Tech startup Localz win John Lewis JLAB incubator award

John Lewis today announced Localz, a startup business specialising in micro-location technology, as the winner of JLAB, the retailer’s first ever technology business incubator. After 12 weeks of shaping and honing its solution within JLAB, Localz impressed the judging panel and takes home £100,000 in investment as well as the chance to trial its solution with John Lewis.

Innovation is at the heart of John Lewis and JLAB, our first tech incubator, has given us a new way to explore the technologies that will change how we all shop in the future. It’s been a hugely rewarding and educational experience, drawing on a diverse group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and we have a very worthy winner who we’re looking forward to working with in the months ahead. I do very much believe that this is what our Founder Spedan Lewis would be doing if he was around today.

The initial entry period for JLAB saw hundreds of startups apply to take part, pitching their ideas for innovations that could shape the future of the retail experience. In May, Localz was picked as a finalist alongside four other impressive startup businesses: Musaic, SpaceDesigned, Tap2Connect and Viewsy. Over a 12-week period, the five finalists developed their ideas with the assistance of mentors from John Lewis as well as high-profile entrepreneurial figures including Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners, Sara Murray OBE, founder of and Buddi, and Bindi Karia, Vice President Entrepreneur banking at Silicon Valley Bank. The final pitch day on 23rd September 2014 saw Localz emerge as the overall winner.

Localz’s technology gives customers the opportunity to take advantage of some enhanced services using their smartphone based on their precise location. It’s all about choice, designed to make shopping easier for those who wish to use it.

For example, it could automatically offer to trigger a customer’s Click & Collect order to be picked as they enter the shop to speed up the collection or help customers to navigate their way around one of our shops based on their online wish list.

Stuart Marks, partner in JLAB, said: “The quality of entries was exceptionally high and picking a winner proved to be a very difficult process. I am sure all the companies will go on to become very successful but there has to be a winner and in this case we felt that Localz has the potential to become a long term partner to John Lewis and to provide continuous innovation for their customers. We were fortunate to have an exceptional mentoring team who allowed all the companies to achieve their true potential during the time they were at JLAB.”

Tim Andrew, Commercial Director and Co-Founder of Localz, said: “JLAB has been an amazing experience for Localz from start to finish. The fact that my father was a Partner with John Lewis for over 30 years gave me a very personal reason to want to be a part of it, in order to try and help the company that supported me and my family when I was growing up.  The support and guidance that John Lewis provided throughout the incubation period helped us refine our offering for the European market. They also gave us access to successful entrepreneurs and mentors from diverse backgrounds and industries which allowed us to accelerate our development.”

Localz’s plans for the £100k investment focus on its new UK operations. The company will be further developing its technology in conjunction with John Lewis to support the new generation of mobile and micro-location experiences, and preparing to launch live trials in store. To support these goals, Localz is also looking to hire new talent to work in its London-based team.

JLAB was part of John Lewis’s 150 year celebrations. For more information, visit


The full list of external JLAB mentors is as follows:

  • Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners
  • Sara Murray OBE, founder of
  • Graham Clempson, European Managing Partner at MidOcean Partners
  • Stephanie Hussels, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Full-Time MBA Director Designate at Cranfield University
  • George Berkowski, Chairman of MIT Enterprise Forum UK
  • Bindi Karia, Vice President, Origination and Entrepreneur Commercial Banking at Silicon Valley Bank

Latest News on JLAB


As you can see, I was recently privileged to meet Mr and Mrs John Spedan Lewis at the Party on the new Roof Garden at our Oxford Street emporium, to mark the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis drapers.

Yesterday we were delighted to announce out of the hundreds of entries, the 30 successful JLAB applicants that will be joining us in Canary Wharf to Pitch their ideas.

Each applicant is going to have 5 minutes to impress the panel followed by a Q&A session in the afternoon.

The 30 applicants range from Fashion ideas dreamt up at home to ibeacon enabled storefronts and IoT enabled projection mapping, and much else besides.  We are very pleased with the range of ideas and development of the pitching companies.

The Pitch Day 1 is the 20th May.  This will be a face to face session with some of our most important and inspiring mentors.  It will immerse the applicants in to the JLAB environment for the first time.

The next time we see an applicant after this day will be on the 9th June, which is the start of the 15 week accelerator phase.

Last Friday was the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis in Oxford Street.

About 100 years ago John Spedan Lewis had the first ideas about industrial democracy that he evolved into the unique John Lewis Partnership

50 years ago (or 51 to be exact) John Lewis purchased its first IBM computer.  This was a very bold and expensive step for a retailer in the early 60s!

Here we are in 2014, looking at our first Technology Incubator.  I feel very confident that this is exactly the sort of initiative that Spedan Lewis would approve of.  One that will hopefully help turn 5 start ups into viable and commercial companies; one that will transform the winning company; and last but certainly no means least, one that will improve service to our customers and grow revenues and profit for the John Lewis Partnership.

I should have asked him what he thought when I had the chance…

John Lewis is 150 Years Old!

The John Lewis company is 150 years old this year.

Born in 1836, John Lewis grew up in Shepton Mallet and was apprenticed to a linen draper in Wells at the age of 14. He came to London and became a salesman for Peter Robinson, a well-known Oxford Street draper.

In 1864 John Lewis turned down the offer of becoming a partner in Robinsons and instead opened his own new shop at 132 Oxford Street, selling silk, wool and haberdashery.  On the first day he took 16s 4d!

By all accounts, he was an austere Victorian business who expected a lot from himself and his employees. But while most drapers of the time worked to a 33% profit on sale price, Lewis chose to make a profit of just 25% on his selling prices and insisted that his customers benefit from the good purchase price negotiated by his buyers.


Lewis’s son, John Spedan Lewis, was born in 1885 and joined the family firm on his 21st birthday in 1906.  He received from his father a quarter of the John Lewis business, valued at £50,000 – a tidy sum in the Edwardian era.   Spedan Lewis became a director of Peter Jones Limited which had been acquired.  Along with his father and brother, Spedan enjoyed an income of £26,000 a year – again, a huge amount in those days.  He became increasingly uncomfortable that this income was considerably more than the entire wage bill for the company’s workforce of over 300 people, which was only £16,000.

After a riding accident in 1909, Spedan had to convalesce for two years and during that time thought deeply about business and society.  In January 1914 John Lewis senior handed over managerial control of Peter Jones to Spedan, who shortened the working day by an hour and started to pool commission for staff.  He also introduced frank two-way communication with his workforce, with staff committees with elected representatives.

Over the next four decades he developed his unique form of industrial democracy that was and is the John Lewis Partnership – the largest example of employee-owned business in the UK. The Partnership now has a turnover of £10bn and some 91,000 Partners across John Lewis (with 41 shops, since York opened last week) and Waitrose (with 300 branches).

Spedan summed up his philosophy as:

“The Partnership’s supreme purpose is to secure the fairest possible sharing by all its members of the advantages of ownership – gain, knowledge and power; that is to say their happiness in the broadest sense of that word, so far as happiness depends upon gainful occupation.”

I always say that if you want a stretching business goal, that is one – and one we strive to live up to in the Partnership, with our democratic Partner Voice and our restless innovation like JLAB.

“What would Spedan do?” is a good challenge about any initiative.

I think Spedan’s values are as valid and challenging today as they were in 1914 or 1954.  What we are constantly working to do is to make them relevant to a modern world being revolutionised by technology.  The way we all shop has changed dramatically in the last decade and will, I believe, change even more dramatically in the next.

But the values of the Partnership endure and are what customers value in the Partnership. They are as relevant in 2014 as they were when Spedan formulated them after his accident, which is why I love this ad from 2012:

What’s Important Doesn’t Change

Never Knowingly Undersold since 1925

In Store | Online | Mobile


JLAB’s First Week

Since we launched our retail tech innovation incubator – JLAB less than a week ago, its been a sensational week.  We have had a staggering 78 full submitted applications so far!  The closing date is 17th April so there is still plenty of time.

The media interest was more than we had expected – here’s one example

and there were a host of other stories in the nationals and  in the specialist online and retail media.

I am sure the visibility of John Lewis in the media with our results and the 15% bonus for all 91,000 Partners in John Lewis and Waitrose has helped JLAB get off the ground.  It was the week that John Lewis overtook Marks and Spencers, the Guardian reported:

A decade ago, sales at John Lewis Partnership were just £5bn, while M&S was in a different league with around £8bn. Those lines have now crossed. The most recent figures available show M&S’s UK business turning over £8.9bn last year, compared to the £9bn John Lewis and Waitrose achieved this year. M&S is not expected to eclipse John Lewis when it publishes more up-to-date figures in May.

I was wondering what our founder John Spedan Lewis would have thought of all of this.  In relation to last year’s results, I am sure he would have counselled caution modesty and concentration on what our customers want.

Spedan was himself a radical innovator in business, social, retail and zoological matters.  His greatest innovation is of course the John Lewis Partnership owned by all of us who work here.  But perhaps less well known are his restless desire to try the new – buying carpets direct in India, starting a university for Partners after the War, setting up a chocolate factory, sponsoring the British Chess Federation when it needed a home in Oxford Street, setting up maternity leave, worrying about affordable accommodation for Partners and cheering up gibbons from London Zoo on his estate on the River Test.

I also hope he would have liked JLAB, it feels like the sort of thing he would have liked.  Something that builds business, helps people develop their skills and capabilities and with a bit of luck and hard work, makes money.

John Lewis Launches ‘JLAB’

Screenshot 2014-03-02 09.43.09

As part of our 150 year celebrations, John Lewis has launched its first ever technology incubator ‘JLAB’, in a partnership with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks.

The purpose of JLAB is to identify and develop technology innovations that will provide John Lewis with future strategic advantage with customers’ needs at the core of each idea.

The incubation period runs from June to September – JL and Stuart will work together to select five start-up companies who will be based within JLAB during that time.  When they are at JLAB, businesses will rapidly develop their products and solutions, supported by a team of John Lewis leaders and external mentors.

Three main areas will form the framework for innovation:

  • Helping customers shop: in-store innovation, customer experience across all channels (e.g. self service product info and prices) and technology-driven customer inspiration
  • Simplifying customers’ lives: innovation around the “Internet of Things” (how all devices will communicate together, enabling a more connected home)
  • Knowing each other: using data to drive real-time, in-store personalisation for customers, provided they want it.

The John Lewis Partnership’s founder, John Spedan Lewis, was a radical entrepreneur and so adopting a novel approach to business and retail innovation is not new to JL.  It’s a fundamental part of the Partnership’s DNA.

If anyone wants to be part of JLAB, you can apply on  The closing date for submitting ideas is 17th April 2014.

Spedan Lewis c1904 300dpiJohn Spedan Lewis c1904

NRF from a Distance

The NRF is a big show in New York; well it’s the biggest of its kind in fact which is why so many retail technology folk go there.  

I couldn’t be there – but I contributed this piece to Retail Week.

At an event designed to grab headlines with the latest developments, it’s important to try to pick out the trends that consumers will actually want to use – rather than those that simply look good – and which will therefore provide a genuine return.

It is doubly difficult if you couldn’t make the event so have to do this remotely as I have had to do this year. However, that’s the position for most retailers on this side of the Atlantic – so here goes.

We live in the most exciting time for retail technology, and one of the best elements of my job is looking at these emerging technologies and picking the ones that will genuinely resonate with customers. The key here is to focus on the customer. There was a lot of talk about how retailers should cherry pick the best of suppliers’ technology for their own use. You can probably get a long way with this approach, but the way John Lewis likes to work with suppliers is to integrate them into our vision for our proposition and customer experience.

At present we are testing transactional tablets in our shops, and while seeing mobile devices in shops is far from being new, we believe the technology we’re using to integrate our electronic point of sale, stock and personnel systems, is the first of its kind at scale on the high street. It’s a beta technology that we developed on our supplier’s platform, so we have developed it to our spec, and we are now fine-tuning how it will work with our partners and our customers in our shops.

Foot Locker boss Ken Hicks’ views have been distilled down into the idea of using shops as warehouses, but you’ll never see John Lewis taking this approach. Our beautiful shops are at the centre of our omnichannel strategy. We want our customers to love shopping with us, we have passionate and informed partners who can help and advise customers. So absolutely our stores and more than 250 Waitrose supermarkets are vital as click-and-collect points, but we want people to stay and have a wonderful in-store experience when they collect an online order.

We have beauty spas and great places to eat in our shops and we are constantly looking for ways to use technology to enhance the shopping experience. We know that about two-thirds of our customers shop across our stores, call centres, web and mobile sites, and our Christmas sales figures show omnichannel works – in the five weeks to the December 28 we saw online sales grow 22.6% and store sales grow by 1.2%.

People obsess about whether the sale was made in the shop or online, but that’s just where the payment was made. The shopping experience was most likely across channels.

Whatever tech we use to achieve it, the basics remain the same. Spedan Lewis, the founder of John Lewis, talked about VAST – value, assortment, service and trust. Your values, and how you deliver them to customers, are what matters.

Omni Channel Retail – Right Here Right Now this Christmas

IBM posted five predictions for the next five years, which is a great New Year’s game – and all credit to them for sticking their necks out.  Everyone should play this game.

Bernie Meyerson, vice president of innovation at IBM, came up with their “5 in 5″.  Apparently, this is the eighth year in a row that IBM has made predictions about future technology.

“We try to get a sense of where the world is going because that focuses where we put our efforts” Meyerson said.  He continued “The harder part is nailing down what you want to focus on. Unless you stick your neck out and say this is where the world is going, it’s hard for you to turn around and say you will get there first. These are seminal shifts. We want to be there, enabling them”.

These are Meyerson’s “5 in 5”:

▪                The classroom will learn you (sic)

▪                Buying local will beat online

▪                Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well

▪                A digital guardian will protect you online

▪                The city will help you live in it.

I’m not sure what this means for grammar in the future, but Meyerson says some very interesting things, and I would judge predictions 1, 3, 4 and 5 to be pretty much on the money.

However, I do have experience in online selling and retail, and so I would take issue with his second proposition:

“In five years, buying local will beat online as you get online data at your fingertips in the store.”

Meyerson argues that “retailers will use the immediacy of the store and proximity to customers to create experiences that online-only retail can’t replicate”.

I would agree with that – but this is not, in my view, something for five years in the future.  Meyerson says that “the Web can make sales associates smarter, and augmented reality can deliver more information to the store shelves”.  He suggests “the store will ask if you would like to see a certain camera and have a salesperson meet you in a certain aisle where it is located”.

This is not, in my view, a future issue but is in many respects with us here and now.  What many – perhaps most – shoppers in the UK wanted to do over Christmas was to shop “omni-channel”.  Many of us when buying gifts or things for the house, or indeed clothes, want to research in-store – to bounce on a mattress, say, or look at a high definition television.  We want to see and test some products and get expert advice. After that, we may decide to buy there and then from the store.  Or we may prefer to go back home and buy online.  Or sometimes it’s the other way round: we want to do our research online first, and to check prices, and then go out and buy the product in our hands in the store.  Increasingly many of us like to order online then “click and collect” to pick up in store, where we may well buy other products too.

So this is not a future thing, but once which is happening here and now; and competition between shops and online – between “bricks and clicks” – is just not the way forward.

At John Lewis we estimate that at least 2/3rds of our customers are already “omni” – that is, they shop in some way (e.g. research) across online, in stores, on the phone and on mobile devices.  This development has helped drive our sales on and in our stores: our like-for-like sales were up 6.9% over the 5 weeks of the  with online up 22.6% and stores also up 1.2%.   The “click and collect” sales jumped 60% compared with 2012.

There have been 3 weeks around Christmas and the New Year when our online sales jumped to c36% of the total we had passed £1billion online sales for the financial year (from 1st Feb) before we got to Christmas.  We know, however, that this is absolutely not  about online shopping – it’s about the ability to shop across all our John Lewis channels.

Human beings sometimes want to get information and advice from other human beings, sometimes they want to pick up the phone, and other times they just want to shop online with simple clicks.  And sometimes they prefer to shop now and then pick up at a time next day that suits them, rather than wait in for a van to deliver.  It’s about us all being different and having different needs when we shop.

“It has been physical against online” Meyerson says, “but in this case, it is combining them.”  So he’s right – not about 5 years in the future, but about the here and now.

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