Did you know that in the UK, 90% of us live 10 minutes away from a Boots? (That’s what Boots reckons, anyway.) While that figure seems incredible, it’s hard to imagine a high street without a Boots; it’s the go-to store for beauty, health and a reasonably priced meal deal.
Luckily, Boots has a plan. It’s keeping up with online competition by stocking cult brands like The Ordinary and Rihanna’s all-inclusive, all-conquering Fenty Beauty. It’s also working on a rebrand and an overhaul of its stores, beginning with a new Covent Garden flagship.
Promising its biggest ever wellness range, new customer experiences and ‘the best advice on the high street’, the new flagship sounds very different to the Boots stores we know and love (and, if we’re honest, aren’t excited by).
We decided to pay a visit to see what Boots has done with the place, and to see what we can glean about the retailer’s future plans.
The focus on beauty and customer experience is palpable as we soon as walk in: on the ground floor there are two spacious beauty studios, stocked with 300 brands and fully staffed with smiling, upbeat members of the ‘Boots Beauty Crew’.
Some areas have clearly been designed for social sharing, like an Instagrammable wall of flowers and a Youtube booth that customers can use to stream live content.
Loud music and colourful, flashing screens add to the fun, sociable atmosphere – our teenage selves would have loved spending a Saturday here. On a Tuesday morning however, the loud music and abundance of flashing screens are a bit overwhelming.
However, we do like how Boots are tapping into shopper moods; buying make-up is exciting, whether you’re trying a cult new product or simply looking for a new lipstick colour. We’re interested to see how the mood is carried through to the wellness section…
Quite rightly, the wellness area puts us in an entirely different mood. Soft music and lighting create a calming atmosphere, and the space feels well lit and airy. Bare brick walls and wood panels add back-to-nature, sustainable vibes and the pared-back POS is engaging without overloading us with information.
There aren’t as many screens as there are in the beauty section downstairs. Instead, there’s an abundance of lush (and fake) greenery, which adds to the natural, balanced feel. With 32 new wellness brands, and new services like Skin Scanning diagnosis and pharmacists who are able to diagnose and prescribe treatment for UTIs, the wellness area feels more innovative than the beauty studio.
Although wellness is hardly a new idea, it still feels fresh coming from such a well-established retailer. The clean aesthetics and wide variety of brands feel much more premium and specialist than you’d expect to find in Boots.
Sustainability should be a priority for any new store, and Boots has ticked off all the basics : paper instead of plastic bags (although, there’s some debate over paper’s eco credentials); reusable cutlery for food to go; and a water bottle refill point.
Boots has also thought carefully about stock, introducing more vegan brands and sustainable products, like eco friendly tampons and bamboo toothbrushes.
Before visiting, we were most excited to hear about the Beauty Kitchen refill station. Given how prolific the single-use plastic problem is, we’re surprised that it isn’t promoted more around the store; we have to ask staff for help, and the first person we ask doesn’t know what it is.
When we finally find it, we’re slightly disappointed by its size. On reflection, this could be due to the touristy location; tourists are unlikely to be shopping for beauty refills. Perhaps in the future, Boots could use its clout to get big brands involved – letting shoppers refill their favourite products would mean more people make the switch.
Feel good 2.0
Overall, the store feels very different to every other Boots we’ve shopped at. It’s definitely more of an experience, particularly in the Sephora-style beauty hall, where a member of staff tells us, “It’s like a party down here.”
There’s a sharp contrast between beauty and wellness, which feels a little disjointed but ultimately makes sense, when you consider the two very different types of customers: one wanting a feel-good beauty experience and the other wanting wellness products to make them feel good.
The most radical changes are in the store design, even if they seem like little touches: disruptive, tactile POS, like the Innocent snack bar covered in fake grass; the fact that the eyewear frames are no longer categorised by gender; and the spaciousness on every floor.
We’re not sure how this will translate into its smaller stores, but overall we think the revamped Boots experience is about a new attitude. It’s contemporary and joyful, and finally matches up with Boots’ brand ethos: let’s feel good.