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During one of my visits to London a few months ago, I visited a Debenhams store and wrote about the constant in-store blaring touting their new iPhone app, which was pretty interesting.  I downloaded the app at the time, explored it a bit and was pretty impressed with the features of the initial version.  With the latest release, version 1.7, Debenhams has continued invested in creating a world-class mobile app that is one of the best retail apps available from a traditional brick-and-mortar store.

As part of a larger multi-channel strategy Debenhams began rolling out last year, the mobile app has contributed, along with the web-based Debenhams TV and self-service kiosks, to growth of over 82% in the first half of their fiscal year when compared to the same time last year.  Absolutely tremendous growth — and what makes the Debenhams multi-channel strategy successful requires a closer look.

Many vendors have rolled out vanilla mobile applications in hopes that the magic of mobile would somehow lure new customers to their door and cast spells over existing customers that would lead to increased repeat business.  Let’s get real — there’s nothing magic about mobile unless you deliver what your customer really wants in a multi-channel experience. A lot of this has to do with individual brand, of course, but one thing that stands out among the successful here is the ability to create a truly engaging and reliable experience any channel a customer chooses.  Debenhams endeavors to offer customers, “greater value, a wider choice and excellent service across every area in which we trade”, according to their web site.   That appears to be in line with the basis for their multi-channel strategy as their in-store, web and mobile experiences are all top-shelf.

In particular, the iPhone app is very impressive.  Different images on startup, a clean, fresh look and easy to navigate interface all keep the user experience fresh while offering the same reliable usability every time the app is launched.  Various views in both portrait and landscape are nice when you want a details view or a quick-browse view.  However, the most compelling thing about the app is that is truly reflects the Debenhams commitment to greater value and excellent service.   In the traditional web space, the company recently launched an online presence in Ireland and has plans to increase their international reach from 7 countries to 40 by the end of this year.  They’ve also planned native apps for Android and Nokia devices soon.

What makes Debenhams so effective, is the same thing that keeps them from the pitfalls that are the multi-channel ruin of many a retailer.   Condensed for brevity, I’d say that Debenhams is Debenhams, regardless of where you may meet them.  The stores, mobile apps, web shops and kiosks are all uniquely Debenhams.  They are treated as one entity and not as separate customer “zones”.   This is often the most challenging part of creating a true multi-channel experience and is most often related to business process issues that hinder cross-channel customer experience.  It’s important to understand and conquer these issues before deciding to simply launch a mobile app because everyone else is doing so.

In a retail environment that’s already stressed from the world’s tired economic condition, and has been further hindered by the price increase in commodities like oil and cotton, Debenhams is executing a strategy that brings them closer to their customers and gives them the engaging Debenhams experience through mobile and web channels.  This is keeping them front-and-center with their existing customer base and also brings the experience to international customers who may have never stepped foot into a Debenhams store.  Brilliant!