John Lewis sharpens innovation focus and wants to 'humanise tech'
John Lewis is ramping up its focus on mobile payments, data, and connected homes through its fast-growing innovation hub JLab.
JLab launched last year in partnership with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks to help the retailer identify new technologies ripe for investment. Five start-up companies were selected from hundreds that applied to work with John Lewis and Marks with micro-location firm Localz finally selected for the £100,000 investment.
Last year it focused on how the Internet of Things could be realised in-stores and over the next 12 months it plans to channel its efforts around mobile and conencted devices.
Speaking to The Drum, innovation manager John Vary said the scheme helped immerse John Lewis in the start-up community and it made sense to maintain that momentum in 2015. It will revive last year's accelerator scheme in the hope of uncovering the next key innovations for retailers.
However, the main improvement to JLab is that it has physically moved from a space in Canary Warf to the John Lewis head office at London Victoria, a shift emblamatic of its growing influence within the company.
“We’re looking to create efficiency and really get it at the heart of John Lewis. Moving it to the Victoria head office will mean everyone is just a couple of floors away from taking part. That’s what we want to create. A crowdsourcing of categories to enable people to feedback on ideas.”
It has also “gone deeper” in a bid to solve more of its business challenges and senior leaders from across the organisation have created short videos, hosted on the website, explaining the problems they would like to solve.
“We’re really trying to humanise the process and bring people in, rather than just reading about it you can actually see, hear and feel that emotion attached to the category.”
The five areas of renewed focus cover 'Meshing the Digital and Physical', 'Effortless Payments', 'Smart Partners' and 'Connected Home'.
Vary added that they will also be bringing in more speaker series. Last year it had Apple, Amazon, creative agency Adam&Eve offer talks to the start-ups, and more internal departments are expected to do the same this year.
The technology that has peaked Vary's interest the most is around the Connected Home category.
“It’s something that impacts us in every way shape and form. There’s so much talk about the internet of things (IoT) and what connected home does is really break through the chaoe. IoT is a tool and the connected home brings it to life,” he said.
Adding to comments made last year by the brand’s head of online marketing, Lloyd Page, Vary said virtual reality remains a hot topic but he wants to see use cases where it actually benefits the consumers.
“I’m interested how the two worlds collide but up until now the quality hasn’t been great and there hasn’t been the why? Why are we going to use it?”
He said the main goal should be to "humanise" the technology and look at how behaviour will shape use rather than vice versa.
This led him to offer his advice to any company planning to apply this year: “focus on the customer.”
“They’ll have amazing technology which is in no doubt but it’s how they understand what the benefit is for the customer. Working backwards actually helps you to refine the tech. So for those coming to pitch it should be how they can really improve the customer experience in-store, online, and how the customer can be a part of it. Start at the end and work back. Focus on the narrative.”
The closing date for entry is 1 May 2015.