Department stores step up Web service efforts

John Lewis is launching itself as an e-tailer this week, while rival Debenhams is relaunching its site in an effort to offer a more personalised customer experience.

Department store John Lewis has unveiled a website – www.johnlewis.com – which it says is part of a wider effort to become the leading direct selling retailer in the UK.

The website is designed in-house and will be backed by a &30m investment over the next four years. Its launch is supported by an integrated onand offline marketing campaign, which includes direct response print advertising, advertorials and mailshots to account cardholders. Online initiatives include strategic partnerships with leading ISPs and e-mail campaigns. These activities will be supplemented by “bricks and clicks” initiatives, including promotions in John Lewis department stores and customer events evenings.

Initially, the direct selling arm will incorporate Johnlewis.com and Buy.com, which was bought from a dot-com start-up last year, but the company plans to expand into catalogues in the near future.

The new e-commerce service replaces a more limited one called John Lewis Now. Over 5,000 products will be available on the site at launch, with a particular emphasis on home and giftware.

The site aims to appeal to time-poor consumers by offering 24-hour shopping and extended-hours customer service. It also promises quick and flexible delivery and a free returns policy.

The direct selling service aims to increase existing John Lewis customers’ frequency of shopping, while reaching new customers by making John Lewis available to those who are aware of the brand and who do not have a department store nearby.

John Lewis managing director Luke Mayhew says the new website “marks an important step by John Lewis into multichannel retailing”.

John Lewis Direct managing director Murray Hennessy adds: “We are bringing to the online market the sort of service and customer dedication that John Lewis has become renowned for on the high street.”

Meanwhile, Debenhams has unveiled a new version of www.debenhams.com, which it claims is more customer-friendly, faster, easier to navigate and more personalised.

Acting as a showcase for Debenhams’ new autumn/winter fashion collection, as well as hundreds of gift ideas, the site’s main objective is to mirror the high street shopping experience.

Designed in-house and in partnership with consultancy Conchango, the site features customer relationship management software from Blue Martini. This lets Debenhams personalise its online offering according to the behaviour of website visitors.

The new site offers a real-time interactive stock query function so that customers can check whether an item is available before clicking through to the checkout. Interactive purchasing means orders are processed in real-time, using Microsoft Biztalk 2000, which should speed up the fulfilment process. A quick access address function based on a user’s postcode has also been added, using QAS Software, so customers can look up their nearest store.

Debenhams e-commerce director Simon Hawkes says: “Through our partnership with Conchango, Microsoft and Blue Martini, we’ve achieved an e-commerce site that’s part of our business rather than an add-on. We’re able to generate loyalty to the whole Debenhams brand, rather than to a single channel.”

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