John Lewis is to set up a "technology incubator" in an attempt to spice up its high-tech credentials, as competition for innovation in the retail space hots up.
The John Lewis Partnership, which also includes Waitrose and Ocado, will launch its "JLAB" initiative in June as part of the company's 150th anniversary celebrations, and will see five entrepreneurs competing for a prize that includes £50,000 of investment. The winning business will also get a trial run for use in the John Lewis business.
The five companies will be based within JLAB and will also receive mentorship from John Lewis employees and entrepreneur Stuart Marks.
John Lewis says it is looking for technologies that make a difference on the shop floor, as well as Internet of Things and real-time analytics technology, which "personalises" the in-store experience for customers.
John Lewis' IT director Paul Coby said it was important for large businesses to have an element of the nimble startup spirit in order to try out new ideas. "As a big business we have a certain way of doing things and this is a chance to inject some of the spirit of a startup," he said.
"As this is an in-house project the companies will have regular input and help from the mentor team to ensure all ideas are aligned with our brand values, whilst fulfilling the strategic innovation brief."
Entries for the competition can be made from today until 17 April on the JLAB website.
The move comes as many of the UK's biggest brands look to fledgling tech firms in order to stay ahead of their competitors. Last year, Dell launched its own £10m startup scheme while banks including Barclays and HSBC gave their backing to a financial technology startup initiative.
Retail has been an area of significant innovation in recent years, with consumer tech firms and retailers beginning to see value in personalising the shopping experience through technology such as big data analytics and 3D printing. Last week, Tesco announced it was trialling IBM's augmented reality software to help with shelf stacking.
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