Debenhams release mobile app - what happened to the mobile web?

24 March 2011

debenhamsmobileThe mobile app space has been jumping the shark almost daily lately as ever stranger and desperate apps appear in the iPhone and Android app stores. It seems that every middle manager trying to claw his way up the corporate ladder has been banging on the marketing department door demanding to know where the company's "app" is.

The latest app to arrive bearing the signs of an awkward tryst between a distressed wannabe technophile and an over-eager, over-billing marketing agency is Debenham's iPhone and Android app.

The PR is breathless (you can watch Debenhams TV! the first retail app with barcode scanner! sort items to a wish list! share with Facebook friends!), permission is asked for push notifications, the start screen is a full size jpg with a non-standard menu and most tellingly one cannot even make a simple product search in the app.

Although it's easy to make fun of this embarrassment of an app, the point here is to actually bemoan the loss of the real mobile web. There is definitely a place for mobile apps and the functionality they bring but standard retail browsing at a single brand is not really a showcase app. If Debenhams were truly interested in building a mobile experience they could have started with building a mobile friendly version of their standard HTML site. Right now if you visit the Debenhams site in your mobile browser you'll see the lovely screengrab above.

Anyone visiting Debenhams on their mobile, whether referred from another site or, yes, even from a Facebook link, is confronted with a site which is essentially useless on mobile. Installing an app for every single merchant in order to use their site on mobile is not a particularly sustainable solution.

The movement towards branded apps is a merchant's wet dream as it gives them the illusion of locking customers in. Agencies are only too happy to support this desire as it's a quick and easy bill with limited competition right now. Unfortunately this is making the mobile web less usable for consumers and is simply not sustainable in the long term - no consumer really wants to open a separate app for each merchant they'd like to purchase at. One hopes that after enough merchants have launched their failed apps the industry will sit back and work on standards compliant mobile solutions that truly makes purchasing easier for consumers rather than being a marketing ploy disguised as an app.


  • PaulH
    Great article and you're right, instead of spending the money creating an app (which in essence is probably only linking to a database used by the website) they should invest in developing their websites with all the latest html5 and css3 standards. You summed it up nice in the article with: "The latest app to arrive bearing the signs of an awkward tryst between a distressed wannabe technophile and an over-eager, over-billing marketing agency is Debenham’s iPhone and Android app."
  • big t.
    Just had a look at their site, using my phone's browser. It works fine.

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