Mar 11, 2014
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John Lewis creates its own technology incubator

Mar 11, 2014

Cross-channel, omnichannel — many a concept defines the need for retailers to link their merchandise and bricks-and-mortar systems with e-commerce. Each company is carefully watching any experimentation and developments in this field, the economic stakes being very high.

The JLAB incubator is tasked to find new solutions for the retail group's cross-channel business. Image, John Lewis.

Now comes the announcement of a pro-active initiative by John Lewis Partnership, owner of the Waitrose chain (300 stores) and John Lewis (40 stores). The British group, whose sales in its last fiscal year were at 10.92 billion euros (9.03 billion pounds), has created its own incubator for technology companies.

The company has joined forces with new technologies investor Stuart Marks to found JLAB. The group's statement says JLAB aims "to identify and develop technology innovations that will provide the retailer with future strategic advantage with customers' needs at the core of each idea."

The project will start up in May during which five companies will be able to use the resources of the incubation period that runs from June to September. "We have been ahead of the game in omnichannel retailing," said Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. "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."

The start-ups will be monitored by some of the retail group's own technology gurus as a means of distilling any take-aways in the process.

"The innovation focus we are looking for needs to help provide our customers with the most coherent, cross-channel shopping experience possible," said Andrew Murphy, the brand's retail director. “We know customers 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 to us."

JLAB will select a winner from the five contestants at the end of the incubator term. That company will receive 60,500 euro investments from John Lewis and matched by Stuart Marks, and the incubator technology will be tested and possibly rolled out on the retail group's network.

Although the big players in fashion and retail usually prefer to outsource research and development, a new trend has emerged the last few months, such as Nike investing in the start-up Dutch DyeCoo Textile Systems for its waterless dye technology.

An even more prominent example is that of Renzo Rosso's 20% share in H-Farm via Red Circle Investments, an investment company the Rosso family created in 2011. H-Farm is an incubator firm that finances start-ups in and around web technologies.

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