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John Lewis looks for start-ups to deliver new retail technology via new incubator

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John Lewis is looking for start-up companies developing systems that can help it improve its customers’ shopping experience to occupy its new technology incubator, JLAB.

JLAB will launch in May as part of John Lewis’ 150th anniversary celebrations, and will run until September. Through it, John Lewis aims to identify and develop retail innovations that will give it a future strategic advantage.

Applications for the five places on offer open today. According to the JLAB site, those who join will receive mentoring and support from John Lewis leaders and external mentors, Canary Wharf office space for the duration of the project, investment of £12,500 in exchange for 4% of the business, and access to John Lewis’ APIs and platforms, as they set about the rapid development of products and solutions that is both deliverable and stretches innovation to offer customer benefits online and in-store.

“Our 150-year anniversary not only gives us the chance to reflect on our history but also to look forward at how we shape the next 150 years,” said Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. “We have been ahead of the game in omnichannel retailing and through our JLAB incubator we will nurture the next generation of technology start-ups while helping ensure we remain on the cutting-edge of retail change.”

John Lewis is particularly interested in helping or inspiring customers as they shop in an omnichannel shopping environment; innovation around the internet of things or that help customers simplify their lives; or around the use of data to get to know customers. Examples of technologies might include include self-service product information or real-time in-store personalisation for customers. But other ideas that improve the shopping experience are also welcome.

One of those businesses will go on to receive investment of £50,000 from John Lewis, matched by Stuart Marks. Their solution will be trialled and if successful implemented across the John Lewis estate.

Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, said the project was a chance for it to inject start-up spirit into its business. “As this is an in-house project the companies will have regular input and help from the mentor team to ensure all ideas are aligned with our brand values, whilst fulfilling the strategic innovation brief.”

Andrew Murphy, retail director at John Lewis and executive sponsor of JLAB, said: “The innovation focus we are looking for needs to help provide our customers with the most coherent, cross-channel shopping experience possible. We know customers really value being able to shop with John Lewis by phone, in shops and online and anything which enhances or simplifies that experience is of interest for us.”

Applications for JLAB open today at and close on April 17.

Our view: This is an inititative that echoes the spirit of retailers who have previously introduced technology labs. But unlike M&S, which opened its digital lab last February, and Tesco, which opened a London innovation lab earlier this year, this is a more short-term project, but at the same time one that will see John Lewis invest in other businesses. Both Tesco and M&S see their digital labs as a long-term approach to harnessing digital innovation; as it launched its new website last month, M&S cited its year-old digital lab as one of the factors that helped it to innovate and respond quickly to emerging trends. We’ll be interested to see how much John Lewis can achieve in five months – or if indeed, it will prove a useful way to test the waters for a longer-term project.

Picture: L-R Andrew Murphy, John Lewis retail director, Paul Coby, John Lewis IT director and Stuart Marks, technology entrepreneur

Mark Robinson, director of customer delivery operations at the John Lewis Partnership is speaking in the Operations and Logistics Conference at IRX 2014. He’ll be presenting a retail case study, Ensuring your delivery strategy ensures customer satisfaction whilst still offering you ROI, at 12.30pm on Thursday March 27.

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