While M&S and John Lewis went for mobile websites, Debenhams released a mobile commerce app for iPhone last week, thanks to the volume of visits to the main site from iPhone users.
The app also features a barcode scanner, the first used by a high street retailer, which should make the app useful for researching products and prices offline.
The homepage of the app contains links to the various sections of the app, from the shopping options to the barcode scanner and store finder tools.
Once you have selected a shopping option, you can select from the various sub-categories:
There are enough categories and sub-categories to enable customers to browse the app down to a more manageable number of products, at which point customers can then narrow their selection by brand, price, size and colour:
There is also the option of viewing in landscape mode, and browsing through images of products:
One thing that this does well in comparison to other mobile commerce sites and apps does well is product images. For most products on the app a choice of three or four images is provided, all of which can be enlarged.
So, in the image below, customers can see what the lining of the suit looks like:
There are obvious limitations with product images on mobile sites and apps, but by providing multiple photos, Debenhams allows customers to get a far better idea of how the clothes will look.
The product pages provide further details and reviews via links on the page, though one major omission is delivery charges / timescales and the returns policy. This information can be key to purchase decisions, and so should be available on or via the product page.
There is a small link to returns policies, delivery charges and other information on the homepage on the app, but this isn't so easy to spot. A more prominent link available on each page of the app would be a better idea.
The checkout process has been designed specifically for mobile, though making new customers register before entering the process is a mistake:
Registration can be a barrier to purchase on standard e-commerce sites, but on a mobile where data entry can be fiddly, it really should be avoided to reduce abandonment.
Once you have registered, and head for the checkout, you get this page for shoppers to enter a voucher code:
I'm not sure that giving such prominence to discount codes within a mobile app is wise, since many customers will not have a code and may feel they are missing out on a bargain, or may even be prompted to leave the checkout to look for codes.
On a desktop site, at least users can do this in a new tab and remain within the checkout, but on an app, they will have to leave the process altogether. A less prominent position for the code entry box may be a better idea.
These issues aside, the mobile checkout on the app has been very well designed. The amount on data entry required and the number of steps has been kept to a minimum, while there are some nice touches, such as this payment screen:
By showing the image of a credit card, the app neatly deals with any questions about the information required, and flips over to the back to prompt customers to enter the three digit CVV code.
The app has a prominent and very usable store finder, which detect your location and serves up the four nearest stores. Details of opening hours, store facilities, and directions are all available, as well as a link to call the store.
Debenhams has also added a barcode reader to the app, making it a very useful tool for offline shopping. The scanner can be used to compare prices of products in the Debenhams range, and the retailer also plans to add QR codes to its advertising and Debenhams’ store windows which will allow users of the app to access exclusive offers.
One thing the app doesn't have (so far at least) is check and reserve, which would have given users another option for purchasing products.
A few tweaks here and there would improve the app, such as providing more prominent delivery information and finding an alternative to registration to reduce the potential for checkout abandonment.
This is a well designed and generally usable app. While some retailers have opted for the mobile web over apps, Debenhams does at least justify the app by adding features such as wishlists and barcode scanners.