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Review Debenhams

Internet Retailing asked 4 retail experts to take a look at Debenhams and give readers insight into the retail strategy, site performance, usability and customer experience.


Emma Robertson, Director, Transform

It has been an award winning year for Debenhams, receiving both industry and commercial recognition of their multichannel strategy. As of June, Debenhams reported ecommerce sales were up 40% year to date, and they have grown to become the 11th largest online retailer in the UK.

The extension of the proposition over the last 18 months has been industry leading in many respects, including the launch of Debenhams TV, roll out of in-store kiosks and development of enhanced mobile capability – all supported by an extended logistics operation and the “endless aisle” initiative.

The customer experience elements of the proposition have transitioned from being a set of disparate technological developments into a more integrated cross-channel experience. The recent launch of WiFi in-store has provided a critical link between channels, enabling customers to access the full online range and check for stock through the Debenhams app whilst in-store, replicating the information and capability available on the in-store kiosks and online.

The logistics and stock management operation to support the proposition is key to its current success whilst providing a platform for ongoing growth. In 2011 Debenhams extended their existing partnership with DHL, who already provided warehousing and distribution services across the UK, to include a scalable pick, pack & despatch operation capable of scaling to 4m parcels a year by 2014.

The endless aisle initiative has been a key innovation in supporting the ecommerce ambition, both from a customer experience point of view, and commercially to protect against lost sales. The initiative combines both store and warehouse stock holdings, treating the larger stores as secondary warehouses for online customers – enabling Debenhams online to show more stock as available and despatch from store if the product is out of stock in the warehouse.

Through innovations such as the endless aisle and the in-store WiFi /mobile capability, Debenhams are creating the environment to support a truly channel agnostic experience, where the business mobilises around the customers’ channel of choice, rather than fighting for their custom. Possibly the holy grail of multichannel retailing!


Shane Walsh, User Experience Consultant, User Vision

Similar to many in this sector, the use of mega drop down menus on the Debenhams site allows easy access to all categories from any page. This dropdown is clearly laid out with items listed vertically under headings, allowing visitors to quickly scan the content and find the link relevant to them.

Another positive navigation feature of the Debenhams’ site is the predictive search function. This search function is forgiving, meaning that it assists users in finding content that’s contained on the site even if they misspell their query.

On the product information page, users must ensure to select the size of their product before proceeding, failure to do so will present users with an error message at the top of the page. A visual barrier between the error source and the error message may cause it to be missed. This error message could be presented in red, next to the source of the error making it easier for the user to identify and rectify the problem.

Selecting international delivery, users are presented with a link to “view details” of international delivery. It is assumed that this link would contain information about the cost of delivery to various countries, however it opens as a popup that contains a URL address that will provide them with this information. Presenting users with an external URL in order to get information introduces the risk of users leaving the transaction process and not returning. The popup should contain all information about international delivery and costs, preventing users from leaving the transaction process in order to find out more.

Debenhams have made the checkout process as painless as possible allowing visitors to enter their billing information before proceeding to registration, this gets buy in from users in the transaction process.

The site supports the user well in finding and purchasing their items.


Guy Redwood, Managing Director, SimpleUsability

Users were asked to shop for an outfit for a wedding they would be attending soon.

From the homepage, users started through the ‘Women’, ‘Men’ or ‘Weddings’ tabs within the main navigation, using the mega-drop down to specify the category they wished to view. Some users struggled to locate categories from the mega-drop down, commenting that there was too much small text, making the content difficult to scan. Users were drawn to the under-navigation bars that displayed details of delivery options and promotions, but few users clicked through to content from these. In general, all users were able to easily navigate, browse and add items to their bags.

Users’ gaze was drawn to the range of product images on the product pages; users were keen to view a zoomed in version but struggled with the existing controls, often clicking a number of times before being able to view the product in the desired detail. Some users missed the size selection drop down, clicking ‘Add to bag’ multiple times before noticing the error message. A number of users did not feel it was clear that the product page they were on was just for a suit jacket rather than the whole suit causing them to miss the trousers and waistcoat available to add further down the page.

When adding items, users were surprised that they were taken straight through to the bag, instead expecting a pop-up confirmation that the item was added. We observed users looking around the basket in order to return to the product listings; users retrospectively commented that they expected a ‘Continue shopping’ button and were unsure where the ‘Back’ button would take them.

Overall, users could complete the task without difficulty, commenting that they would happily use the site again.


David Flower, VP EMEA, Compuware APM

Compuware Gomez analysed web performance between 13 July and 14 August for Internet Retailing. Unfortunately, while Debenhams works hard at rolling out its multichannel strategy, and despite launching its German website during July, its UK web performance has been poor recently. Standard tests we conducted evaluated Debenhams’ availability on the last mile, response time on the last mile, consistency, competitiveness and browser support.

From the internet backbone – browser agents that sit at nodes on BT, Global Crossing, Cable & Wireless, Telstra and Verizon’s networks – Debenhams’ landing page took 1.9 seconds to load, placing its speed 24th in Gomez’s UK Retail Benchmark. The fastest was Tesco (0.74 seconds). Asda and New Look were slow performers, with each respectively taking 4 seconds and 3.35 seconds to load. Interestingly Debenhams’ site experienced noticeably slow performance from 23 – 25 July.

On the last mile – end users’ devices – Debenhams sat 14th in the Gomez benchmark, taking a slower 5.89 seconds to load. The fastest two sites were Tesco (1.59 seconds) and Shopzilla (2 seconds). What is interesting is that Debenhams’ performance was unpredictable: for example, on ‘low broadband’ connections the speed varied from 4 – 14 seconds. These factors would have most likely contributed towards end users experiencing frustration with the site.

Debenhams performed well across all major web browsers including IE, Firefox Safari, Chrome and those found as standard on BlackBerry and iPhones. The only problem with the site was that it had issues rendering headlines in Firefox and Safari browsers.


Availability from Last Mile peers: 10 out of 25
Response time from Last Mile peers: 9 out of 25
Consistency: 11 out of 15
Competitiveness: 8 out of 15
Browser Support: 16 out of 20
Total 54 out of 100

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