Debenhams on creating customer service driven click & collect

Debenhams was one of the first retailers to see the value in offering customers click & collect back way back in 2003. As a high street stalwart, it was well placed to encourage eCommerce shoppers back into stores to pick up their online orders. But the experience wasn’t great for customers, who had to walk through the store, often up several escalators to the top floor to finally be greeted by a click & collect desk tucked away in a corner, often by the Sports Direct concession.

“When click & collect first evolved and entered into our stores, we needed to find a location and we thought if we take the customers as far into the store as possible, they will walk past lots of lovely things in Debenhams and hopefully buy,” explains Jay Brown, who heads up multichannel services at Debenhams.

“But shopping habits have changed,” he admits. “And the convenience factor is now more important.”

Brown describes how Debenhams is now actively converting its click & collect customers on service, rather than dragging them to the back of the store in hope they might buy something.

As part of the retailer’s store modernisation programme, newer Debenhams stores will feature click & collect areas in high-footfall locations – not on the top floor of the building – with a different look and feel encouraged by the introduction of sofas and dedicated click & collect changing rooms.

“I feel that the desk is a bit of barrier, and it was introduced to reflect the look of a till point, but it’s the social shopping element we want to introduce.”

Brown says Debenhams is creating a stronger connection between click & collect and the personal shopping team. “There’s a link there, if you are buying a bridesmaid’s dress online, you buy in multiple sizes.” Customers can then speak to colleagues about the fit of their dress and potentially be upsold shoes and accessories at the same time.

“We want to create a customer service driven click & collect, rather than a desk in a shop. We want it to be an extension of clicks, whereas before it was an extension of bricks.”

One big piece of the puzzle in creating this customer service click & collect offering has been to partner with Doddle. This partnerships allows Debenhams shoppers to collect and return parcels from over 50 Doddle retail partners at Debenhams stores. Currently available in 50 stores, the service will be rolled out to 100 by Christmas, with the majority of Debenhams’ 165-strong store estate able to process these third-party parcels by spring 2019.

Changing shopping habits

But when Doddle’s retail partners include the likes of Asos, Missguided and Amazon, does Brown worry this might cannabalise the department store’s own offer?

“There’s always the cannibalisation element – as the internet and mobile grows, the big stores on the high street are essentially show rooms, and customers are really savvy about the way they shop.”

But Brown believes Debenhams has a place in the market and a point of difference with its exclusive designers. “We have our corner – some customers will look and shop elsewhere, but with the customers coming into our store there is opportunity to upsell.”

The Debenhams estate now sees 5,000 extra customers walking through its doors every week who are picking up parcels from Doddle retailers, with this figure surely to only increase once more stores offer the service. And while Debenhams can’t access data to know what is inside those third-party parcels, customers are welcome to try on a dress they may have bought from Missguided in its click & collect fitting rooms, and this presents the store colleague with an opportunity to talk to the customer – Does it fit? Do they like it? Do they need a pair of shoes to match that they can try on right now with the dress?

“And with all the challenges on the high street, anything that brings in an additional 5,000 customers through the door is not something to be sniffed at.”Jay Brown, Debenhams

Brown admits some retailers both on and offline may not like this approach, because introducing more retailers into the mix could lead to customers spending their hard-earned cash elsewhere. But he says retailers need to understand that customer shopping habits have changed and they must change too.

“Customers will buy the right product, at the right price, in the most convenient way. And any [retailer] that fights against it will damage their brand because the customer will do what is right for them.”

He says Debenhams knows customers are using their smartphones to compare prices online while stood in its electricals or home department. “And they may buy it from Amazon or see that Currys has an offer – but we wouldn’t say no one can look at their phone in store.”

Tailored marketing

During the trial period with Doddle, customers coming in to pick up third-party parcels were given a voucher to spend in Debenhams – 40% of those customers went on to make a purchase, and 30% of those were new customers to Debenhams.

“The Asos and Missguided customer is a different demographic to where Debenhams is currently and it gives us an opportunity to tailor marketing to those customers to influence them to shop in Debenhams.”

Brown describes how the department store’s concession food partners, which include Nandos and Crussh, are also keen to reward the Doddle customer, with offers like a £1 smoothie voucher. “This cross-selling with those sorts of new food offers are more targeted at that demographic who like the social shopping element. They don’t just go into a department store to shop, but have a coffee and do a little bit of everything – Debenhams is that one store on the high street which has that little bit of everything because we’re adapting to those customer needs,” he says.

“And with all the challenges on the high street, anything that brings in an additional 5,000 customers through the door is not something to be sniffed at.”