Debenhams this week opens the doors to its store at the Intu Watford extension, representing its latest thinking as it seeks to reignite the department store format’s appeal to contemporary shoppers.

The Watford branch is the freshest iteration of Debenhams’ chief executive Sergio Bucher’s vision of ‘social shopping’ in which differentiation and destination status are complemented by digital innovation.

Debenhams’ Watford store develops some of the initiatives previously seen at the Stevenage store and comes as department store groups in general battle to reinvent themselves as profitability comes under pressure.

The beauty proposition has been one of the main areas of focus as Debenhams seeks to expand its share of the £3bn premium end of the market.

“Approximately 20% of the beauty space is ‘owned and controlled’ by Debenhams, compared to zero in typical stores”

Changes in Watford include a multibrand offer through the Beauty Clubhouse and Lab areas of the shop, allowing Debenhams to better reflect how customers shop as well as take greater control of the space and range.

Approximately 20% of the beauty space is “owned and controlled” by Debenhams, compared to zero in typical stores, said beauty and marketing managing director Richard Cristofoli.

That allows greater newness as more brands are brought into the store which can be built up if successful and rotated in or out as appropriate.

Debenhams has also just launched an online beauty club, which is reflected in-store through product recommendations by members and free treatments for them every Tuesday, designed to drive repeat footfall.

Highly curated

Emphasis on newness and repeat footfall are evident in other initiatives in the store, such as ‘new this week’ areas throughout, which feature own-brand and concessionaire product.

Customer data is being deployed to inform ranging decisions generally and the offer is highly curated.

Like Stevenage, the Watford shop carries about 25% less stock than a traditional Debenhams store, allowing product to be more effectively showcased to shoppers who consequently feel they are being offered better choice than in the past.

The suite of fitting and changing rooms is seen as one of the store’s great differentiators, facilitating smooth click-and-collect for shoppers and enabling the retailer to offer a personal shopping service that justifies the name, Bucher said.

In Debenhams’ best-performing stores, personal shopping accounts for about 15% of womenswear sales.

Elements of the store design will be rolled out to other Debenhams shops, Bucher said.