LONDON — Boots has just lifted the curtain on its new concept beauty stand-alone store on Long Acre in Covent Garden here. The new location, in the former Marks & Spencer space across from the Covent Garden Underground station, has been refurbished to fit Boots’ latest mission to be enticing and fun.
“We are really focused on bringing in all the brands in a glamorous way, and I think that this is a step forward for us. We’ve been changing the beauty halls in 26 of our stores already, and there has been a radical shift in the performance of our premium beauty sector. It gives us confidence that this is the way forward,” said Sebastian James, senior vice president and managing director, Boots U.K. and the Republic of Ireland.
The 170-year-old Boots is a division of Walgreens Boots Alliance.
Spread over two floors and spanning 28,524 square feet, the new store is home to more than 300 brands across skin care, beauty, fragrance, hair care and wellness. Names include It Cosmetics, Becca, La Roche-Posay, Josh Wood Colour and Fenty Beauty.
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Instead of beauty counters, there are shelving units that are meant to create a more open plan. According to James, the shelves will also help create a “small, premium feel and a nice shopping environment.”
The shelves have also been lowered so that shoppers can easily see signage across the entire shop floor — a welcome change from the old Boots stores.
The ground floor stocks the skin-care, beauty and fragrance offerings with big brands occupying their own shelves. Smaller brands sit in categorized zones, such as skin care or hair care.
Tables are spread throughout the floor so that customers can try on products. Vanity mirrors have touchscreen buttons that activate LED vanity lights with different settings such as cloudy, candlelight and sunny.
“This is where people can sit down and get makeovers by our amazing beauty crew. We think this is where people will be taking a lot of pictures, something we’ve noticed, so now we’ve created a space where they can do that,” James said.
The retailer has also incorporated a mask bar that stocks facial sheet masks and hair masks by Yes To, Garnier, John Frieda and L’Oréal. Another popular category that has its own dedicated shelving unit is Minis, miniature-sized products. “We know it’s a big trend at the moment for people who travel often and for those who like to carry products in their handbags,” he added.
Upstairs is the Boots pharmacy, as well as the hair-care, wellness, and eye-care zones. The pharmacy section houses the retailer’s new dispensary pick-up lockers, similar to an Amazon locker. The lockers hold up to 162 prescriptions and the retailer is eventually planning to place them outside the store for 24-hour pick-up service.
Next to the pharmacy is the wellness zone that stocks beauty supplements, nutrition products and fitness tech. “We also offer advice for proactive health care, like how to train and sleep better. I think this area is at the beginning of a transition, which is really important for us; helping customers make better life choices. We are really excited about it,” he said.
Boots has also fitted in a water fountain called the Rehydration Station so that shoppers can fill their water bottles and reduce their dependency on single-use plastics.
The retailer is cutting down on its use of plastic. On Tuesday, Boots revealed that it is replacing plastic bags with paper ones; the company has already rolled out this initiative in 53 stores. By early next year, the retailer will have completely removed all plastic bags from 2,485 of its stores.
Shoppers will still have to pay for the unbleached paper bags and the retailer said that all profits will be donated to the BBC Children in Need charity. “We have started to spend more time on thinking about how to find alternatives and what is really better for the environment,” James said.
Not long after cutting the ribbon on the Covent Garden store, Boots’ parent Walgreens Boots Alliance confirmed plans to shut about 8 percent of its stores, or 200 retail outlets, over the next 18 months. Most of them are small, local pharmacies. James said the majority of staff would be re-deployed to larger units nearby. Talk of closures emerged in late May with Boots confirming that its loss-making stores were under review.
Boots’ new Covent Garden store is not the first beauty unit that Boots has operated on Long Acre. The retailer had a small beauty concept store on the popular shopping street in 2001, selling brands that it wasn’t stocking in larger stores. The unit was a trial store that took inspiration from Space NK’s pioneering format of stocking small, niche brands in an intimate environment.