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JLab: meet retail's future tech stars

Through its JLab programme, John Lewis discovers the retail tech innovations of the future – and brings them in house

John Lewis John Lewis is on a mission. The retailer is looking for the next big tech disruptors through its JLab programme, which grants talented start-up teams access to the high street giant’s mighty resources.

Now in its fourth year, JLab included both John Lewis and Waitrose for the first time in 2017. After the 30 April deadline, 300 entries were whittled down to five finalists: three with general retail applications and two focused on grocery. They will develop their ideas with the benefit of access to mentors and resources from John Lewis and Waitrose and, in September, will pitch for up to £100,000 of funding in exchange for equity. Drapers meets the three retail finalists (below), while John Lewis innovation manager John Vary explains how JLab works.



Founder Luke Peake, who has previously worked at tech giant Sony, has dedicated the past six months to solving the perennial challenge of linking online and in-store shopping. Journifi uses smart data to identify customers who are browsing online but are unlikely to make a purchase. It then personalises their online experience by offering tempting in-store experiences.

“Imagine a fashion shopper browsing online – we can recognise if they are just window shopping and say: ‘Why don’t we give you a treat, like a taxi to the store or a glass of champagne on arrival?’” Peake tells Drapers.



Intelligent addressing system Exaactly was born out of founder Bea Warner’s personal frustration. Her parents’ rural address made it difficult for carriers to deliver online orders, resulting in missed deliveries and poor customer service. She started work on Exaactly in October 2016, aiming to solve problems that often crop up in the last 150 metres of a delivery. The start-up allows customers to personalise their online address book with detailed information, photos, and audio notes about their address to help drivers get it right, and also allows them to use GPS to mark any spot for a delivery. The system is designed to be “retailer and carrier agnostic.”



“BB1 aims to give bricks-and-mortar retail an edge over online – it’s almost like Google Analytics for retailers,” says founder Justin Staines. The data analytics solution uses customer behaviour to help optimise how physical retailers work, whether that is how many staff are needed in store at a particular time or how much stock is required. BB1 uses anonymous data from mobile phones to help retailers track what customers are doing, such as how many people are walking past the store, how many are stopping to look in the window and how many are then choosing to come into the store.


Inside JLab with John Vary, innovation manager at the John Lewis Partnership

Why was JLab started and what does it hope to achieve?

Although we do have an in-house innovation team, John Lewis doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas. JLab was set up in 2014 with the ambition of supporting the start-up community and giving us access – to ideas, to talent and to insight. We want to support and give feedback to start-ups, but we also want to continue to revolutionise how we engage with customers. Innovation is a fundamental part of that and, by working with new tech start-ups, we can start to map what the future of retail might look like.

The accelerator is now in its fourth year – how has it changed?

In the first year we based JLab in Canary Wharf, but the start-ups are now based at the John Lewis and Waitrose head offices. That gets our partners closer to the programme and gives the start-ups access to all the different parts of the business. Anyone from John Lewis can pop in and show an interest in what the start-ups are doing and in turn they have access to mentors throughout the business – it’s a really organic way of working.

What stood out for you among this year’s entries?

It really struck me that as much as these are digital propositions, they are always driven by the human experience and the human value. Retail is all about the customer. If you look at Journifi, that’s about bringing the online and offline journey together through tailoring experiences, Exaactly is about avoiding missed deliveries – these are logical problems retailers and customers face.

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