John Lewis to extend JLabs start-up incubator scheme to 2015

John Lewis will extend its JLabs start-up incubator scheme to 2015, having begun working on a new click & collect service with this year’s winner – proximity-based firm Localz.

Image by Bronac McNeill Photography and Film

Speaking at The Drum’s Disruption Day event in London today, John Lewis innovation manager John Vary confirmed the programme will be repeated next year, and said he hopes to see more start-ups pitch internet of things (IoT) propositions.

However, he added that there remain challenges around working them IoT-based services into an in-store environment in a way which "makes sense to consumers".

He referred to the JLabs incubator scheme process, which saw 100 start-ups pitch their services, later whittled down to 30 and then a final five, as “tough” given the volume of compelling propositions being put forward.

However, proximity-based firm Localz won the £100,000 investment, and it is now working with the retailer to trial a service which triggers click-and collect notifications once a customer that has already made an online purchase walks into a store.

“A person will get a notification asking if they want to collect their product then and there. But we are even looking at a no-notification variant too – anything that improves the customer experience,” said Vary.

The retailer initially unveiled its plans to ‘invest in the future’ with its JLabs scheme by partnering with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks this March. It shortlisted 12 companies from the 30 that pitched to its judging panel on 20 May.

He also referenced the retailer's 'Innovation Kitchen' and 'Room Y' as critical parts of how it is preparing itself for the future of retail and fast-changing consumer trends.

Innovation Kitchen is the name for its internal brainstorming sessions, which it conducts in the evenings on a monthly basis.

"The whole point of these sessions is there is no management or hierarchy, we just get a load of pizzas and post-it notes and get ideas going. The main idea behind it is to try and teach people to think fearlessly," he added.

Meanwhile he stressed the importance of design and art in the ideas process, and finding ways to "humanise the technology".

"Room Y is all about rapid prototyping we have everything from 3D printers to laser cutters. We have artists, engineers, designers. It's really important that at this stage there is no business involvement."

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