Store review

Debenhams Watford

By Karl McKeever | 28.09.18

Debenhams is attempting to ‘bring joy back’ to the High Street. Yesterday (Thursday 27 September) saw the opening of its new-look Watford store – part of its strategy to make shopping easy, sociable and fun.

My first thoughts? I have to say that I’m impressed. The store is the realisation of the Debenhams Redesigned strategy. It is cohesive, considered and clearly well planned and thought through.

Beauty is one of the hero departments in the new store, featuring many examples of innovative thinking: new brands, new spaces and new experiences to drive shopper engagement. The beauty hall features flexible zoned areas such as the Hair Lab, Mini Bar and Beauty Club House, and is an interactive space where customers can browse, discover and experiment with products from new and established beauty houses.

The new home department focuses on trend-led coordinate collections and a ‘Designers At Debenhams’ edit. The star of the show though is the lingerie department. Glamorous, indulgent and sensual, it has been deliberately designed to put shoppers in the ‘mood’ to buy. For me, it’s the best area of clothing offer instore. Its retail execution is expertly delivered and so strong that it should make many competitors nervous – Marks & Spencer take note.

In March, Debenhams CEO Sergio Bucher stated that “We’re not trying to be more premium, but to have a more premium presentation”. The new Watford store certainly delivers in terms of VM. Debenhams has made it clear that visual merchandising has a key role to play in delivering the experience instore. “Better VM raises the perception of Choice”. There is undoubted recognition within Debenhams that expert delivery to this level will be key to success.

Its not just shoppers that Debenhams has focused on. Internal communication has been considered too – a strong colleague engagement message carrying through the spirit and sentiment of the new Debenhams brand identity on the team entrance/exit wall.

To be clear, there is a massive amount of creativity here, underpinned by a distinct application of retail best practices. But as good as this store is (and it is good), the next big challenge for Bucher and his team will be doing this companywide, without the pulling power of new store design.


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