Debenhams is changing the way it interacts with its customers as it rethinks the role of the department store for the 21st century. Its aim is to create what it described in its latest full-year results as a “sociable, easy and fun shopping experience for our customers.”
Over time, the company expects to reduce its store numbers by as many as 50 branches from a current total of 165 – a reduction of almost a third. In its full-year results, it wrote down the value of its stores by millions of pounds. At the same time, it plans to boost online to 30% of its total sales.
Currently, it makes about 20% of its sales online – with mobile accounting for about 60% of digital demand. Mobile – initially smartphone and subsequently tablet – has been a focus of platform improvements over the last year, with the retailer seeing a 17% improvement in smartphone conversion as a result.
All the same, stores remain firmly at the centre of Debenhams’ vision for the future. It recently opened its first ‘store of the future’ in Watford, incorporating relaxed dining options alongside a new format, digitally integrated ‘Beauty Hall of the Future’.
When it opened, Debenhams chief executive, Sergio Bucher said, “With our Beauty Hall of the Future, we are responding to the way that customers say they want to shop, as well as offering a compelling food offer and choice of beauty treatments in order to offer a destination where shopping can be enjoyed with friends and family.”
The in-store customer experience has also been reworked through a ‘service redesigned’ concept that is seeing the retailer launch new staff training as well as recruiting from the hospitality industry.
But the retailer is also talking to its customers across channels, with the launch of an online – and mobile – Beauty Club.
This, it says, is the UK’s first social forum built around beauty, where users can discuss beauty trends and advice, and build rewards and recognition for their contribution to the forum. The club is promoted in store as well as online and, by the time of its full-year results, already had 1.3m members and 0.5m followers on Instagram and Facebook.
The community, said Debenhams in its full-year statement, “will transform our relationship with customers and demonstrate digital leadership in the category.”
As well as talking, Debenhams is listening to its customers. It’s using online analytics to understand what brands and produces customers are searching for on its website, and then using those results to make decisions about what items it stocks. Once in stock, it will use local mobile search to raise awareness that these products are available from its local stores.