The Pragmatic Guide To M-Commerce, Tesco Style

Attention all Apple iPhone users wishing to use the new "Tesco Finder" app to locate products while shopping at Tesco stores. For a superior experience, please come to the front of the supermarket before activating your application.

That, in essence, is the advice being given by Nick Lansley, a Tesco IT developer whose "Tech For Tesco" blog tends to honestly discuss the pitfalls and victories of technology innovations at $95 billion Tesco, the world's third-largest retailer, with more than 3,700 stores. Although the new iPhone app will accurately point shoppers to the aisles and shelves housing their desired products, Lansley acknowledged that the wireless signal at some stores is too weak to work with iPhones turned on while customers are deep within the depths of Tesco's larger establishments.

"Yes, a weak mobile signal is a tricky problem and, no, we don't provide public Wi-Fi in our stores," Lansley wrote. "The best answer to this at the moment is that you walk towards the front of the store to pick up a stronger signal for your search, then walk to the location described. Providing free Wi-Fi is a great idea on paper, but our store IT colleagues will have to think this through since we use Wi-Fi so much ourselves in staff devices--so no promises!"

Lansley also acknowledged that the app, which arrived in the Apple App Store on Saturday (Oct. 10), doesn't show item prices. "We don't show prices because currently (like our grocery Web site) we don't have access to real-time prices, only what we call 'guide prices,'" Lansley wrote. "Guide prices are the most expensive a product can be at Tesco--quite often in the stores the price is cheaper--and our home shopping customers actually pay these cheaper prices, too."

He pointed out that the price difference between the guide prices and the shelf prices tends to cause inaccuracies on Web sites that try to compare Tesco prices to those of competitors. "It's why you can't rely on price comparison sites like MySupermarket when reviewing Tesco prices, because I understand that they 'scrape' our Web site and get the guide prices and not the real-time prices for products," Lansley said. "We hope to show real-time prices at some stage soon, both on our Web site and on this app."

Nor does the app show current stock levels. Lansley said it doesn't because it couldn't do so and be accurate.

"The main reason is that when a product is emptied from a shelf, it's because another customer who is probably still in the store has removed the last one(s) and staff haven't got round to re-filling the shelf," he wrote. "Normally, staff are pretty quick at spotting gaps so if you spot one first, the customer who has removed the products is probably still in eyesight range. If Tesco Finder says a product is at the store and you can't spot it, you only need to ask a member of staff to check for you."

Lansley said another iPhone app from Tesco, a "Grocery Home Shopping" application, is in development.