John Lewis

The company has not explicitly said how the intelligence software will be deployed but suggested it would initially be used primarily by John Lewis

The John Lewis Partnership has signed a new strategic partnership with Google Cloud, part of which will see the expansion of AI and machine learning.

The deal, which is worth £100m over the next five years, forms the latest stage of the partnership’s efforts to overhaul its ailing technology infrastructure across both its John Lewis and Waitrose businesses.

Under the new agreement, JLP will transfer more of its technology services to Google Cloud, expanding an existing relationship between the two that began in 2012. However, the retailer will now also gain access to Google’s advanced AI and machine learning technology, which it suggested would be used to help it improve customer service levels in store.

The enhanced tools would enable partners to be “more efficient” and spend more time focusing on customers, JLP said. It would also enable the partnership to better use data insights, which would support the launch of a partnership-wide loyalty scheme set to go live in 2024, under new loyalty head Emily Wells.

The company has not explicitly said how the intelligence software will be deployed but suggested it would initially be used primarily by John Lewis, for example to help customers digitally ’furnish’ rooms before buying products. This is potentially similar to an app-based ‘try-on’ service John Lewis launched with tech firm Zyler in July.

The tech, which is used in John Lewis’s clothes rental service, lets customers see the length and fit of garments before they decide to rent them.

“At the John Lewis Partnership we’ve always been focused at finding better ways to do business,” said JLP chief transformation and technology officer Zak Mian.

“Today’s announcement marks a significant step in transforming our technology and ensures that our partners have the best tools to provide our customers with even more personalised experiences, across all our channels.

“Imagine a world where a customer can use an image scanning feature in their John Lewis app to show our home design stylists a room they’re looking to furnish, which tells us all we need to know about the intricacies of the space, layout and measurements.

“Not only does it save customers a lot of time and hassle, but even before the appointment we can take inspiration from their unique preferences and give tailored recommendations that can even complement products they already have. We’re looking forward to an era of fresh innovation.”

Mian dismissed the suggestion the AI could be used to introduce a ‘walk-in walk-out’ service in Waitrose stores, telling The Times today the “jury’s out” on whether Waitrose customers wanted a fully automated grocery service.

“A lot of our customers like our service of the fish, meat and cheese counter at the back of the shop – that makes a difference,” he said.

JLP has suffered IT woes of late

Partnership chairman Sharon White has made no secret of the need for the retailer to improve its technology and IT infrastructure, which has been seen as one of the reasons behind its recent struggles.

Those problems again came to a head in May when Waitrose suffered notable shortages in some stores following a glitch during an update to its delivery systems. It was the second time in the space of seven months an IT glitch had caused availability problems, after a similar problem in November.

“Investing in cutting-edge technology is not just a choice, it’s a necessity for a modern retailer like us,” said JLP CEO Nish Kankiwala.

“Core to our strategy is building our technology infrastructure for the long term, drawing on latest innovations to benefit our customers.”