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Walgreens on Journey to Transform the Drugstore Beauty Experience

Walgreens will add highly trained beauty consultants this summer.

Walgreens has scale, convenience and is focused on elevating its beauty presence — perhaps even flirting with prestige brands such as those sold in Boots in the U.K.

Walgreens and Boots have been importing concepts across the borders since the two were combined in 2014 to form Walgreens Boots Alliance.

“We have accessibility to the best customers in the market,” said Lauren Brindley, group vice president, beauty and personal care for Walgreens. “We really have to think about how we bring her something she wants where she wants it.”

With 76 percent of the U.S population living within five miles of one of Walgreens’ 8,000-plus stores, the chain certain has the reach. And that’s not even counting the pending acquisition with Rite Aid.

Brindley, who came from Boots, said the power should rest with the customers. “Customers don’t understand what a channel strategy is. All they want to do is get the brands they want, when they want it, where they want it,” she said. She urged the industry to think about how and where consumers want to buy beauty. Select stores in the U.K. sell everything from Chanel to diapers under one roof.  “What is important is that you keep to the understanding that it is limited distribution,” she said, adding the ambience must rival that of department stores.

Walgreens, which already employees more than 26,000 beauty advisers, is adding a new beauty consultant role, which will receive clinical skin care and makeover training along with technology in the form of tablets to access information and tutorials, at select stores.
Brindley wants to leverage the pharmacy heritage to use its experts as the credible source for nonbiased beauty advice. The enhanced beauty look is rolling out this summer to 2,000 more doors. “We are putting in new brands. We are putting in testing for the first time. We are really starting to elevate and differentiate that experience in a way you haven’t necessarily seen in the classic drugstore before.”

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Not every store warrants a higher-ticket assortment and the chain is tailoring the mix on a door-by-door basis. But what has been learned in the U.K. is the elevation of brand assortment tends to bring in new customers rather than cannibalizing from existing business. “If we are going to look into entering prestige, we will be putting it into the doors where we know there is market potential. And we would ensure we would bring that high-touch experience to life,” she said adding about 10 percent or slightly more of the doors in the U.S. probably have that potential.

But before that goes live, Brindley said the company wants to make “scalable” changes with the 2,000 doors first. “We want to take the customer on the journey and change her perception of Walgreens’ beauty.”