Australian supermarket brand, Coles has leveraged Microsoft technology to respond to customer feedback quicker and instead of doing six-week update releases, they now do weekly releases.

Supermarket shoppers are all about convenience and their preferences for an online or in-store experience shift daily based on what they need and when they need it. This is why Coles’ development team needed to keep pace with shifting needs by making continuous updates to web and brand experiences.

Coles knew it was time to start incorporating e-commerce strategies and systems as early as 12 years ago, long before the pandemic forced everyone to move online.

“For us, it’s about the changing needs of our customers. Not just recently through Covid but looking to support customer preference around being able to shop online and in store. We’re pushing a lot around the omnichannel strategy, because we find that customers have a preference for both,” Coles Group senior engineering manager of web, Patrik Mihailescu said.

Beyond the binary of in-store and online shopping, Coles has identified its mobile experience as a uniquely hybrid experience. Customers use the Coles app while they are in-store to find items and shop more quickly. “Using customer insights data to drive decisions is a major part of future planning. We use the customer behaviour data we have to make sure we are providing the right products to give our customers the best experience possible,” Coles chief technology officer, John Cox said.

To continue delivering dynamic e-commerce experiences, Coles deepened its existing relationship with Microsoft by integrating the use of Azure for faster deployments with a highly collaborative engineering process, while delivering secure and safe web-based experiences for customers.

Microsoft Azure services empower a customer-first mindset

When working on a new project, Mihailescu says Coles doesn’t want all its engineers’ energy going toward asking questions about getting things up and running. “We actually want engineers to be focusing on ‘what is the service doing?’ ‘What are we actually trying to achieve?’ The Azure Kubernetes Service has helped us to standardise and reduce that sort of effort,” he said.

Coles is using data and AI to address customer needs, including to predict what products need to be at what store at what time. “Our entire supply chain is being driven through a machine learning engine. It is giving insight at a super localised level. We’re also using it to ensure that we are scheduling our team members based on customer demand and making sure we keep the shelves stocked appropriately,” Cox said.

When it comes to customer feedback, Coles wanted to integrate productive updates and changes as quickly as possible to address friction points, add new features, and streamline processes. With Azure DevOps, Coles has been able to achieve efficiency by shifting from monthly to weekly deployments.

According to Coles senior engineer and manager for platform engineering, Anton Vishnyakov, “Instead of doing six-week releases, we now do weekly releases. And the build times now take roughly 10 to 15 minutes, compared to what used to be a couple of hours”.

The customer experience is further optimised through the use of Azure Cosmos DB, which provides an aggregated view across channels to enable further customer insights, allowing Coles to provide an even more customised experience. Together, Cosmos DB and Azure Kubernetes Service help Coles leverage Open AI to create transformative solutions that benefit customers.

“Azure DevOps tooling enabled us to rapidly deploy changes to production by allowing us to safely create changes, test those independently before they were merged into our master branch…and to create rapid pipelines,” Mihailescu said.

Using Azure App Service, the team can test updates with ease: “We deploy during our peak periods where customers are on the site, but through the work that we’ve done we have zero downtime. There is no impact to our customers.”

The Coles team also uses Azure API Management gateway to ensure secure payment and processing for online shoppers by identifying, blocking, and countering fraudulent activity and bot attempts to enter the site.

Moving fast to meet customer expectations

Using Azure, the Coles team has been able to break the culture of midnight deployments, and now deploys during business hours, according to Mihailescu. 

“They’re able to make significant updates to their web and mobile app experiences without disrupting or confusing customers mid-journey. The effects have been so meaningful and the impacts so noticeable that the team is now shifting to an even faster deployment schedule, thanks to the capabilities that Azure offers.”

By deepening the relationship with Microsoft to deploy Azure DevOps, App Service, API Management, and Azure Kubernetes Service, Coles has found a partner to match their agility and intelligence in meeting customer expectations with an omnichannel strategy.