July 2, 2014, 12:28 PM

Sainsbury’s rolls out major e-commerce upgrades

The U.K. grocery chain can now change personalized recommendations and offers immediately based on what the shopper places in her cart and notify shoppers when they are missing out on sales.

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United Kingdom-based grocery chain Sainsbury’s generated $1.95 billion in web sales in 2013, up 6% from an estimated $1.84 billion in 2012, but it wants more. It’s hungry for a larger piece of the estimated $11.06 billion U.K. shoppers are spending online buying groceries, according to research firm IDG.  Aiming to beef up its online sales, Sainsbury’s, No. 14 in the Internet Retailer Europe 500, recently unveiled a series of updates to its e-commerce operations.  

Sainsbury’s replaced its old e-commerce platform from Blue Martini, now part of RedPrairie Corp., to one from IBM WebSphere with the help of e-commerce digital agency Salmon Ltd. The IBM software serves as the base for new desktop, tablet and smartphone sites that were rolled out to customers by region, and are now available to all shoppers, the grocer says.

“Much of the work by Salmon has focused on improvements behind the screen to allow us to build new functionality,” says Jon Rudoe, digital and technology director for the U.K. grocer. “It’s taken Sainsbury’s 14 years to reach 1 billion pounds in annual sales online and this new platform gives us the capacity to double this.”

One of the major upgrades allows Sainsbury’s to collect consumer shopping data from desktop computers, tablets,  smartphones or physical stores, enabling the retailer to understand what and when customers are buying regardless of the channel. This will allow Sainsbury’s to better tailor offers and rewards to individual customers, the grocer says.

On the consumer-facing side, a recipe section enables shoppers to browse recipes and add ingredients to their cart directly from the page. More sophisticated merchandising allows Sainsbury’s to change personalized recommendations immediately based on what the shopper places in her cart. And, an ever-present floating trolley on the right side of the screen allows a shopper to scan her shopping cart without leaving the page.

The retailer also added ratings and reviews. Upgraded navigation enables shoppers to drill down quickly to find exactly what they want. For example, a click on the Meat, Fish & Poultry category enables a shopper to select Fish and Seafood, then Filleted and Whole Fish. From there the shoppers can sort by Type of Fish, Brand, Special Offers and Favorites (based on that customer’s past purchases).  

The site also helps Sainsbury’s present promotions on the fly. For example, a shopper who purchases just one Cadbury candy bar might get a notice in her cart that she is missing out on a Buy Two Get One Free offer. Consumers can also book grocery delivery slots within a one-hour timeframe, ranging from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day up to three weeks in advance.

“This program is one of the first and largest grocery implementations on IBM WebSphere Commerce, says Neil Stewart Salmon CEO. “Technically challenging (it takes) into consideration the performance implications of the large number of items in the average shopping trolley, the sheer abundance and complexity of grocery promotions, tight coupling to legacy systems and data migration of eight million customer accounts, four million credit cards and twelve million orders.” 44 retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide use IBM WebSphere as their e-commerce platform including Staples Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp., according to Top500Guide.com

The new system also contains more than 80 applications that integrate with Sainsbury’s back-end systems such as supply chain. It also stores business and consumer data in a central repository from which Sainsbury’s can generate more than 90 types of reports.

Salmon says it employed Interface Design best practices including using Cascading Style Sheets to deliver consumers the same view of the site across browsers. CSS is a markup language used to define pages and styles as well as denote where objects appear on a page.

With the announcement, Sainsbury’s also says it is testing buy online, pick up in store to a sub-set of online shoppers who can collect their goods from more than 1,000 stores.

Recent research suggests U.K. consumers want improvements in online grocery shopping. Three-quarters of U.K. consumers have shopped online for groceries and 40% of those shoppers do so on a regular basis, according to a recent survey of 2,000 consumers by research firm eDigitalResearch. However, just one-third of grocery shoppers rate their experience as easy.

Additionally, half of online grocery shoppers responding to the survey say online grocery shopping takes too long, indicating a demand from consumers for retailers to invest, develop and improve the online grocery experience, eDigital Research says. And just 10% of online grocery shoppers feel they are presented with too much advertising when they shop online for food and drink items, suggesting that retailers may want to offer more advertisements and promotions to drive sales.

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