Debenhams recently launched a mobile commerce app for iPhone users, which forms one part of an increased focus on multichannel from the retailer. 

I interviewed Debenhams strategy and online marketing controller Harriet Williams about the new app, plans for using QR codes, and Debenhams future mobile releases..

With other retailers (M&S and John Lewis) opting for a mobile website, why did you decide to launch an app? Will a site follow?

This was thanks to customer feedback. During development of the app,  we spoke to our customers and they were more interested in the additional features like barcode scanner, wish list and GPS store locater that we could only provide effectively through an app.

Yes, we plan to launch a mobile site later in 2011. We think it is important to have both in order to reach a broader group of customers and phones.

How do you see mobile commerce developing over the next 12 months?

There will be an increase in the number of people shopping using their mobile, stats predict that mobile internet usage will overtake PC usage by 2013.

We expect more competition, as many of our competitors will be entering the mobile space in the next year. Also, new technologies will continue to enter the market (e.g. NFC) which can provide more options for retailers and customers, while the use of mobile sites and apps means we can use highly targeted location based marketing campaigns. 

Have we reached (or are we close to) a tipping point for mobile commerce?

Definitely not! Mobile usage and certainly smartphone usage in particular is going to increase and we have to ensure we continue to engage customers with our mobile offering by providing an effective service so that time poor customers can shop on the go.

How has the app done so far?

We are very happy with the performance of the app so far, both in terms of downloads and sales. We received over 75,000 downloads in our first weekIn the free app store we ranked number seven overall and number one in Lifestyle in our first week so we are happy to have received a positive response from our customers.

How have you approached the problem of making the app usable?

As our customers were instrumental in the design process and specified functionality they wanted to see in the app, we believe we have provided them with a channel to shop our products that is both user friendly and innovative. In addition, we will continue to listen to our customers as we update the app following their feedback and requests.

I mentioned the ‘barrier’ of registration in the app – is this something you have done for a reason?

Customers can proceed through checkout using their existing login without re-registering.  We were keen to keep the checkout process as quick and easy as possible but our primary concern is that it is safe and secure at all times.  

Any plans for a ‘check and reserve’ service via the app?

We offer a collect from store service through the app, as we do on However we have no plans to offer ‘check and reserve’.

How do you think customers will use the barcode scanner? As an offline comparison tool?

We are hoping customers will interact with the barcode scanner in store to check prices, to order product when their size is out of stock or to deliver large items home.  

Users can also build gift lists for Christmas by scanning items and assigning product to contacts in their phonebook. We’re hoping it will revolutionize Christmas shopping!

I’m intrigued by the use of QR codes within stores and promotional material. Can you give me an idea of the kinds of things you will be doing?

We have used QR Codes in store windows that offer special treats in store. For example we ran a campaign last month offering free coffee in store when users scanned the codes. 

Future plans include puttting QR Codes in print advertising so that customers can  ’shop the ad ‘. 

Debenhams App-03 qr

What developments can we expect from Debenhams around mobile in the near future?

We’ll follow up the iPhone launch with apps for other handsets early next year, while a mobile site will follow. We are also rolling out SMS mobile coupon campaigns soon.