore guest experience

The intuitive nature of the kiosk operating system means that most guests find them very easy to use. The removal of cashiers was potential a risky move in removing a key point of guest interaction. However, there has been no negative feedback; guests prefer instead to have the time & space to browse the menu at their own pace, rather than perhaps feel rushed by a cashier.

A new role of “lobby host” has been created, with responsibility for ensuring guests who are new to the system or require some assistance are well looked after. The theatre of food production, salad tossing and handover is retained at the collection point so the guest still enjoys what makes Tossed special: customisable food made-to-order, fast.

Better guest service is evidenced by a significant improvement in average Mystery Guest visit score from the kiosk stores, and a reduction in waiting times. The positive feedback and financial results were such that Tossed quickly retro-fitted the solution across its 17-strong London estate. Where tills are replaced by kiosks, there are typically more than 3 times as many ordering points created. This allows more transactions to be processed at peak time, and the kiosks include upsell prompts and meal  deals as part of the user-journey.

Driving sales

Tossed has seen this driving double-digit sales growth, as well as an improvement in food and labour margins, and expects to see further growth through web & mobile. Cashiers have been retrained onto the production team, allowing Tossed to invest more hours in enhancing the speed of the food production, as well as improving the quality of the ingredients. The result is more time invested in value-adding activities, whilst the technology takes care of what was operationally time-consuming and labour-intensive ordering process. In addition, the removal of cash-handling and a reduction in paper in the business with the latest no-receipt orders are welcome ancillary benefits.

The reception in the marketplace has been hot, with several competitors actively looking for “me too” solutions. Tossed’s innovation has been recognised more widely, the business being named as one of Marketing Week’s Top 100 Disruptive Brands, and as one of Retail Insider’s Top 25 Innovative Retailers.


4. Shop Direct ‘Very Assistant’

Shop Direct became the first UK-based retailer to use conversational user interface (CUI) technology for customer service by launching a fully-automated platform to allow customers to quickly find answers for their questions in a WhatsApp-style chat environment.

The ‘Very Assistant’ is available through the Very app and makes the user journey even simpler for customer service questions by allowing shoppers to interact with speedily and easily in a format that they are adept at using day-to-day. The platform is automated, which means customer queries are answered quickly and accurately.

Very Assistant works by asking the app user if they need any help before they are presented with a sequence of questions and multiple action options, which the customer taps within the chat environment. The customer’s responses enable the platform to instantly serve up the information they are looking for.

Customers can use Very Assistant to track an order, make a payment on their account, confirm that recent payments have been processed, check their payment dates and request a reminder of their account number.

The new technology, which was developed in-house, has been introduced in response to customer research, which showed that people wanted to interact with the group’s brands in a chat environment.

The research also analysed the most common queries customers ask, those questions that are best suited to the Very Assistant platform, and how the new technology fits into the company’s overall customer care journey.

The technology is the first step towards a ‘natural language’ solution. Shop Direct is working with IBM Watson to develop and introduce during 2017 an AI-fuelled CUI platform. This will allow customers to ask questions in their own words within a chat environment, with the AI technology serving up the answers they are looking for – making their experience even more personalised.

Alex Baldock, group CEO at Shop Direct, said: “Our customers want to chat to us as they do their friends on WhatsApp – it’s what they’re used to. Very Assistant is our response to that desire and it will make it even easier for our customers to shop. But this is only the start. AI will change the game and we’re backing it in a big way. It’ll allow us to offer a personalised, ‘natural language’ CUI experience for service queries in 2017 – which will be massive for our customers.

Jonathan Wall, eCommerce director at Shop Direct, stated: “This fully native platform is squarely focused on what our customers need. It’s delivered through our app because that’s where they want to have questions answered. It’s also the best place for us to collect feedback and constantly improve Very Assistant.

“We think this new technology will simplify our user journey, improve satisfaction, and help to boost efficiency in our customer service operation. It’s also the first step towards ‘natural language’, AI-driven CUI – which is something we’re hugely excited about.”