Debenhams Pushing Free Wi-Fi Chain-Wide. A Different Strategy Or A Different Environment?

Editor's Note: As mobile in-store is becoming a more critical issue, the need for Wi-Fi has ironically lessened. That's because of increasing penetration in major areas of 4G. Some chains—such as Eddie Bauer—are opting to do without Wi-Fi entirely, while others believe it's essential to make sure the mobile performance is fast.

Debenhams, a $4.2 billion chain with 167 stores across the U.K. and Ireland, sees it differently and argues that free Wi-Fi—which the chain will shortly announce chain-wide—is crucial. Is this a U.S.-U.K. difference or a difference in strategy? StorefrontBacktalk content partner Retail Week explains.

Debenhams will launch free Wi-Fi across its 167-store chain, which will see it offer the largest Internet coverage of any department store group in the U.K.

Debenhams expects the aligning of online and bricks and clicks to have a "dramatic effect" on the way customers purchase goods in store.

The service will enable customers to connect to the Internet using smartphones and tablets in-store, allowing them access to special deals and information about Debenhams and its products.

Customers will be able to check stock for sizes and availability if the product is not on the shop floor by scanning the barcode of an item. Shoppers can also share feedback on products, view store layouts to find products easily and quickly, and arrange for bulky goods to be delivered direct to home.

Debenhams Director Simon Forster said: "We're seeing the shape of shopping in the future emerging right before our eyes. With over one million customers already with our app on their phones, free Wi-Fi in stores has the potential to transform how people shop."

The Wi-Fi roll-out follows a trial of the service provided by O2 across three Debenhams stores in the U.K. There has also been a "large" number of downloads of the Debenhams app and 20 percent of the retailer's online traffic now comes from mobile devices.

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