SmartShop App Redesign

How the SmartShop team utilised research and testing to change the app for the better
March 2020 - December 2020

SmartShop is a scan and go proposition from Sainsbury’s which offers the ability to scan products through either your personal mobile device or using the in-store handset. The handset technology has been available from Sainsbury’s since 2015, however the mobile pay proposition received a large amount of press in early 2018 after being launched in a till-free store in Holborn Circus. Currently, you can use the SmartShop app and pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay in 9 convenience stores across London.

When I joined the team in June 2019, there hadn't been any research performed on the app or customer interviews conducted in over a year. So, in October 2019 I worked alongside several researchers within Sainsbury's to form a thorough research plan to understand issues like:

  • What's it really like to individually scan each product as you go around a shop?
  • Is the app enough as it is right now to encourage strong habit formation?
  • What kind of features are we doing well on, and what are we lacking?

Between October 2019 and March 2020, we uncovered a significant amount of feedback from over 44 participants through usability testing, a 2 week long ethnography study and customer interviews.

Woman Scanning Product

A customer using SmartShop during its launch in April 2019 in Holborn. Image Source: Sainsbury's

What we learned from research


From usability testing of the app, we uncovered the top 5 issues which I highlighted in the visual above.

With combined feedback from the ethnography study and additional testing, we started to develop a strong picture around problem areas. We also found that:

  • It’s pretty awkward scanning each individual product
  • Our registration is unclear on how the app works, and the demand to scan a Nectar card made customers think they would be getting a hyperpersonalised experience in the app based on their Nectar data (they’re not FYI)
  • We’re asking a lot from customers in terms of changing their everday shopping behaviour to use this app
  • Too many hoops to jump through to use the app - this is potentially a strong cause of the weak habit formation we were currently seeing in our data (at the time, only XXX percentage of SmartShop users were using the app, the majority were using the handset.)


Defining our focus

Armed with our mountain of information, I played back what I uncovered to the SmartShop product team and engineering teams. I also made sure to share what I had uncovered with other stakeholders, like the Head of Product at Sainsbury’s.

To get the ball rolling as to how we could start implementing changes in the app, I needed to understand if there were other priorities we needed to see to for 2020 updates. The product owners, engineering leads and myself sat down and worked on a WSJF matrix to understand what was the most important to tackle in the upcoming months. After our focus was defined, I went to my team to figure out how we would divide and conquer our three focus areas:

  • Onboarding and permissions
  • Shopping List
  • Navigation, information architecture and integrating Nectar features into the app


Getting to work


The design team for SmartShop is small - we're 4 people, consisting of Charlotte, Lyndsay and Dee. With Lyndsay’s background in UI design, she was keen to take on the first half of the journey which was updating the onboarding screens to be clearer on how the app works.

Charlotte started work on shopping lists, and explored many different concepts based on the feedback we had gathered:

  • Autotick lists (a concept where as soon as a customer scans a product, this item is also ‘ticked’ off their shopping list)
  • Multi lists
  • Suggested items (customers can access items in shopping list that are suggested based on their historical purchasing behaviour)


After several rounds of usability testing and customer interviews, Charlotte narrowed down the first idea to bring into design and development to be suggested items.

Meanwhile, I began to look at the app information architecture to understand how we could allow access to lists to be more obvious (a lot of participants in testing completely missed the list feature). We also knew that we wanted to finally implement Nectar features into the app, and with the current UI there was no where this would slot in elegantly.


Going through the app architecture, ideating, prototyping and testing several ideas - we narrowed down our future navigation to something that would accomodate a Nectar feature, a more ergonomically ‘friendly’ scan button (in terms of placement), and easier switching between the basket view and list view.


It's alive!

With months of relentless testing, prototyping, talking to customers, and repeating this cycle - we had achieved a lot within 8 months. We were also appreciative that the SmartShop team wholeheartedly accepted the research we had performed and allowed myself and the design team free range to explore many different ideas to really understand what we could do, and most importantly what customers wanted.

It’s worth mentioning that with the pandemic crashing through our lives in March 2020, there was an increased sense of urgency to update the app in response to our customer feedback. I’m really proud of the fact that by December 2020, everything we had worked so hard on was developed and released to the public.

Now, the app has an updated basket view, new navigation and information architecture, updated list with suggested items based on historical purchases and last but not least - a place for customers to see their saved Nectar offers.


What's Next

When we released all of the new updates in the first week of January, we immediately saw a rise in participation within the app, on Android alone we noticed over 50,000 Android users have explored the Nectar tab 120,000 times over 3 days. A 6% increase in downloads within the first week of advertising the Nectar feature in the app also occurred. It feels awesome to know that we've answered quite a few customer pain points with our app overhaul. However, there's always another challenge to think about...

As mentioned earlier, customers can’t use the app unless they’re a current Nectar account holder. Although this has been the prerequisite of the app for a few years now, the backlash against this enforced loyalty scheme has hindered the growth of the app, and has created a pretty bad drop out rate.

While that's my most immediate focus so that we can work on customer habit formation, I always like to think 'what if we could try this?' For some time now, I've been casting my eye on Amazon Go, Standard Cognition and Wal-Mart in regards to how they're pushing their investment in technology, store formatting and customer psychology to really change the landscape of retail. I'm excited for when my team gets the chance to push our own boundaries even further.