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From Amazon to John Lewis: approaches to innovation in a disruptive market

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It’s been just another week in Amazon’s strategy to be the world’s most customer-centric retailer. It announced exclusive lounges and seating areas for members of its Prime subscription scheme who buy tickets from Amazon Tickets, and it is also reported to be experimenting with augmented reality-powered furniture stores. This is the ultimate disruptive retailer.

But more traditional retailers are also finding opportunities in the industry’s disruption. This week John Lewis’ annual start up accelerator announced its own expansion, with sister supermarket Waitrose joins the programme. Organisers of the scheme, run in partnership with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks, say that this will make JLAB the UK’s largest retail tech accelerator, giving the start-ups that take part access to more opportunities for growth. Technologies to emerge from the scheme in recent years include Digital Bridge’s use of machine-learning technology to enable shoppers to see what home furnishings might look like in their home, crosschannel wedding service Wedding Planner, and Link Big, whose technology turns Instagram into a social checkout.

This year, between five and 10 retail tech companies will be chosen to take part in the 12-week programme, which runs from July. They’ll have free workspace, access to IRUK Top500 Elite retailer John Lewis and Leading retailer Waitrose to test their ideas, mentoring and the opportunity to apply for funding of up to £100,000 in exchange for a share in their businesses.

Paul Coby, chief information officer at the John Lewis Partnership, says the scheme will enable it to innovate in a disruptive technology environment. “Industries are being disrupted almost overnight and retail technology in particular is evolving at a rapid pace,” he said. “JLAB enables us to augment our understanding of innovation and partner with these disruptors to offer the next generation of customer experiences. Waitrose involvement in JLAB means we can now provide start-ups with unprecedented access to two of the UK’s leading retailers and ensure we add value to these fledgling companies, in the same spirit of cooperation the John Lewis Partnership was founded on.”

Stuart Marks, chairman of L Marks, said: “At a time when most large companies are seeing disruption all around them, the John Lewis Partnership has willingly opened up its entire business up to assist and develop startups. We are excited to have Waitrose join the programme and bringing with it their unique grocery-related categories. We expect this to be our best JLAB yet.”

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