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John Lewis is a company with innovation at its core. Founded in 1864 upon a revolutionary Partnership model, the high-quality retailer has continued to spearhead innovation in its sector, including leading the drive towards omni-channel shopping in the UK. However, as a legacy organisation with more than 88,000 permanent staff, 46 stores and the trust of millions of customers, there are elements of the business that are conservative by nature.
In 2014, John Lewis set L Marks a challenge for its 150th birthday year – to find a way for the retailer to collaborate with disruptive young companies. Together L Marks and John Lewis created JLAB, the UK’s first retail innovation lab.
JLAB was created in response to a call from senior leadership for a way to monitor trends in retail and gain exposure to transformative products and services. They were especially interested in finding technologies that would simplify and personalise the customer experience and they wanted to bring together experts from across the organisation. Customers’ expectations of their shopping experience is increasingly being raised by improvements in technology, product offering and service design. To continue to deliver the high-quality service expected by John Lewis’s customers, the senior leadership determined the need for a process that would allow it to closely monitor new trends in retail – and get early access to the best new products and services.
“I have been delighted with the mix of ideas, innovators and indeed technologies in this year’s JLAB. I feel the Partnership gets not just access to new technologies and new solutions from the JLAB teams working with and beside us. I have been very impressed with the way the teams have focused on putting Partners and our customer first and how technology enabled this – rather than the other way round.”
Paul Coby, Chief Information Officer, John Lewis Partnership
Over 4 years, JLAB generated valuable outcomes for both John Lewis and the cohorts of startups. By the third year, John Lewis Partnership’s food division, Waitrose, joined the programme to access innovations for the chain of upscale British supermarkets. By increasing the interactions with Partners, including live trials in stores, this has led to a stronger awareness of the startup’s customer-focused “fail-fast” mentality and encouraged internal partners to themselves behave in a more agile way.
After launching and operating JLAB for 4 years, JLAB trained the partners at John Lewis Partnership before their takeover of the operations of the programme.
Qudini is a customer experience management platform that helps brands to improve their customer experience to retain and drive footfall through queue management, pre-booked appointments and customer communication opportunities. Qudini joined JLAB through the “Smart Partners” category with a queue-beating app that helps retailers manage customers’ physical journeys through the store. The app provides customers with accurate information and personalized updates via text, paper ticketing and digital display interfaces.
The Qudini team trialed their queue management system with the John Lewis store in Kingston, London during the programme, while also becoming the preferred supplier for queue management for Telefonica Global.
Following JLAB, John Lewis took a strategic investment into Qudini at the same time as developing their commercial relationship. The company has since developed new solutions including an app for restaurants. Clients include Natwest, Orange and Honest Burgers as well as John Lewis.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, John Lewis and Waitrose stores began to leverage Qudini’s Virtual Queuing System to offer a safe and engaging shopping experience by eliminating physical queues and managing the flow of customers around their large department stores and supermarkets.
WeFiFo is a social eating hub connecting home cooks, Supper Club hosts and professional chefs with paying guests. Aiming to be ‘Airbnb’ for the kitchen table their mission is to start a social eating revolution. In addition to the commercial opportunity that WeFiFo offers by encouraging people to cook food for a paying audience, WeFiFo also sets out to solve a wide range of social problems.
During the programme, WeFiFo ran trials in branch supper clubs and worked with Waitrose on a targeted email campaign. WeFiFo also worked on blueprints for several other partnership opportunities.
As a brand partner, WeFiFo enabled Waitrose to access a direct route to their consumers after they leave the store, allowing the conversation to continue as they return home, prepare their food and share it with their friends, family, neighbors and strangers. Following JLAB, WeFiFo and Waitrose went into partnership. John Lewis Partnership invested in WeFiFo and they now host pop-up events in hundreds of Waitrose and John Lewis stores across the UK.