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For Gourlay, it’s all about the customer

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Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance, was named chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores at the 2017 NACDS Annual Meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., last month, succeeding Martin Otto, who is H-E-B’s chief financial officer and chief merchant, in that post.

Alex Gourlay_Walgreens Boots Alliance

Alex Gourlay

In his initial remarks as NACDS chairman, Gourlay emphasized the association’s responsibility to the customer in its role as an industry leader going forward. Herewith, some of his more-pertinent comments:

“The theme for today and moving forward is the customer — understanding the customer’s needs and meeting them. We are looking to lead the industry in a proactive and positive way, at a time when we have so much to offer.”

Gourlay described shifting dynamics in the political environment, in retail and in health care. More specifically, he noted changing trends in fulfillment, demographics, shopper behavior, wellness and personalization. To address these dynamics, he emphasized the importance of building trust and improving efficiency to better meet the needs of customers. “Building trust is absolutely essential in this marketplace,” he said. “Also, we have to improve efficiency in this ­marketplace.”

Elaborating, Gourlay emphasized the importance of putting customers first in three areas — health care affordability, price transparency and customer convenience — stressing the need to maximize efficiency and experience through partnerships with suppliers and wholesalers, technological solutions, and new pharmacy services.

Concluding, he recognized corporate social responsibility efforts already under way in the industry, which, he hopes, will form the basis for further efforts to commit to the communities the industry serves.

Regarding corporate social responsibility, Gourlay stressed the importance of “telling our story. It is an important way to build trust. That’s my big area of focus for the months ahead. We want all NACDS chain and associate members to be part of that conversation. And, of course, we have to do more. With our collective power and wisdom we can do more. We need to tell our story and ­improve our story.”

Gourlay’s remarks were, many meeting attendees said, particularly appropriate, coming at a time of transition for mass retailing, a time when industry dynamics are changing and becoming more complicated.

One of the themes of this year’s Annual Meeting, unspoken but apparent in conversations and business meetings, was a softening of sales and, more telling, of shopping frequency. Customers are not visiting brick-and-mortar retail outlets as frequently today as they did in the recent past, one of the many results of the increasing influence of online shopping in the retailing ­community.

One way, Gourlay implied, to slow the impact of online shopping is to offer the customer more at retail — more positive and proactive attractions designed to improve the shopping experience and more effectively utilize the many advantages brick-and-mortar retailing has to offer.

Gourlay’s remarks aside, the 2017 Annual Meeting proved to be the usual mixture of old and new, capitalizing on the association’s unexcelled ability to bring the industry together to review the state of the industry while effectively exploring future opportunities and warning of future perils.

“In an industry whose mutual roots are not as binding as they once were, this is still an industry that relies on a commonality of interests and objectives,” said NACDS senior vice president Jim Whitman. “As long as that continues, this industry will be tough to beat.”


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