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Case Study: Ad Personalisation Drives Results for Debenhams
Image Credit  Debenhams

Case Study: Ad Personalisation Drives Results for Debenhams


Struq was chosen as Debenhams’ new personalised retargeting provider, based on a detailed response to the brand’s marketing objectives: to improve user experience and design a stronger creative.

Struq’s True Ad Personalisation solution produces ads that are personalised to the user depending on where they are in their purchase journey. For example, a user who went to the Debenhams site yesterday and looked at multiple products will see a totally different ad with a different style, product recommendation, content and marketing message than a user who visited two months ago and bought a pair of jeans.

The result is highly relevant ads, increasing customer experience, bringing higher click through rates, conversion rates and customer lifetime value. On average these ads increase conversion rates by 22% over standard retargeting ads.


Debenhams is a leading British retailer with department stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark, operating franchise stores in several other countries. The company was founded in the 1778 as a single store in London and has now grown to 165 locations. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a member of the FTSE 250 Index.

Struq was founded in 2008 and we have lead innovation in personalised retargeting technology since then.

Struq’s solution supports a retailer’s marketing efforts by extending the performance of other channels and their website through retargeting website visitors with highly relevant, high quality ads.

In addition to highly relevant ad content, Struq ads deliver customer experience in a number of different ways. We work with marketers to set a very rigid frequency cap so that a user is not bombarded with ads. We also make it very easy for users to opt out of ads with our AD PAD functionality, which lets them pause ads (especially useful if they are buying presents for people who share the same computer). Our technology picks up when a user has bought something and immediately takes them out of market for that product, reducing waste and user annoyance.

Struq prides itself on high-quality ads. Instead of working with standard templates which all look the same, our ads are designed by trained designers who have a mix of brand and direct response experience.

Struq was chosen by Debenhams to be its personalised retargeting provider in February 2012 on the back of head-to-head performance testing with another provider. Debenhams were looking for a nuanced solution that delivered performance in a way that exactly fitted their requirements and brought unparalleled ROI.

Developing an ad personalisation strategy

Struq used a non-templated approach for the campaign. Numerous pieces of creative were produced for different categories and different events, which were rigorously tested.

We co-ordinated bespoke creatives with Debenhams’ marketing calendar over the peak Christmas period - eight in December alone.

Distribution and delivery were optimised. As Struq gathered more data, our self-learning algorithm automatically made small tweaks to ensure maximum performance.

To avoid banner fatigue, and to use the insights we gleaned during the campaign, alongside the micro-trends logged and measured by our technology, the Debenhams campaign was continuously refreshed. Main creative was refreshed once every three months in addition to bespoke event-driven creative.

Our personalised retargeting was done with the consumer experience in mind, alongside a deep integration with other Debenhams marketing activity.


Targeting rules were set and tested. Every permutation of option was tried and then automatically reviewed using either A/B or one-armed bandit testing to see which delivered in different circumstances.

Struq tested over thirty pieces of creative to get the right blend of performance and brand, and maximised incremental revenue from seasonal tactical marketing activity (focussing on higher-margin categories).

We worked with consumer experience front of mind, designing non-templated, stunning creative and building truly personalised ads where every single element of the ad (marketing message, call to action, style, design, animation) was tailored to where the user was in their purchase journey. We also used strict frequency capping based on user relevance - no user should feel overwhelmed by ads.

Showing users ads which are truly relevant is key so the frequency cap is managed around certain events: for example if a user is deemed ‘out of market’ because they had been exposed to the upper limit of the frequency cap, we would raise the cap if the product the user browsed had a significant price offer as the ad would again become relevant to that user.

Struq also set caps according to onsite activity and seasonal events; for example, high delivery caps in the run-up to Christmas but low delivery caps immediately after the Christmas last order date (20th Dec-21st Dec) – increasing the efficiency of the Debenhams campaigns by weighting the delivery at the most relevant times.


ROI was improved, customer experience would be improved, and the channel was re-engineered to be more flexible around Debenhams’ existing marketing activity.

Debenhams had worked with a different retargeting provider in the past. However, as a major department store with a broad product catalogue and stiff competition they were looking for a nuanced solution, which delivered performance in a way that exactly fitted their requirements.

Some examples of how we created solutions to match Debenhams’ criteria:

  1. Push specific categories and product lines that delivered higher margins to Debenhams.
  2. Bespoke product recommendations. Struq created different product recommendation maps to facilitate cross-category selling, up-selling, or selling high margin products in line with specific Debenhams objective.
  3. Cross-category selling: Bespoke ad creatives aimed at targeting customers who have looked at Beauty products (cosmetics, fragrances, etc). Messaging was tailored to Beauty Club users (e.g. “Beauty Club Event – 1000 points over £50”) and certain brands were removed as requested by Debenhams.
  4. Increased weighting of home and furniture recommendations during Christmas and January sale period (Boxing Day onwards) – driving more traffic and conversions to a product category that yields higher margin for Debenhams. ‘Furniture’ went from the 5th highest converting category (22nd - 26th Dec) to the 2nd highest converting category (27th Dec – 2nd Jan)
  5. Struq maximised the uplift of key sales events.
  6. Struq co-ordinated bespoke creatives with Debenhams’ marketing calendar over the peak Christmas period. Struq banners promoted both Beauty and non-Beauty categories using eight different marketing messages in December alone.

Struq delivered against Debenhams ROI and CTR targets

‘Since working with Struq we have seen our retargeting campaigns go from strength to strength. In particular, their designers have produced multiple pieces of outstanding ad creative delivering to agreed ROI. We are pleased to partner with such an innovative, customer-focused company.’ Zoe Ashford, Head of Online, Debenhams

Simon Holland

Simon Holland

Simon is the news and research reporter at Existem. Previously a technology journalist, he now spends his time investigating both future and developing trends in performance marketing whilst producing editorial content for

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