John Lewis’s head of IT architecture Julian Burnett has highlighted the need for startups to research a retailer before approaching them to ensure their solution resonates with a topic or challenge the retailer is currently facing.
Speaking at today’s Retail Week Live conference in London, Burnett said: “My inbox is awash with irrelevant emails. For a startup to be noticed it has to fit with our business and technology architecture and know the issues we are trying to crack.”
“It’s as hard being a retailer looking for a startup as it is a startup looking for a retailer.”
Madeleine Melson, head of online engagement at House of Fraser, agreed, saying: “It’s about finding that diamond in the rough, but when you do you can both learn a lot from each other.”
However, she also warned about using the word ‘startup’ when trying to gain investment from the business for a new idea. She said “It can be associated with risk so we are careful how we use it – I see them as companies, just younger in their life cycle.”
John Lewis, which currently invests £120m a year in technology, set up JLabs as a formalised way of sourcing new technology as the business recognised it would be significant in reaching its goals.
Burnett also described other initiatives to encourage innovation, including running a monthly ‘innovation kitchen’ and creating a space called Room Y, where John Lewis employees can discover and test new technologies, as well as suggest ideas.
The business also ran a competition called ‘Pitch’ whereby employees could put forward new ideas and be judged by a panel. The winner’s idea came from an employee of the Cambridge store.
In House of Fraser, ideas from employees are encouraged and a virtual pin-board is available for employees to pitch ideas. As Melson said of her own position: “It’s the innovative part of my role that keeps me in the business I’m in.”