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Waitrose Rises to Pandemic Challenge and Amazes Customers with AWS

2021

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AWS helps Waitrose to always put the customer first. Together we are continually improving the online experience, while also innovating and inspiring our customers in our digital offerings. We do incredible things that please and amaze our customers.”

Andy Carroll
Digital Delivery and Operations Manager, Waitrose & Partners

The highly competitive online grocery business is won or lost in the moment when shoppers see a convenient delivery slot is available or find the product they want and are able to check out quickly. To win in this sector, a business must stay hungry and always look for an advantage.

No one knows this better than Waitrose & Partners (Waitrose), the grocery brand of the John Lewis Partnership PLC. Founded as a single store in 1864 by John Spedan Lewis, the organization has always placed value on providing exceptional levels of customer service. It operates 331 supermarkets across the United Kingdom (UK). 

By 2015, however, Waitrose’s ecommerce team found it was unable to provide the rich and responsive digital experience that today’s online shoppers expect. Ecommerce made up 4 percent of its overall business, and improvements to customer experience that could support further growth were held back by legacy, on-premises technology that only allowed it to update the ecommerce grocery shop one to three times a year—not nearly enough to keep up with customer needs.

“That wasn’t good enough,” says Andy Carroll, digital delivery and operations manager at Waitrose & Partners. “These days you have to innovate constantly. Customers want a better experience every time they interact with you, not once a year.” 

With rising competition for online shopping, there was clear evidence of a need to change, and soon.

Moving to AWS for Future Success

The effort to build out its ecommerce offering and embrace technology as a true differentiator for competitive advantage began in 2016, when Waitrose decided to move to a new cloud-based, serverless computing architecture based on Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

“Waitrose’s vision was to make a fundamental change from a heavily customized monolith, which was restricting the pace we wanted to move at, to a microservices architecture,” says Gerry Ward, digital platform and operations manager at Waitrose & Partners. 

“Waitrose designed and implemented a scalable, resilient platform powered by AWS, which allows us to respond quickly to our customers, support our growth ambitions, and compete with the best in the grocery business.” 

Starting with a technical team of just five, Waitrose relied on AWS support during the migration and credits their involvement for making the project a success. 

“We saw AWS as a leader in the market, and they were there for us,” Carroll says. “They’ve always had a massive interest in what we’re doing and were always there to help us through the difficulties of building a new platform and team. We had weekly on-site visits from them in the early days.”

Happier Customers and Motivated Developers

A fundamental benefit of the new AWS-based ecommerce platform is more frequent updates. Waitrose now releases as many as 900 updates per year. It’s not unusual to complete more than 100 updates in a single month. This is orders of magnitude better than the three updates a year that it managed on the previous platform. It means Waitrose can continuously roll out and tweak new features in response to real-time customer behavior.

“The ability to provide a new feature, receive customer feedback and then iterate based on that data, rather than on somebody’s gut feel, was game-changing,” says Carroll. 

By monitoring customer usage, Waitrose saw that new features such as Tagged Search, Ratings & Reviews, and a Mega Menu were improving customers’ ability to find products and move swiftly to checkout. And online surveys showed that customer satisfaction scores more than doubled, from 22 to 45.

The ability to release frequent updates also transformed the development team. Being able to immediately see the benefits made possible by their code motivated them to work even harder. The tech teams have become “passionate,” according to Carroll—they know that, if a feature is not working, they can push live fixes the next day for shoppers to use. 

“AWS enables us from a cultural perspective,” says Carroll. “Engineers love to see their code live and being beneficial. When you’re only doing one release a year, it can be demotivating, because you can put it live and it might not work, or the customer doesn’t like it. 

“Now they can release updates frequently and fix anything that doesn’t work. It makes them proud. They’re proud to be working on AWS.”

Support During the Pandemic

Along with improving customer experience with new features, Waitrose looked to AWS to speed up website performance during the busiest times of the year, such as Christmas. But the true test arrived when it had to meet rising demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When lockdowns hit across the UK in the spring of 2020, orders spiked as more shoppers than ever visited Waitrose.com to arrange for home delivery of groceries. Weekly orders doubled to 100,000 per week during the first month of lockdown, and at one point hit a record of 238,748. Over the year, ecommerce quadrupled from 5 percent to 20 percent of Waitrose’s overall business. 

Running on AWS, Waitrose.com never went down, despite demand being 10 times higher than usual. Throughout the pandemic, Waitrose customers experienced a responsive ecommerce experience. 

“When the site was so busy that shoppers couldn’t place orders, we could increase our AWS resources to enable customers to get to a landing page where it would give them some information,” Carroll says. “They weren’t just stuck with a spinning cursor and a timeout message.” 

With the site up and running, the Waitrose tech team was able to innovate during the pandemic and even launch new features, such as capping the number of essentials like toilet paper or baby formula that shoppers could order. Waitrose was also able to build solutions to prioritize vulnerable customers, which was a government requirement for all supermarkets. 

“Thanks to agile ways of working and quick turnaround on deployments, we could pivot quickly to respond to ever-changing customer behavior during the pandemic,” Ward says. “We were able to extend the cutoff times for customers to amend orders, vary the length of slot horizons, and protect the site so customers could always continue their shopping journeys.” 

The tech team stayed motivated, too. “Although we felt we were working in strange times, the team actually raised their game,” says Carroll. “It proved all the changes we’d made in moving to AWS were right.”

Translating New Tech into Higher Sales

Waitrose & Partners has fulfilled its goal of improving customer experience and driving sales while surviving—and even growing—during the pandemic. 

After it launched its new infrastructure, conversion rates rose by multiple points—a difference that the grocer says could, if sustained, drive millions of pounds more in sales per year. 

Much of this is attributed to improvements in the checkout process and overall performance. With AWS, the time for customers to move through checkout has decreased by 20 percent. When booking delivery slots, customers now receive 66 percent fewer errors when requesting slot grids, 60 percent fewer errors when booking a slot, and 33 percent quicker response times when booking a slot. 

Customers also experience speed boosts throughout the journey. Security logins, page refreshes, and peak load processing are all faster. 

“Our teams can do amazing things now,” says Carroll. “AWS helps Waitrose to always put the customer first. Together we are continually improving the online experience, while also innovating and inspiring our customers in our digital offerings. We do incredible things that please and amaze our customers.”


About Waitrose & Partners

The John Lewis Partnership is the UK’s largest employee owned business and parent company of the two cherished retail brands—John Lewis and Waitrose, which are owned in Trust by 80,000 Partners. It has 34 John Lewis shops plus one outlet and 331 Waitrose shops across the UK, along with johnlewis.com and waitrose.com. 

Benefits of AWS

  • 20% decrease in customer checkout time
  • 66% fewer errors when requesting slot grids
  • 33% quicker response time booking a delivery slot
  • 60% fewer errors when booking a delivery slot
  • Increased from 3 to 900 updates yearly 
 
 
 
 
 
 

AWS Services Used

Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

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AWS Lambda

AWS Lambda is a serverless compute service that lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers, creating workload-aware cluster scaling logic, maintaining event integrations, or managing runtimes.

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Amazon CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and observability service built for DevOps engineers, developers, site reliability engineers (SREs), and IT managers. CloudWatch provides you with data and actionable insights to monitor your applications, respond to system-wide performance changes, optimize resource utilization, and get a unified view of operational health.

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Amazon API Gateway

Amazon API Gateway is a fully managed service that makes it easy for developers to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale. APIs act as the "front door" for applications to access data, business logic, or functionality from your backend services. Using API Gateway, you can create RESTful APIs and WebSocket APIs that enable real-time two-way communication applications.

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