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Sainsbury’s Digital Strategy



Role: Lead Product / Strategy Designer

“How do customers want to interact with our digital ecosystem?”

That was the question our C-Level board asked us, and it was the job of our small, 4 person (1 designer (me), a PM. Marketing exec and insights exec), cross functional team to answer that question as quickly as possible, building our plan over a number of sprints, having regular check-ins with Divisional Directors, and finally presenting our proposal to the Operating Board and CEO.

Over the years, teams at Sainsbury’s have created a variety of fantastic digital interfaces (shown in the diagram below), both web and app, from Groceries, Tu and Argos, to Nectar, SmartShop and Chop Chop. Each of these designed to solve a specific customer need, but perhaps not in the most impactful way possible. Has tech led CX here?

Nowadays we’re seeing a trend of users installing fewer smartphone apps, with the average number of shopping apps on a users phone being 1.5. This meant that we really needed to think about our digital proposition and how many of our apps we expect our users to download. How much value can we combine into a single app, if that’s what users even want!? We needed to start with custmoer experience.


Let’s take Mother’s Day for example, if a customer wanted to shop our entire Mother’s Day range, they’d need to visit our groceries site for food and meal ideas, Tu website for clothing gifts, Argos and Habitat for non-food gifts, then use SmartShop to buy those items in-store. Surely we could make this easier for our customers.

So what did we do? We started by looking at other companies to see what they did to solve this problem. Walmart in the U.S was a good example of a combined app experience, as their app included tools for online shopping, in-store shopping, and digital loyalty.

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From our extensive research of other companies, we quickly came up with a spectrum of high level options, ranging from a completely federated experience, through to a completely merged one. We used rough wires and IA to present these back to the leadership team for discussion.

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While we were doing this, we started to generate a long list of hypothesis we wanted to validate, such as how customers want to shop food & non-food together, combined in-store & online shopping, increasing awareness of our range, how this could impact the various brands and so on. We captured these in a hypothesis matrix and stuck these on the wall in our team area, which quickly became a focal point for the team.

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We then started to answer the higher priority hypothesis that would have a big impact on the project direction. We conducted online surveys with customers, 1-1 interviews, small & large focus groups, card sorting activities, and built high level prototypes to bring some of the experiences to life in a more tangible way. When it came to talking about potential benefits of a merged experience, we found that prototypes really helped customers visualise what the potential could be.

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We ran focus groups in London and Birmingham to study ethnographic differences, and this really highlighted a few key changes in their relationship with Sainsbury’s and it’s brand.

Throughout these sessions we always started high level, just having a dicsussion about their shopping habits, expectations and pain points, and then layered in questions about how they might feel if they could buy Argos products on the Sainsbury’s website. This allowed participants to give a more natural response before we started showing them visuals and prototypes.

After all of this research and user testing, it was clear that we had a few key conclusions. Customers certainly expected us to have a single food app for all of their online & in-store shopping needs, whilst also expecting to find all of the items they can buy in-store, in a single online shop.

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We captured all of our insights and presented this back to the leadership team with our recommendations.

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And from this we generated our vision statement, that would form the foundation of any future digital work at Sainsbury’s.

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Our next step was to start exploring this concept in a little more detail, thinking about the target user experience that could be communicated more widely and to get other teams in the business bought into our vision. This was really important. If no-one believed in this, then it would much harder to make positive progress.

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I worked with designers and PO’s in other teams to create a vision storyboard for our single food app, and showed the IA heirachy that would allow this to happen. I then started mocking up some more detailed visuals that bring the concept to life.

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Showing each of the key steps in this ‘single app’ experience to help communicate the vision to leaders and teams across the business. A lot of my time is now talking to people about this, trying to influence and persuade them to get onboard with our work, and to ultimately shape their backlogs.

Our group wide vision

Alongside all of this I've been working with the wider business to create an engaging video to highlight the main areas we want to focus on over the coming 24 months to really bring this customer vision to life. Here's a sneak peek of the work in progress...

Future disruptors

In order to ensure we focus on the right initiatives, we have to consider the future state we will operate within and the change in culture and consumer expectation that come with this. Therefore, we built out an ecosystem map, showing all of the touchpoints we have across different 'experience' pillars, such as shop, pay, and fulfill. We then layered future trends on top of this to add context of what the future could bring.