Ocado: view from the top, part 1 – fulfilment

It’s been a strong year to date for British online supermarket Ocado, which revealed strong profit growth, a new deal to sell its proprietary software platform overseas, and the launch of a fresh funding drive to expand its capacity and further develop its technology.

The home grocery delivery specialist is a pioneer in online shopping and fulfilment. Founded in 2000 and listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2010, Ocado claims to have 580,000 active customers, and sells its own products as well as working with the likes of Morrisons and Waitrose.

Ocado’s operating solution, Ocado Smart Platform (OSP), combines end-to-end software and technology systems with a physical fulfilment asset solution; putting it in an enviable position within the growing global movement towards online food shopping.

To find out more about how the technology and processes at Ocado are moving forward, Retail Connections spoke to three of its divisional managers: Rui De Sousa Campos, Product Owner for Supply Chain Systems; Isabel Richards, Ocado Smart Platform E-commerce and Last Mile Logistics Product Manager; and Andrew Lord, Mobile Team Leader.

In this first instalment, we speak exclusively to Rui about customer satisfaction, the future of retail, and how OSP fits into the wider technology ecosystem.

What is your role at Ocado?

I’m responsible for managing resources, and providing direction to the scope of our supply chain.

This includes areas including forecasting, available to promise, automated ordering and supplier integrations, and covers multiple vectors of our business, such as Ocado.com, Morrisons.com and the OSP.

What project are you focused on as we speak?

I’m looking into two key areas – advanced online demand forecasting, and the next-generation automated ordering system. I’m also working on improving operational efficiency.

To your mind, what is the most exciting area of digital shopping technology, and why?

It’s what’s invisible, what’s happening behind the scenes, that ensures customer satisfaction.

Shoppers only see a small part of the journey – they go online, make a few clicks and receive their order at home. Behind this straightforward process lies a beautifully-crafted operation that turns clicks into orders.

It may look simple, but it’s actually a complex process – we need to predict how many shoppers will want product X on day Y, and where they will want it delivered. We have to enable our customers to complete a 50-item order in just a few minutes, and to take into account that they might be shopping with us more than once a week. Reducing friction becomes extremely important.

Sometimes it feels like an orchestra – request product from suppliers, route to warehouses, re-route the product to the shopping bag, put in a van, and finally deliver it to your door.

This challenge – how we compose this pipeline and ensure everyone is in tune to deliver continuous excellence – is very exciting.

Are you seeing retailers increasingly develop their own in-house order and fulfilment systems?

I can’t speak for other retailers, but our OSP has been designed from scratch, based on our vast experience of running Ocado.com, the latest market trends, and the key challenges in the future.

When it comes to order and fulfilment, we believe OSP is the best solution to support the future of retail – both for our own retail operations, and for empowering those other retailers that understand the value of our offering.

Are you able to reveal any of your technology providers/partners?
Most of what we do is new and innovative in the industry. We have a strong retail operation, complemented by agile technology and engineering divisions – this is a key differentiator. While other providers will try to understand their clients, they don’t live their clients’ needs every day. We do. Our solutions are more refined, and are designed from the ground up with years of experience from retail by highly-innovative teams that are constantly thinking ahead.

Thanks to this process, we rely on a small number of technology providers – the list includes companies such as Google, AWS, Microsoft and Salesforce. These are companies driving massive technology innovation in the areas of scale cloud computing, machine learning and analytics. We are involved with their various innovation streams, while we drive our own innovation in-house.

In part two of this interview we speak to Isabel Richards, Ocado Smart Platform E-commerce and Last Mile Logistics Product Manager, to find out her views on the evolution and aims of OSP, Ocado’s partner relationships, and the trends dominating retail this year.

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