John Lewis JLAB issues call for shopping experience startups

JLAB, the startup innovation programme from the John Lewis Partnership, has set its sights on new retail experiences with its latest round.

The programme is in its fifth year and has so far worked with startups in nutrition, delivery, social eating and meal planning.

Just last month JLAB announced that it had selected four startups from over 100 addressing plastic waste. The winning ideas include reusable packaging and biopolymers, and will be trialled in John Lewis and Waitrose branches. Both John Lewis and Waitrose have pledged to make all own-brand packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

The third round of 2018 is taking applications until November 25 and seeks new experiences for in-store shoppers. Successful startups will bring “inspirational and immersive” ideas to the table as online shopping continues to climb.

Wanted are experiences that bring customers out to bricks-and-mortar stores and foster an emotional connection with the brand. They are not looking for self-service points or appointment booking systems.

The selected projects will be tested across the country, and entrepreneurs will be offered mentorship, office space at John Lewis headquarters, investment and access to the group’s data, depending on their needs.

With rivals Debenhams and Marks & Spencer closing stores, it’s not surprising that John Lewis is looking to shake things up. Digital newcomers have upped the ante by replacing the hard sell with experiences; Birchbox offers an affordable beauty pick-and-mix, while Eve’s showroom invites visitors to nap on their mattresses.

Even IKEA is moving in on millennials with new city centre shops that offer decor advice, brand pop-ups and Instagrammable surroundings.

“It’s never been more important to nurture innovation both inside and outside our business,” says futurologist John Vary. “We want to build entrepreneurs of the future.”