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SmartShop Mobile Pay – A UK Supermarket First



Role: Lead Product/Service Designer, responsible for end to end design delivery, research, testing, UI and UX, working with one other designer in our scrum team. Platform: iOS, Android.

“Queuing”. That’s what our customer’s told us when we asked “what’s the most frustrating part of your in-store shopping experience?”. We set out to solve that problem, and ended up delivering an experience that's the first of it's kind in the UK!

See coverage from BBCThe Telegraph, Independant and Gizmodo. Even the Queen gave it a go, so check out her visit!

?? Winner of 'Best Innovation' and 'Best Transactional Experience' at the UXUK 2018 awards ??


View the Android prototype here

Customers explained that almost all elements of the existing in-store checkout process had a negative impact on their otherwise positive shopping journey with us, from queueing, to unloading items onto the conveyor belt, and the dreaded “unexpected item in the bagging area” error! This was especially true when we spoke to customers with low vision or cognitive impairments, who described the checkout process as a period of 'no control'.

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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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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, following principles from Growth Hacking.

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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 problem’.


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 customers through a range of research techniques, 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!

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We built several prototypes, and tested these with colleagues and customers to get early validation, mocking up a fake store environment in the office and getting people to walk around pretending to scan items using their phone. This really helped us identify key risks and focus on solving those in more detail first, such as "Where would I get a bag from?", and "How would I get age approval?". These posed really interesting challenges beyond just the digital interface, that meant we needed to think about store layout, signage and wayfinding. It was also really interesting to observe the change in customer behaviour, as we know trends and technology can evolve much quicker than goverance and culture (AKA Pace Layering).

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The a-ha moment

Through our testing with users, we discovered the one thing all products want; the a-ha moment! This is the point during the experience that a user suddenly 'gets it', and really feels the real value the product or service provides. For us, it was being able to just walk out of the store after paying on their phone, with a smile on their face. It was our job to get as many users to this moment as quickly as possible.


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 developers 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.

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A few days later we had the app in customers hands with real payments working, and the whole team took part in customer testing in our nearby store. It was great to see customers reactions to the thing 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 hugely positive, with customers seeing huge benefits in this new way of checking out in store. Customers with low vision loved this way of checking out as it gave them back control, allowing them to zoom in to product names and prices on their own phone, and not having to worry about locating available checkouts in a busy part of the store.

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From this, we refined our vision and beliefs to communicate what we had discovered with the wider business and get additional stakeholders to buy in to our dream.

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Early adopters

We started to map out our next experiments, including our assumptions, dependancies, personas and costs, but it was important for us to consider who our early adopters would be, and how we could leverage their insight and feedback as much as possible to refine the proposition before going to a wider audience. We found that these customers were typically busy, city center workers, 24-34 years old and tech savvy, so these are who we targetted for our next round of testing.


We then ran a range of additional experiments in our nearby store to help validate our remaining hypothesis, such as “Customers do not want to scan a QR code to start or end their shop”. We did this as lean as possible, sticking up posters and observing customers shop, doing intercepts to gather feedback, and then iterating the design and placement of the posters.

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We then identified a store for our live customer trial, in Clapham North, which fulfilled our criteria. We spent time with the store manager and colleagues, watching customer flow and looking at the layout of the store to help us plan the customer journey, from marketing comms to raise awareness of the proposition, to wayfinding signage, shelf edge labels, and the ‘exit shop’ QR code placement.

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To help us test the effectiveness of the in-store signage, from messaging to placement, we ran 12 accompanied shops with different customers, using a prototype of the app to help validate their journey in-store.

Insight gathered from user testing really helped us refine our communication to customers in-store, from understanding the proposition and how it works, to knowing what to do and where to go. Surprisingly, they quite liked scanning the QR code to exit as it gave them a sense of security that the store knows that they’ve paid.

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To make sure all of our customer communications were consistent, across digital and physical, I created an experience map visualising the customer journey, their wants and needs, and then dropped in the visuals at each journey step to bring the in-store experience to life.


An element of the journey that required further user testing was when a customer starts their first shop in this mobile pay store. As it's early days there will be some limitations, such as you can only use Apple Pay, and you can't buy age restricted items. Therefore, I carried out a comprehension study using UserZoom to help validate which of 4 variants best communicated this to customers.

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Based on what we had learnt, we briefed the agency creating all of our marketing comms. I worked closely with these teams to ensure all messaging was aligned, from the app, to marketing and permanent signage in-store, such as this initial concept for our large window graphic inviting customers in to the store.


I also created a range of posters like the one above that would be displayed as the customer enters the store, prompting them to download the app. One thing we discovered was that customers would be unlikely to download the app in-store, so we also created a range of leaflets to be taken home, which would act as a reminder to download the app later ready for their next visit.


And finally, after months of hard work from a huge team of talented people, we've launched the app in Clapham North Local (UPDATE: Now in 8 stores across London), available to all customers with an iPhone and Apple Pay! We're the first retailer in the UK to offer this functionality to real customers, so it's a huge achievement for the team!

We spent the first day in-store, putting up the artwork, signage, banners and balloons. Then when the doors opened we put on our SmartShop T-Shirts and started encouraging users to download the app to avoid the checkouts completely.

Customer feedback was overwhelming, and it was great to hear comments such as "really, I don't have to go to the checkouts!?" and "are you kidding, I can pay and just walk out!?". It's still early days but we're going to keep capturing customer feedback to see how we can iterate and improve the experience. Here are a few photos from the launch day.

Our first customer!


UXUK 2018 awards winner!

And on the 22nd Nov 2018 we were fortunate enough to win 2 awards at the UXUK awards, for 'Best Innovation' and 'Best Transactional Experience'!

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And, to top it all off, we've now launched our very first 'Mobile Pay Only' store in Holborn, where customers will need to use the SmartShop mobile pay app to buy their items. It will be interesting to see the reaction from customers over the coming months! Go big or go home! ?

Next steps: the engagement loop

We're now focusing on optimising the existing journey for our customers, and thinking about additional features all of our in-store customers might like to help increase adoption and engagement.

One area we're looking at is converting as many users as possible. As you can see from the funnel below, only 63% of those who start a shop enter the checkout flow. Once they do, the majority complete purchase, but we want to understand why 37% exit before paying, so we'll be looking into the data and conducting interviews over the coming weeks.

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The 'Hook'

We also want to start exploring how we can create habitual use with our users, so not only do they automatically get their phone out as they enter a Sainsbury's store to scan products, but they actiuvely chose to shop with us becuase of the service. We'll look at the 4 principles of Nir Eyal's 'Hooked' framework; Trigger, Action, Variable Reward and Investment, and how we can leverage these to create a truly must-have product.