"Who knows what it is, but we want to deploy it," John Lewis IT chief Paul Coby on JLab startup scheme

By Danny Palmer
06 Mar 2014 View Comments
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Retailer John Lewis is celebrating its 150th year, but just because it was founded in 1864 doesn't mean the department store chain isn't on the cutting edge of technology.

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The firm has recently announced JLab, an initiative designed to give five startups the "chance to shape the retail experience of the future". The winners of the contest will receive up to £100,000 in investment from John Lewis and the chance to supply their solution to its stores.

"Retail has been revolutionised by technology and so we're launching our first ever technology incubator," Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, told Computing.

"The idea is to find some startups who've got great ideas on how to use technology in the retail space, really work with them, grow them and develop them so we can get some fantastic ideas, develop them as companies and get some great things we can deploy in our stores for our customers."

Coby explained how the scheme, which is open to applications from any tech startup, is based around the key concepts of innovation, the internet of things and personalisation.

"We've come up with three areas we want them to look at. The first is how we all shop, thinking about innovation in stores, how you inspire customers with information about products, how you make it interactive," he said.

"The second thing is about the internet of things. Everything is getting connected these days and a lot of manufacturers are putting intelligence in goods. We think it's a really exciting area to look at and we're looking for ideas there," Coby continued, adding that "personalising offers for customers and inspiring them with things they want" was also a consideration.

The scheme has already received a number of applications from "people who've got great ideas" who are "really going to push the boundaries using technology". The chosen startups will then work with experts both inside and outside of John Lewis in order to help develop their ideas.

"What we can do is take ideas and really help the companies develop them and form them into things that customers will really want," said Coby.

"Essentially, what we're looking for isn't pure technology, but really some inspiration as to how you apply that to inspire customers to solve new problems to produce new products and new experiences in stores that people haven't had before."

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