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John Lewis Partnership taps Google Cloud for AI expertise to bolster customer experience

The John Lewis Partnership is building on its earlier forays into the Google Cloud by tapping into its artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise to deliver on its omnichannel business ambitions

The John Lewis Partnership is expanding its use of Google’s public cloud technologies to break down data siloes across its organisation and to improve the shopping experience for its brands’ customers, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and data analytics tools.

The company, which oversees the operations of the Waitrose & Partners and John Lewis & Partners brands in the UK, used the first day of the Google Next UK conference in London to share details of its plans, which are geared towards capitalising on its growing digital revenue streams.

Chief among them is the creation of what the company has termed a Partnership Data Platform (PDP), which it has confirmed will form the cornerstone of its ongoing digital transformation strategy.

This work builds on an earlier technology tie-up between Google Cloud and the John Lewis Partnership, which saw the pair work together to create a centralised data platform to better support the retail firm’s omnichannel business ambitions.

The PDP will build on this by incorporating elements of AI, automation and machine learning so insights gleaned about customer preferences and specific products can be put to use in its retail environments as quickly as possible.  

At the same time, the company is also embarking on a revamp of its e-commerce platforms, following a tweak of its internal processes, so that it can respond more quickly to changing customer preferences and changes to its websites, for example, can be deployed more frequently and faster than before.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, the company started using Google’s G-Suite cloud productivity tranche of services in 2014 as means of boosting collaboration between its staff, while making it easier for employees to share information in real-time updates about the business.

Andrew MacInnes, CTO of the John Lewis Partnership, said its digital endeavours are an essential part of its ongoing quest to ensure it is well-positioned to meet the changing expectations of its retail customers.

AI and machine learning tools have an important role to play here, he said, but they had to be deployed in a way that fits with the firm’s “people-centric culture”, given that one of the most well-known things about the John Lewis brand is that it is an employee-owned business.

“We believe the benefits of AI and machine learning have the ability to transform our business,” he said.

But, at the same time, these tools are not designed to downsize the role its staff play in the customer shopping experience, but amplify it, he added.

“We describe this new approach as ‘human digital’; it’s not about replacing the personal qualities our customers like, but reinforcing them with intelligent use of data,” he said.

The development of the PDP is a sizeable undertaking and would have been “impossible” for the firm to go it alone, MacInnes said, which is why it sought out Google’s assistance in delivering it.

“Fundamentally, we’re trying to put data at the heart of everything we do, supporting our business’ ability to operate over the next decade as the retail landscape shifts,” he added.

“Having Google Cloud on this journey with us means we’re able to move quickly while taking fewer risks and staying true to our company culture.”

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