Department store chain Debenhams is fighting back against its high street woes and has unveiled a new look 80,000 sq ft store in Watford, which opens on Thursday with a call to arms from CEO Sergio Bucher to “make shopping fun again.”
It comes at the same time as the announcement that it will roll out 10 further Swoon homeware concessions across its UK portfolio, following the successful 2,000 sq ft pilot retail space in Debenhams’ Westfield White City store, which was launched back in March this year.
It was the first time the online furniture brand had taken physical retail space, and now it is set to take 17,000 sq ft more space in Debenhams’ stores – offering the best of its furniture and lighting – at Clapham, Guildford, Brighton, Bristol, Chelsmford, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and the new Watford store.
For Bucher, it’s all about creating an enjoyable shopping experience and, at the new look Debenhams Watford store, customers will be able to get a facial or a blow dry, as well as try on new clothes in updated changing rooms which feature ‘mood lighting’. They can also then have a drink at the new ‘Pinkster’ gin bar. It’s far removed from the Debenhams most people would recognise, and is a bid to win back old customers, as well as attract a new generation of shoppers.
There are several dedicated ‘lab spaces’ which will showcase new and upcoming brands, and what is being called a ‘minibar’ – where shoppers are able to experiment with different brands in travel sizes. The new Watford store has around 25% fewer products across women’s fashion, but they are merchandised in a much more appealing way than the Debenhams style of old. There’s a ‘New This Week’ hub to keep customers seeing something fresh on a regular basis, giving them a reason to come back for more and see exclusive and more exciting fashion.
Bucher comments: “For way too long we have turned stores to be like these big warehouses full of product with a till at the door. We just want to bring the joy back. We have to make sure that every shopping trip is memorable.”
Debenhams has lost more than two-thirds of its share price value since January, and has been under increased scrutiny after its rival House of Fraser collapsed in August. But this is a sign that it is up for the fight against the general doom and gloom on the high street.
The new Watford store is part of landlord Intu’s new 400,000 sq ft development, and it is believed Intu has put in a large slice of the capital for this new anchor site. How Debenhams can budget for a roll out of this new format remains to be seen, though around 40 stores will see elements of the new-look beauty hall before Christmas.
For now, Bucher can’t commit to how many stores will get a complete makeover to bring them up to the Watford store’s level, though certainly the bar has been raised. It’s a results business, and the level of success the new store has will determine which other stores will follow suit. Says Bucher: “We have to see the return we are able to get, and that will inform us what we can afford in the future.”