Retail

Need for speed: Debenhams set to open in Melbourne with a plan to beat Myer and David Jones

Emma Koehn /

Debenhams at St Collins Lane, Melbourne.

Mobile payment hubs, personal shopping and high-tech stock tracking: the first Australian site for UK department store Debenhams is focused on ease and speed for customers.

The 3,600 square metre shop front in the city’s high-end St Collins Lane shopping precinct doesn’t even resemble its UK sibling stores all that much, according to management.  

Managing Director of Debenhams Australia, Graham Dean, says the size and the design of the store is “a first” for the retailer, and an “edited space”.

“It’s a small, curated offer,” he said while taking SmartCompany on a tour of the yet-to-be opened store. 

Debenhams first announced its entry into the crowded Australian department store market in 2015, promising a high-tech, higher-end fashion and cosmetics offering. The brand is headed down under through a deal with Harris Scarfe parent company, Pepkor South East Asia, a subsidiary of South African Retail giant Pepkor Group. 

The first Melbourne store opens next Tuesday, October 24, and Dean says the offer is focused on curation, speed and directly matching products to what the customer wants.

Between the brand and the landlord, the Melbourne site has amounted to an investment “in the millions”, he said. 

Designer fashion at Debenhams.

The company wants to prioritise the space to offer quick service to customers, from help finding outfits to “express treatments” within its central cosmetics hub.

Australian will have access to a range of fashion brands at the store, ranging from Debenhams’ own labels to high end offerings like those from designer Jenny Packham, of whom Duchess of York Kate Middleton is a big fan.

Questions of staff availability and ease of payments has previously plagued other Australian department stores, but the British retailer says it will look to get in quick to deliver where others might have failed.

In-store experience offerings include free personal shopping sessions that can be booked, with a wish-list of products, through the Debenham’s app, as well as mobile sales stations that will allow staff to go straight to shoppers and collect payment for items.

Australian shoppers can currently shop online via the UK-controlled Debenham’s site, but in March 2018 the Australian arm of the business will take control of a local website, complete with opportunities to order click-and-collect goods through the app.

Click and collect shoppers will be encouraged to try things on in store before completing payment.

The Melbourne store structure is also ready for RFID tracking of products, which when up and running, will allow staff to see exactly where an item is within the store, from the floor to the storage room.  

However, when asked what elements of the original Debenhams DNA will truly beat local incumbents, Dean says the plan is to leverage the store network to curate brands that no other Australian retailer can access.

“Product is king,” he told SmartCompany, explaining the task will be to pick products from the parent company’s range that will best suit the Australian market.

Compared with other providers of women’s fashion, “the level of exclusivity is high”, he says.

When Debenhams announced its Australian foray in 2015, the plan was to gradually roll out 10 stores across the country.

Dean says this is still the plan, although the company is “not in any rush”.

Instead, it is focusing first on other potential sites in capital cities, both on the east and west coasts.

With the first store set to open next week, the pitch will again be about speed.

“It’s about queue busting,” Dean says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Aaron Blake

    Debenhams set to open in Melbourne!
    Australian will have access to a range of fashion brands at the store, ranging from Debenhams’ own labels to high end offerings like those from designer Jenny Packham, of whom Duchess of York Kate Middleton is a big fan.
    * Not Sure if you are talking about Sarah Ferguson or the Duchess of Cambridge! D’oh!

  • stephen connell

    Now all we need is to be paid enough to shop there!!!