Omni-channel shopping and startups, the way forward says John Lewis

Image courtesy of John Lewis Media Centre

Image courtesy of John Lewis Media Centre

A streamlined shopping process, through multi-channel technology, that delivers superior customer experience is the oath taken by retailers today.

John Lewis, one of the major players within department stores, has shared its thoughts on investing in innovative technology to provide a seamless shopping experience and to keep the UK high street moving forward.

“The fundamental challenge for us is how technology can support us being an omni-channel retailer,” said Sarah Venning, head of IT relationships at John Lewis. “We want to give customers the coherent and consistent John Lewis experience across whatever channel they’re shopping on.”

Supporting Sarah’s views, John Lewis IT director, Paul Coby said: “It is about creating a new way people will shop. It’s not just about being in a building or online, but joining these things up.”

Large interactive screens with product information, augmented reality window displays, product selector terminals and radio-frequency identification (RFID) are just some of the technologies explored by the retailer that strives to utilise innovative technologies in a cost effective way.

“We use the whole array of technology opportunities to deliver a brilliant customer experience which is cost-effective and efficient,” Venning said.

Venning went on to say that John Lewis seeks out innovation through technology startup companies and suggests this is where they differ to other retailers. It does work with a number of suppliers, from large traditional firms to early-stage startup companies, but it finds its freshest ideas from the startups that are very driven to succeed and can also turn around a solution quickly. She added that even the traditional firms look to startups themselves to make sure they are fully aware of the latest technology trends.

“There’s often a real can-do attitude,” she said. “They’re prepared to tear down walls.”

Rather than waiting for innovation to land on its doorstep, last year John Lewis went in search of it by creating the Great British Innovation Event that challenged small British startups to solve several technology needs in its business.

“We had a big marketplace with well over 100 people from organisations across all sorts of different areas to really understand what these technology solutions are,” Venning said.

The event indeed led to the chance a potential solution being rolled out to the entire estate, following a trial in front of customers. The technology in question answered the test to reduce the queuing time in the children’s shoe department. Black Marble UK impressed the retailer with its idea for advanced bookings using in-store tablets that allow parents who have no time wait or the strength to deal with a restless child perhaps, to book a time slot to return to the department later.

“If successful, we will roll it out to the whole estate. If not, we will learn from the experience and move swiftly on. You never know whether innovation is going to be a success; you do it and do lots of innovation to find the one gem. It’s not about every idea being the Holy Grail, there are new ideas all the time – thinking, thinking, thinking,” said Venning.

The event was so successful that John Lewis plans to repeat it again with further challenges to be met.

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