Debenhams launches first ever drive thru - will it catch on?

EDITORIAL USE ONLYA woman looks-on as Graig Bieszke from Manchester uses the world’s first Debenhams Drive Thru, which has been created ahead of Valentine’s Day, to help shoppers pick gifts for their partners at the Trafford Centre in Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday February 7, 2017. With a choice of pre-selected gifts, from lingerie to aftershave, the pilot experience guarantees shoppers will drive away with a present all without leaving the comfort of their car. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Debenhams set up a pilot drive thru service outside its store in the Manchester Trafford Centre yesterday. Valentine's shoppers who wanted to buy a present without the effort, could pick up a gift without having to leave the car.

The company ran the service for one day only, allowing drivers to draw up to the first stand, order and pay, and then drive to the second stand to pick up their gifts. To make the process more straightforward for the company, they offered a choice of just five traditional Valentine's gifts - including a lingerie set and a chemise, trunks for men, perfume and champagne.

Christine Morgan from Debenhams said: "An extension to the current personal shopping service, our Drive Thru is the perfect solution for all those who have no clue what to buy, are strapped for time, or are cynical about Valentine's Day but secretly want to get someone a gift." It is now choosing whether to offer something similar for Mother's Day, Father's Day and Christmas.

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Will it catch on?

Clearly this is a blatant publicity stunt. The fact that it set up the drive thru at this stage in February means it has an opportunity to push its Valentine's collection, and still leave the vast majority of people time to dash to the shops to buy a present.

I reality, if you really wanted to buy a present on 7 February, and you couldn't be bothered getting out of your car, you still have plenty of opportunity to buy online without having to bother getting up at all. You then wouldn't be restricted to just buying from Debenhams - and choosing from a small selection of products.

However, the idea does tap into a trend that companies have been trying to make work for them for the past five years - that of curation. The idea is that in the internet age, with access to endless retailers across the world, we have billions of potential items we could consider for Valentine's Day.

Clearly nobody can cope with that much choice. In fact, researchers have shown that with as few as ten choices we start to lose our ability to make a sensible rational decision, and we would much rather pick from a small handful of options.

What we are looking for, therefore is someone we trust to pick out a handful of absolute winners that we can pick from ourselves.

Curation

The challenge for retailers is to offer that curation. They have been trying this for a few years, by getting together with fashion and style icons to launch or curate specific ranges - including Alexa Chung's range for Marks & Spencer.

John Lewis, meanwhile, has built curation into its brand, positioning itself as a trusted retailer that has brought together winning products. Its stand-alone loved&found boutique, for example, brings together new brands and designers under a John Lewis brand with the strapline "Discovered. Loved. Curated'. It works on the basis that shoppers trust the department store to have picked the items that best suit them.

The drive thru concept is one unusual way of Debenhams proving that it too is capable of narrowing all the choice down to just a few guaranteed winners.

Whether it rolls out the drive thru concept again this year, and whether any other department stores follow suit, is up for debate. While it may provide some decent publicity, you have to ask whether a really exciting curated proposition consists of offering people lingerie, perfume and Champagne for Valentine's Day,

What is clear, however, is that retailers will be jostling for the chance to be our 'curators' of choice this year - so we can expect plenty more of these unusual publicity stunts and experiments in future.

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