John Lewis today announced it is continuing its hunt for the 10 best retail tech startups in the UK and Europe with the launch of JLAB 2015.

JLAB, the 12-week accelerator programme run by John Lewis, is designed to bring innovators together with a large retailer so that products and services can be developed that will shape the retail experience of the future.

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The programme provides startups with the opportunity to get office space and mentoring over the summer, while the winner will also be awarded £100,000 and a possible contract with John Lewis.

“We can help people with brilliant technology ideas think how they can serve customers,” John Lewis IT director Paul Coby told Techworld today. 

JLAB partner Stuart Marks, an entrepreneur and investor who is also involved in other corporate accelerators, including parcel delivery firm DPD, added: "There’s absolutely massive value to young companies in being able to get access to leadership at John Lewis and see how a potential end customer like John Lewis thinks and goes about its processes.

"One of the best bits of feedback we had from all the companies [last year] is it really opened their eyes to how they transact with larger businesses and some of the hurdles they have to cross. What might look very obvious to you might look like Swiss cheese to somebody else who is actually going to be your buyer. What we try and do over the period is smooth all those things out and get people thinking about the business in a slightly different way. That’s invaluable."

This year the JLAB competition is looking for startups that fall under particular categories. 

"We wanted to focus on four areas that are genuine open questions around where retail is going," said Coby. The categories include: 

Meshing the Digital and Physical: new technology that enables John Lewis to aggregate data and gain new insights to help provide an improved customer journey in store, online and on mobile

Effortless Payments: technology to enable seamless omnichannel payment journeys in store, switching between customer or Partner [John Lewis staff are called partners] mobile devices and fixed point EPOS

Smart Partners: ideas on enabling a smart workforce to deliver even better customer service in store while reducing low value activities

Connected Home: technology that can help John Lewis develop a differentiated, unique, connected home experience for its customers

Surprise Us: innovations that are so out of this world they are hard to classify

Last year’s winner, micro-location technology firm Localz, took home £100,000 in investment and is now trialling its platform with John Lewis. 

Localz’s technology, which has been trialled over two weeks at John Lewis' Peter Jones store in London's Sloane Square, is able to tell retailers when a particular customer walks into its stores based on a mobile phone signal. 

It can be used, for example, to alert click and collect staff at John Lewis to get a particular order ready because the customer picking up the goods has just walked into the store.  

Coby said this is useful as an increasing number of John Lewis shoppers are turning to the click and collect service. 

"On Black Friday we were selling one iPad every second and doing 16,000 orders per hour at the peak," he said. "Fifty-five percent of those online orders went to click and collect, so clearly something that enables that is great."

In the next two to three months, Coby said John Lewis will carry out slightly longer Localz trials at two other John Lewis stores. 

Tim Andrew, cofounder and commercial director of Localz, said: "Since winning JLAB, Localz has enjoyed amazing growth in our clients, and a large part of this is due to the on-going support of John Lewis which has worked closely with us to maintain their edge as a leading omnichannel retailer. We’re excited to see what the future holds and will continue to work with John Lewis on our Click and Collect solution.”

The other four finalists from last year's competition can be seen here

Startups and entrepreneurs can apply for JLAB via the website: www.jlab.co.uk. Applications close on 1 May 2015.

Once applications are in, both John Lewis and Stuart Marks will work together to select up to 10 startup companies to take part in the 12-week accelerator. The overall winner will be decided at a final pitch day in September.

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