Future of Retail: Eric van der Kleij of Level39 on piloting retail tech at Canary Wharf


Insider Trends brought 250 people together for its ‘Trendsetters: Future of Retail’ event at the British Library in London on Monday 18th March. 4 trendsetters presented their most exciting projects and predictions.

Eric van der Kleij was one of the four. He heads up Level39, the Technology Accelerator that occupies the 39th floor of the main Canary Wharf tower.

One of Level39’s areas of focus is retail tech. As you’d expect, the incubator will help retail tech startups gain access to expertise and finance. However, it will also give them access to a new experimental shopping mall in the Canary Wharf development, known as LivingLabs, to run pilots and gain crucial insights.

You can watch the whole presentation using the video above or use the edited transcript below to skip to the insights that you need.

If you have any questions or thoughts, do share them with us in the comments.


Eric’s transcript:

I want to discuss Level39’s retail shopping malls, but I’ll briefly mention that Level39 is set to become Europe’s largest accelerator space. We have been open for a week. It occupies the entire 39th floor of the Canary Wharf tower. It’s designed to focus on three areas of technology. One is fintech: financial technology. The second is to focus on retail tech. This is because we have three very successful retail shopping malls within Canary Wharf. These are some of the highest-yielding shopping malls per visitor in the country. That’s pretty powerful as a laboratory and a platform. Plus we’re building this fantastic Crossrail Station which will have four floors of retail in it. The trains are going to come in 2018, but we’re opening the retail in 2015. That’s typical Canary Wharf – a few years ahead of schedule.

We’re transforming Canary Wharf’s shopping malls into a living laboratory so the next generation of retail technologies can use our space for their first pilot. It’s a testing ground in a live environment.

We are a startup within the great Canary Wharf. We haven’t got our ideas fully baked. We want to share our ideas and ask you for feedback on what startups in retail tech want from a space like that. What do they want to do? Please share your ideas with us.

The third type of technology we focus on is tech for future cities, or the internet of everything, as some people call it. This is because Canary Wharf is the original smart city. We never have to dig up the roads – you can walk under the roads in a very large conduit. You can pipe in more connectivity whenever you want it. It’s very well organised.

As Canary Wharf grows into Wood Wharf, which is the 20 acres to the east, we’re going to use our expertise and procurement ability to help bring along and trial and test the next generation of future cities technologies, which will also include a great deal of retail technologies.

Eric van der Kleij, head of Level39, at Canary Wharf


Businesses can apply for the Level39 accelerator programmes, or they can ask us to run accelerator programmes for them. The first accelerator programme we had was the Mayor- and Accenture-backed FinTech Innovation Lab. This was a competition that had 60 applicants that could realise the next generation of financial services technology. There were seven finalists. They’ve just finished a 12-week intense period where they’ve been working on their product and go-to-market strategy. They’ve been meeting potential customers, and most have pilots as a result. Even though the programme is over, more than half of these companies want to stay in Level39, which is a fantastic win for us.

So what can we offer in terms of retail technology? There are two or three types of retail technology that we think would be interesting. We’re keen to learn about is the kind that improves the relationship between a shopper when they’re in the store and when they’re at home; stuff that can help create that connection and yield better transactions as a result.

In order to persuade the Canary Wharf Group to do this, I ran a competition with startups to showcase their projects to the Head of Retail for Canary Wharf’s malls. One of them was Viewsy: a small ten-person business that uses very simple technology. They glue small sensors to ceilings to monitor people’s mobile phones. It anonymises people’s data. They stick these in different places and monitor how people walk into shopping malls and whether they’ve been there before.

So I asked Canary Wharf’s Head of Retail what they currently use. They have systems which count people in and out, so they know how many people come into our shopping malls. However, they don’t know whether they’ve been there before, or how many new customers they have, or how long they stay, or which shops they go into. All this extra data is something that they currently have to ask the stores for. The exit surveys they do aren’t even that accurate.

So we invited Viewsy to get their first pilot in a mall with us. We actually put it into Level39 first. By installing it and becoming users ourselves, we can help lots of new technologies come to the fore. Viewsy shows dwell time. It can produce heat maps. It can show a mall which stores are the most valuable, which ones have the most footfall, which top three brands people look at before going to eat something. We didn’t have a lot of insight into traffic flows and footfall before. Viewsy is one example of the type of business we’re keen to help.

We help companies become successful by focussing on traction. We have entrepreneurs-in-residence based in Level39 that have been through the experience of doing startups, getting their first customers, selling to large corporations or being successful themselves as businesses. We have a group of mentors that Level39’s startups can access on a monthly basis. To help us attract investors, we’ve built a club lounge that we charge for. We’ll cut investors’ membership fee in half if they agree to mentor our startups four times a year. As part of this, they’ll give feedback about their businesses, and share the technologies and the things that are relevant to them so the startups learn what they need to focus on in order to build their success.

Level39 retail tech accelerator at Canary Wharf

Systems like our connections with investors are all designed to help young technology companies get traction. It helps to have a referenceable pilot and to say it was first trialled in Canary Wharf’s malls. They can show the data.

Finally, we are engaging with store managers. In some stores, managers have free rein to try stuff. So we’re finding out who these people are and putting them into an advisory group to help give feedback to young technology companies. We are also running showcase events and accelerator programmes at Level39. We have just finished the first accelerator programme for FinTech startups. We’re planning our first retail accelerator programme. We are keen to hear from any startup company who is interested.

So these three sectors that we focus on – fintech, retail tech and tech for smart cities – play to our strengths at Canary Wharf. Our goal is to enhance the shopping experience, to enhance the value of the stores and therefore the real estate, and shine a light on some exciting new ideas and technologies. Instead of just giving advice, we give them practical experience of trying their technologies within a living environment.

Canary Wharf, site for Level39, retail tech incubator in London