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Lead interview: Debenhams: the functional and emotional engagement journey

Brand engagement is key to Debenhams’  mission of expanding ecommerce to 30% of all sales, from 14% in 2015. Some 40% of those internet sales were via mobile, with conversion through these devices up by 10% in 2015. The emphasis is on attracting shoppers across channels – and that starts with defining its key customers, and building a strategic plan to target and engage with them in the future.

“As a brand, we need to inspire both loyal and lapsed customers to consider the brand and product offer whether they choose to shop on or offline,” says Debenhams online trading director Fiona Lay. “Engaging customers online is both a functional and an emotional journey. Firstly, the browse and shop of the site needs to be smooth and intuitive – it is much easier to abandon a basket online than in a till queue.

“Secondly, the journey has got to play to the emotions of shopping, which for many is a pleasurable experience. Inspiring photography, informative blog content, attractive product, and customer reviews and recognisable brand ambassadors are all ways that we engage [with] the customer.”

“The customer journey has got to play to the emotions of shopping”

Fiona Lay, Debenhams

InternetRetailing analysis shows that Debenhams performs strongly in search, the first contact of the customer relationship. Findings from InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner OneHydra show that in searches for keywords related to Debenhams, the department store has a 50% likelihood of being seen in the results. In natural search, Debenhams is taking a tactical approach to system improvements and long-tail keywords. “We want to rank better for ‘black lace dress’ rather than ‘dresses’ as these customers are more likely to convert,” says Lay.

Debenhams this year brought paid search in-house, enabling it to change advertising copy quickly to reflect current promotions. “Brands that promote a discount on Google get the highest clicks,” says Lay. “Online customers are much more educated in how they search and know how to navigate through the choice.”

The retailer is working to add in real-time information, such as store opening hours, items stocked and local content, to boost its Google rankings. In addition, it is retargeting people who abandon baskets via Google retargeting lists for search ads (RSLA), investing in mobile product listing ads, and spending more on mobile search at peak trading periods.

Just as it is easy for customers to find Debenhams in the first place, so it is also easier for them to stay in touch. InternetRetailing analysis found customers could engage with Debenhams through eight channels – above the Top500 average of six channels. Those channels are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, phone and email. On social media, Debenhams has active Facebook engagement, with 3% more posts than the average for Top500 retailers.

This is an area, says Lay, where Debenhams has invested significantly less than competitors. Rather than joining the race for followers, it has focused on growing its channels organically. Through Debenhams Official and Debenhams Beauty interfaces, it serves customers with both general and specialist content. “Both,” says Lay, “aim to prompt conversations and engagement whilst delivering inspiration around our product offer in a Debenhams tone of voice.” The results are striking. At Christmas 2015, for example, a #foundit selfie competition delivered 130.7m impressions, 296% up on the same time last year, with 1,200 selfies submitted. A #DebsFirstPhoto competition, using user-generated content, delivered 549 entries in five days with no investment. Over the autumn and Christmas

periods, average engagement rates on Facebook rose as high as 17%, from a normal 2%. Higher engagement still comes through Instagram, with an average rate of 34%, while on Twitter it’s 7%.

Analysis from InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Return Path showed that Debenhams’ emails are read by more than a third (35%) of recipients – for context, the top retailer in this area was Waitrose with 38.8% of emails read. Content for emails is personalised using the single customer view – and its Christmas 2015 email campaign drove a 25% increase in visits, compared to the previous year.

Debenhams aims to produce more email newsletters in the future. “This improves mobile traffic in the morning when travelling to work,” says Lay. “We understand that the mobile journey needs to be functional and less content-driven as customers have a shorter span of attention.”

In the future, the department store will start to focus on customers with mobile phones when they are near, or in, the store. Mobile push notifications, for example, to customers when they are near store are designed to grow footfall and the use of apps. Location extensions on Google will tell customers how far they are from a store when they search for Debenhams from a smartphone. Eventually in-store wi-fi will enable the retailer to track customers as they move from floor to floor. This will mesh with a coherent single view of the customer journey that is set to improve understanding of shopping habits and of attribution modelling, while also driving shoppers towards available stock. All this will be key too in international sales. Debenhams currently sells in 60 markets and aspires to make a third of its turnover from international sales.

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