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Walgreens raises beauty to an even higher level

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Beauty Differentiation concept rolled out to 3,000 stores

DEERFIELD, Ill. — The elevation of beauty at Walgreens continues to take the category to new heights.

The retailer has just completed the second phase of the Walgreens Beauty Differentiation concept rollout, diversifying its department mix with new brands and tonics. The new experience offers an updated and stress-free beauty shopping experience with testers and unbiased beauty consultants. As a part of the second phase they have started adding the elevation and testing to national brands, including L’Oréal and ­Maybelline.

“Now customers can come in and test our color cosmetics wall and actually play with the products,” says Lauren Brindley, the chain’s group vice president and general merchandise manager for beauty and personal care. “That’s obviously unique for a classic drug store in the U.S.”

In making the Walgreens beauty offering more like that at a specialty or department store, the chain is making shopping for cosmetics and other items more experiential and exploratory.

“We know that when the shopper has this new experience she is much more confident buying in our environment and she is more likely to spend more time with us,” Brindley remarks. “It also gives our beauty consultants an opportunity to sell our Walgreens Boots Alliance [WBA] global brands like No7, Soap & Glory, CYO and Sleek MakeUP, as well as apply and test products from the national brand ­assortment.”

All told, phase two of Beauty Differentiation has reached around 3,000 stores, and consumer response has been highly favorable, the company says. “Customers are responding extremely positively,” comments Brindley, “which is tremendously ­exciting.”

Even stores that don’t get the concept in its entirety will get some of its features, she notes. “How we bring our experience to life will differ by format. But there will be elements that go across the chain,” Brindley says.

The company’s advanced analytics help it identify the stores with the biggest opportunity for Beauty Differentiation. “It’s important that we’re focused on the right locations and customers,” says Brindley, pointing out that some of the newly acquired outlets from Rite Aid Corp. will surely fit the mold.

She points out that it’s hard to say what part of the Walgreens Beauty Differentiation concept has been most successful, because all of its components contribute to an “elevation of the experience.”

The testers, beauty consultants and new brands add up to more than the sum of their parts, she explains. “It’s really hard to pick out one piece of the puzzle. It is the overall picture. Customers in particular have responded really well to our care model. We are really proud that customers are now receiving an enhanced level of care in beauty.”

Ongoing training of the consultants is conducted by Walgreens’ more than 70 Beauty Area Experts, who act as education leads across the country. The consultants are coached in areas including skin care, foundation selection with the MatchMade device and, most recently, hair care. “It is a full integrated model focusing on where our customers assess they need advice the most,” says Brindley.

The chain enlarged the beauty assortment to have “the right portfolio for our customers,” she says, observing that newer brands have proven to be highly appealing. A prime example is No7, which has been “a great success story, especially in skin care.” No7 is now the No. 1 skin care serum brand in the U.S.

Consultants reveal samples of innovative new products that women might otherwise see only in subscription beauty boxes, she notes. “So it is an easier way of accessing new product samples that are relevant to each customer individually,” notes Brindley

The latest Beauty Differentiation enhancements also include new lighting and fixtures, as well as cleaner, clearer navigation around displays. New graphic panels have also gone in, along with some new imagery.

“It has been a 360-degree approach,” Brindley says.

One challenge for Walgreens merchandisers is having the elevated beauty atmosphere fit in with the chain’s health and wellness orientation. Helping in that effort, says Brindley, was the retailer’s rebranding last year around the tagline “trusted since 1901” in lieu of the earlier “at the intersection of happy and healthy.”

The change has provided a boost for the beauty business, she says, because the new branding highlights three key attributes of Walgreens’ beauty care products and services — trust, care and accessibility — along with a legacy extending back more than a century.

“The new brand promise is holistically linked with what we are trying to do with beauty, which is to have trusted experts who care for you in a welcoming environment very similarly to how we look after you within the pharmacy,” Brindley avers. “We are building our beauty business using our existing equity and the fact that we are famous for pharmacy and health and wellness.

“We are trying to build from our equity rather than against it; this creates a differentiated beauty ­experience.”

In keeping with that approach is Walgreens’ understanding that looking good is intertwined with feeling well. “At Walgreens we say that we help you feel beautiful,” Brindley emphasizes. “A lot of products and services help you look beautiful, but at Walgreens we help you feel beautiful your way.”

That approach helps the retailer stand out from e-commerce beauty purveyors, she observes, saying that the likes of Amazon don’t let shoppers touch and feel products.

“That’s one of the reasons we are making our stores more experiential,” Brindley explains. “The No. 1 reason people still want to come to a brick-and-mortar store is to try, test, smell and explore a product. You can’t do that virtually.”

At the same time, understanding the appeal of digital shopping’s convenience, Walgreens has adopted an omnichannel approach to beauty care. The company even offers some products exclusively through walgreens.com.

“We look at the shopper in terms of her customer journey, and very often in beauty she starts the journey in digital,” Brindley notes. “She then comes into the store to test or try a product. The customer then goes back online for ratings and reviews.

“We take the role of digital seriously and know we have to build the right customer journey for her wherever she wants to interact with us.”

The convenience of click-and-collect programs is hard to beat, she adds, which Walgreens recognized with the implementation of a ship-to-store program.

The accessibility of the chain’s stores, with three-quarters of Americans living within five miles of a Walgreens location, has enticed large numbers of people to use the service. And the retailer’s partnership with FedEx has further highlighted the convenience and accessibility of stores as collection points.

Beauty Differentiation, emphasizes Brindley, should be seen as an ongoing process. “We are working on the next stage of our elevation, so we are certainly not stopping where we are. We are going to continue to evolve and elevate what we do and differentiate our ­offer.”

That process, she adds, is a team effort. “We have an army of people supporting this program from across the WBA portfolio. We are excited about the work that we are doing here — that we are bringing some of our WBA brand portfolio to the U.S. and it is doing very well — and we are excited about what we can do next.”

The ultimate objective, she says, “is to create a differentiated experience at Walgreens that is unique to the rest of the marketplace.” That marketplace ranges from prestige specialty stores and department stores to mass merchandisers, but regardless of competitors’ positioning, Walgreens is striving to create something that stands apart, with a benefit welcoming to everyone.

“We are accessible to everybody,” Brindley reiterates. “And if we elevate our approach to beauty, we want to retain being welcoming and accessible, but we do want to be more inspirational.

“That is the most important thing for us — creating differentiation the Walgreens way — and making customers feel comfortable experiencing beauty in our stores and with our brands.”



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