How Tesco built a real-time insights programme

Jo Bowman

British supermarket giant Tesco knows an awful lot about its UK customers. It generates reams of data about them and spends millions of pounds every year on market research. Yet according to Maria Sealey, head of insights at Tesco, the company didn't really know the market in a more human way, understanding people's fears and motivations – not just when it comes to shopping at Tesco or even shopping more broadly. So in 2011, it has been getting to know them, and adapting to what it's found.

"The role of insight is to anticipate customer needs, wants and desires," Sealey told the recent Shopper Insights in Action conference in Prague. "And we spend and awful lot of money on insights at Tesco. We have a very big budget."

The company draws on sales data, behavioural data from its loyalty programme Tesco Clubcard, focus groups and tracking studies. It invites customer feedback with the 'Every comment helps' message on till receipts, has mystery shoppers, and monitors how people feel about the Tesco brand, about prices, and even the queuing times at checkouts. But demand not just for data but actionable insight is growing stronger within the business, she said. "The business wants insight faster. Everything has to be done within a few days rather than a few weeks, and it has to be reliable." Management wants to know what a vast proportion of the population is doing and thinking, but they also need to cut through the noise to identify the key, most relevant points.