Our story

Where it all started

What if we could revolutionise the way people shop forever, by giving them a uniquely innovative and greener alternative to traditional grocery shopping?

At the beginning of the year 2000, that 'What if?' became 'Let's do', when Tim Steiner, Jason Gissing and Jonathan Faiman founded Ocado. It's a huge understatement to say that a lot's happened since then. We've grown from three people in a single-roomed office in London, into a business with roughly 8,500 employees serving hundreds of thousands of customers around the UK. Today, we're the world's largest online-only grocery retailer, reaching over 70% of British households, shipping over 200,000 orders per week, and growing fast! And the really clever bit? We deliver in one hour time slots, give our customers exactly what they ordered and many other benefits that flow from our unique business model and our disruptive use of technology.

Making do was never an option

We didn't set out to make supermarket shopping a little bit better. We wanted to start from scratch and build a unique online shopping and fulfilment solution that would revolutionise the way people buy their groceries. That was never going to be easy. But then, what's interesting about easy?

Nobody had done this successfully before anywhere in the world, there was no blueprint to follow and off the shelf solution we could buy. We had to build it ourselves and that's why almost all of the software that powers Ocado is developed in-house by Ocado Technology, including a lot of highly specialised systems that you wouldn't expect us to be using, let alone building. From the optimisation algorithms that fine tune our daily delivery routes in the 500 milliseconds of a mouse click, to the machine learning techniques that drive our consumer demand forecasting, to the real time control systems that operate our vast Customer Fulfilment Centres, there's nothing run-of-the-mill or business-as-usual here.

"The focus is on trying to find the fastest way to develop high quality code to solve the problems at hand."

Paul Sweetman, Head of Webshop and Mobile

A technology company that also does retail?

To our customers we look like an online retail business, albeit one that offers a level of choice, quality and service that nobody can match. Indeed that perception is how it should be since our business is all about providing a customer experience that's irresistible in terms of its convenience and simplicity, but that simplicity does not come easily. It involves a huge level of complexity under the surface.

That's why look under the bonnet and you will discover a business with the look, feel and culture of a technology start-up. We're the only retail company in the world to have built an end to end solution with our scale of automation and we've built that from the ground up in-house.

Indeed 'in-house' is one of our secrets of success. More than half of the Ocado head office staff work in Ocado Technology – that's over 400 software engineers and other technical specialists in our UK office alone. Together, we architect and build the technology solutions that power Ocado. But what we've created isn't limited to our award-winning websites and mobile apps. We have solutions for delivery route optimisation, vehicle tracking, industrial automation, robotics and many more. And we make extensive use of numerous computer science disciplines, including artificial intelligence, 3D vision, gaming technology and real time control. Not what you'd expect? That happens a lot here.

Technology at work

Our customers place their orders online using our award-winning webshop or mobile app. (Speaking of which, we were the first retailer worldwide to offer a fully transactional native mobile shopping app with anything like our scale of catalogue – now over 43,000 items.) We then pick and pack orders in our highly automated Customer Fulfilment Centres, the largest of their kind in the world, and deliver them to our customers' kitchens in one hour time slots.

Hitting these delivery slots means that our entire logistics operation is clocked to this one hour metronomic rhythm. So when a customer places an order online, our routing system juggles numerous constraints to work out what delivery slots we can offer them across the chosen delivery day. It returns the answer within a fraction of a second – that's one hundred times faster than the best commercially available solution.

That's just one example of how we use smart thinking and cutting-edge technology. One example of where we've developed and delivered our own in-house solution. We've hundreds of others.

Our film

Want to see more about Ocado Technology? Grab a cup of tea or coffee, take a seat and watch our six minute film all about Ocado, our service and the people and technology that make it happen.

The brightest technological minds we can find

We can put our success down to the passion, commitment and brilliance of our people. People with a powerful combination of technical skills and creativity. People who'll look at a complex problem and immediately want to solve it. People with the courage to challenge the conventional and do what's never been done before. And that's really important to us. You simply can't move and innovate as fast as we do without taking risks.

But we don't want – or expect – you do it all on your own. Yes, you'll have plenty of room to show us what you can do, but it's through collaboration that amazing things happen. By working together, by sharing insight and experience, we'll continue to push the boundaries of technology, making us better as a company and better as individuals.

Moon shots

We're fiercely proud of the fact that Ocado is the world's largest online-only grocery retailer. But that doesn't mean our work is done. Now that we've built this amazing solution (for which we own all of the intellectual property), we're looking for new opportunities to exploit it. In 2013, we opened a brand new Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC) in Dordon, as well as a new non-food warehouse in Welwyn. Then we signed a strategic deal with Morrisons to get them online using our end-to-end solution. Looking ahead, there will be more deals like that one, as we make the technology we have built available to other companies.

Our moon shot projects ensure that we're actively working on the next big technological leap. We also collaborate with some fantastic technology partners, such as Google, Apple, IBM, Oracle and Facebook to name but a few. We are busy moving our production systems and applications to the cloud to support seasonal flexing, disaster recovery and international expansion. Exciting times, we think you'll agree.

"We are working on a robotics vision system, and we are getting to the stage when we can build real applications."

Paul Clarke, Director of Technology