Mike Shakespeare

Current Role: Senior Product Manager


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The voice heard a million times over.

 

Meet Mike, the man behind the mic. That’s right, possibly the most heard voice in the UK belongs to someone who works in our Technology team. Learn about the ins and outs of creating our very first homegrown self-service checkout and the passion Mike puts into his audio prompts.

 

“As the first large retailer in the UK to build our own in-house checkouts, we’re trailblazers. But let me start at the beginning: for years we’d relied on external vendors, and it was hard to change things and innovate. Cut to 2018, and we wanted to have more control of our own destiny. We’d already begun building APIs for our websites, so growing that and doing something ourselves felt like a natural progression. And that’s exactly what happened: we built our checkout from the ground up.

“I remember pushing our first checkout to the on-site store in a trolley, screwdriver in hand.”

As a Product Manager, I was responsible for bringing our vision to life and developing a strategy that would take us from A to Z. But there were loads of talented people that helped to reimagine what the checkout journey should be and drive it forward. We brought together user experience designers, user interface designers, data analysts, engineers, researchers, operations and more. It’s been quite the journey, and I’ve been there every step of the way. From an idea on a piece of paper to over 12,000 checkouts in every corner of the UK. 

Within about six months, we had our minimal viable product. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. I remember pushing our first checkout to the on-site store in a trolley, screwdriver in hand. We replaced an existing checkout with ours, but even up to a minute before the demo, it wasn’t working. There were about 30 of us huddled around it and we just thought ‘let’s do it’. Deep breath. And…success! We scanned a bottle of champagne and the team’s favourite crisps as our very first transaction. Big cheers all round. After that, we’d hook up our checkout for the lunchtime rush, get some live feedback from colleagues, then take it back to our lab and work on improvements. We did that on repeat, constantly learning and trying new things. It was so exciting to work on a product that was just so tangible.

“I often think my role was really a full-time Voiceover Artist and part-time Product Manager.”

It took another six months before we were ready to install our first checkout in a Central London store, visible to all. Following customer feedback, it became clear we needed audio. We realised silent checkouts would be problematic for our visually impaired customers, who depend on spoken instructions. But we’d have to spend loads of money to find an agency to do it, so I just said: “I have a voice and a microphone, and a very particular set of skills ­­– this is my destiny.” Before Tesco I’d studied Music Technology at uni and worked in a recording studio, so that was my sound engineering background kicking in.

I actually took a couple of checkouts home and installed audio production software on the machines themselves. I wanted to use the actual hardware so I could tailor the sound to the speakers and make it sound the best it could across devices. I recorded a long list of audio prompts, including some that have since been deemed iconic after successful campaigns on TikTok and mainstream TV: “Don’t forget to tap or scan your Clubcard” or “Clubcard accepted”. I often think my role was really a full-time Voiceover Artist and part-time Product Manager. I suppose I’m the voice of the customer, and the voice to the customer.

“This is just a platform for greater things ahead. The best is yet to come.”

It’s been a really fun process. I do all sorts of vocal and physical warmups and vary my intonation so it’s not monotone or robotic, but friendly and human. I wanted to make sure that if a customer was going to hear a set of audio instructions back-to-back, it would work in context, not just individually. My friends and family of course think it’s hilarious that they can walk into a Tesco store in any town of the country and hear me. We’ve had many millions of transactions since the launch, so it’s very possible mine is the most heard voice in the UK!

The journey to building our own checkouts has been about solving real customer problems and transforming their experience. And we’ve achieved that. The checkouts are faster. Friendlier. More enjoyable to use. Each and every one of us in the team has made that possible. We worked together so well, leaning into our strengths and individual expertise. We’ve had complete ownership and control. We learned, and failed, fast. And we kept on improving, just like the customer experience has. It’s market leading. I’m thrilled to have been part of it. This is just a platform for greater things ahead. The best is yet to come.”

Being part of our Technology team means you get the time and tools to try new things. Like the ideas that make life a little better for our customers and colleagues. And the career progression that makes life a little better for you, too.

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