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Reinventing Boots: Inside The Pharmacy-led Retailer's New London Flagship Store

By Donna Ahern
Reinventing Boots: Inside The Pharmacy-led Retailer's New London Flagship Store

Donna Ahern recently visited Boots’ new flagship store – in Covent Garden, London – for a sneak preview, ahead of its official opening to the public.

Plastic waste, sustainability and veganism are all at the forefront of consumers’ minds of late, and Boots has taken note by making a concerted effort to meet shoppers’ eco-friendly needs.

Judging by its new-format store, which opened in Covent Garden on 27 June, the UK retailer is making it clear that social responsibility is at the top of its agenda.

Its range of vegan products, the introduction of brands that champion reusable packaging, such as Beauty Kitchen, and its departure from single-use plastic shopping bags are all immediately apparent in store.

The new store is also home to Boots’ biggest-ever wellness range, featuring 32 new brands, including Equi.


The new beauty hall boasts over 300 brands, including Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Urban Decay, which also features dedicated skincare Instagram points and two beauty studios.

Its pharmacy includes express pickup lanes, extra-advice and consultation spaces, and a warm and friendly waiting area with a great view over Covent Garden Market.

More relaxed

While bearing all the hallmarks of its previous retail units, the flagship store offers consumers a more relaxed shopping experience, with the addition of very simple but effective in-store facilities.

These include a rehydrating point, where consumers can avail of free water, and a relax zone, where shoppers can rest.


“Our new Covent Garden store starts a journey of reinventing Boots for the future,” says Sebastian James, the managing director of Boots UK and ROI.

Boots is using its latest store opening in the thriving shopping district as an opportunity to gauge shoppers’ responses before it rolls out the latest retail innovations across its portfolio.

“We will learn what people love and want from this shop, and this will help us shape a blueprint for our entire 2,500-store estate,” James adds.

Irish roll-out

Once it becomes abundantly clear to the retailer what works and what doesn’t, the group plans to introduce its Covent Garden refurbishment solutions across its stores in the Republic of Ireland.


“The new flagship store at Covent Garden in London rips up the rule book, with the inclusion of new beauty brands, expanded pharmacy services, an increased focus on wellness, and experts on hand, to ensure that the customer journey is fully supported,” says Bernadette Lavery, managing director of Boots Ireland.

“We are looking forward to bringing these excellent new inclusions to Ireland, and we plan to roll out these features for customers in Ireland in the coming year.”

The Irish arm of Boots reported pre-tax profits of €24.1 million in 2018. The group’s recent accounts show that its profits rose by 2% in the 12 months ending August 2018. The inclusion of the store-of-the-future concept will provide a further boost to Boots Ireland’s position on the high street.

Healthy options

The food zone is nestled between the wellness, optician’s and pharmaceutical zones within the store.


“Most of this food is healthy, so we’ve taken some brands out, in order to try some […] healthier options,” Sebastian James explains during a tour of the store. “So, with food at the centre, we then move on to the bigger, the more well-known business of vitamins and supplements, ranging from the more fashionable and on-trend CBD oil to DNA-testing kits.”

Environmentally friendly

It was widely reported on 25 June that Boots was planning to ditch its single-use plastic bags in favour of more environmentally friendly unbleached paper bags.

“We know that the carbon impact of our paper bag is half that of our plastic bag,” says James, “so it’s not just the plastic, but also the carbon impact that is lowered. We’ve really thought through all of the different aspects of what it means to trade in a more eco-friendly fashion. The fact that the bags are unbleached has also lowered the carbon impact […] and I think the brown bag looks great. It begins to be a bag that you’re quite happy to carry around with you while you’re shopping, whereas the old Boots plastic bag felt a bit utilitarian.”

The move from plastic is a continuation of Boots’ journey to reduce plastic use across the business, with expected usage down across the chain by over 1,000 tonnes this year alone.

The retailer is reportedly set to have brown paper bags in its 2,500 stores by early next year. In the UK, proceeds from the brown paper bags will go to the firm's charity partner, BBC Children in Need, with small, medium and large bags sold for 5p, 7p and 10p.

The Forest Stewardship Council has certified the recycled brown paper bags, and they will be printed with water-based ink, so that they can be recycled along with other waste.

“We took some time trying to work out what is the best way to deliver less plastic between carrier bags,” says James. “There are lots of technical issues. The prep bag has to be strong.”

James explains that the team behind the latest bag innovation took a unique approach to testing it before introducing it in store.

“Incredibly, we tested it by sending someone to jog for 20 minutes with nine shampoo bottles in our bags to make sure it didn’t break,” he says.

James tells me that the jog test took place in Ireland, and he confirms the group’s plans to roll out the eco-friendly bags across its ROI stores in the near future.

‘Disruptively convenient’

James explains that Boots is trialling a new speedy pharmacy solution, in the form of a dispensing unit, whereby consumers can pre-order prescriptions online or by phone and have them stored in a locker within the machine.

The consumer will receive a code to advise him/her that the order is ready for pickup, and it can be collected within a mere two minutes. In order to receive the item, the customer just needs to type in the code and his/her date of birth, and the prescription is dispensed from the machine.

James believes that, through the use of the new vending operator, the store can “compete by being disruptively convenient in the same way that Amazon is disruptively convenient”.

The new-store opening at Covent Garden has created 130 new jobs within the 28,524-square-foot space.

Given that the flagship store is a one-stop shop for busy shoppers, with practically everything that’s needed under one roof, these latest innovations from Boots will no doubt put pressure on other retailers within this busy London shopping district.

© 2019 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Donna Ahern. Click sign-up to subscribe to Checkout.

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