I have been shopping at Boots for as long as I can remember – well, since my teens that’s for sure. I also adore pharmacies – and noone so far managed to unsurp the affection I feel for French ones, their selection of products and the vast knowledge that the French pharmacists are always eager to share or impart on their customers – dear Boots, please take note, you can definitely take a page from the engagement French pharmacists have with their visitors & brands represented on the shelves, no matter how mundane the enquiry.
Over the course of the last few years I have noticed the changes that didn’t sit well with me when it came to shopping at Boots across London. Disinterested (or demoralised?) staff. Untidy displays. Not the easiest to navigate, nor the most logical sections within the shops. Dirty floors. Boring offering of brands when it comes to make-up, wellness or nutrition. When news reached my ears that a new Boots superstore was opened in Covent Garden, just across from the tube station where M&S used to reside, I was only too curious to explore it and dragged my two kids along, to see what their impressions would be as well.
Picture two floors of Boots. Lots of light and sparkle. On the ground floor the counters of well-known brands like Estee Lauder, Clinique and al (still huge money-makers and widely recognised by consumers irrespective of nationality), alongside Becca (that looks unrecognisable to how it looked before the founder sold it to Estee Lauder and I don’t mean it as a compliment), Too Faced and Fenty that rules imaginations of teenagers & young women all around the world, judging by the whirlwind success of Rhianna backed brand. Apart from Fenty, I didn’t see any new interesting make-up brands that will inspire millennials or the older generation to come shopping to Boots – with Charlotte Tilbury, Dior, Bobby Brown & Chanel beauty boutiques a short walk away, why would consumer be drawn to Boots I asked myself?
On the plus side, there are gadgets and tech to help you choose the right shades of make-up for you – that is, if you can figure how to operate tech gadgets in-store .) So far, a bit of intrigue. I certainly liked the layout more and even though most of the light was artificial on the ground floor, with no green plants in sight either (as opposed to the second floor), it looked brighter and more welcoming compared to the Boots stores we know.
Upstairs you have a pharmacy for prescriptions and advice, opticians and hearing aids, gadgets, free watering station (something that my eldest was not only excited about, but taking advantage of straight away, refilling our empty Swell water bottles). The selection of sugar drinks right next to it made me feel depressed – not fresh juices (well, an Innocent Smoothies guy was dispensing free smoothie samples, but considering their sugar content I wasn’t so keen to try, nor were my ninjas).
There were a few more green, sustainable or natural brands on offer. My daughter was delighted by the Cheeky Panda offerings
Opportunity to try new FitBit launchesand genetic testing, alongside an eager assistant.
As well as various health monitors – that display reminded me of John Bell & Croydon in Marylebone…
Much nicer displays – well done Josh Wood Colour, innovative concepts and product offering. Nicer shelving. Clearer isles. Not sure, if greenery was real or artificial though – dare I hope its real and will help make the air cleaner and the shopping environment more pleasing not just for the eyes, but for the mood too.
Chairs to sit on. Windows on the second floor that let in the natural light. An isle of single use masks, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.
A definite multitude of pluses, including focus on sustainability and phasing out the single use plastic, at least when it comes to drinks.
And then I came across a vast display, or rather a wall full of Weight Watchers and other brands promoting ‘weight management’. Hardly inspiring, if not dated concept. Not individual, not focussed on helping us getter truly fitter, healthier and better. In fact there are no fitness offerings of any kind – no books, nor gadgets to inspire regular exercise habit. No, just a well-known company that built its business on making us diet to lose weight. Get us ‘beach ready’ and ‘skinny’, when in fact what women need is a celebration of their individuality and selection of modern brands and products that will genuinely help them make better nutritional, wellness and well-being choices that can have a positive impact on their confidence and long-term health. Judging by our sedatery lifestyle (simply consider how much time you spend sitting at your desk, in the car or on public transport or working on the computer vs moving in the course of one day) and issues with mental health and confidence, big retailers aren’t helping improve things, nor lead the way to meaningful changes that benefit consumers.
Just across from this section, right at the bottom where it’s hard to see, unless you already know the brand, stood some lonely Beauty Chef products. And Australian brand started by Carla Oates – a mother of two and one of the pioneers of ‘linking’ gut & overall health. Granted, they aren’t as cheap as Weight watchers offerings but the brand has a loyal following around the world. Partly because it is effective in addressing gut problems, partly because the brand prides itself on engaging with consumers and educating them, sharing recipes and advice that can improve how you feel and look in the process. It’s not a magic pill, it doesn’t offer instant results but with time and dedication on your part you can improve how you look and feel. As someone who has never believed in diets, I am drawn to brands that genuinely care about consumers and share knowledge, helping us make better choices for ourselves, as opposed to a company that helps you diet. And that’s the approach that I am raising my own children with – eating well & exercising regularly to make them both healthy and strong, as opposed to dieting!
So my question is why a big retailer like Boots, a company that is widely well-known, an institution much loved in the UK and part of our national identity, chooses not to be a leader but a follower, promoting dated practises, as opposed to offering consumers (young, middle-aged and mature ones) good options to improve their lifestyle. Why do we still talk about skinny, rather than fit? Why do we rebrand products that aren’t green or natural as opposed to giving shelves to new brands that engage with consumers and give them what they really want – better formulas, honest dialogue, clear provence of ingredients & efficacy, as opposed to magic and unicorns? Why do good practises need to be forced? Paper bags, as opposed to plastic ones, are something that consumers are forcing on retailers, not retailers introducing something good for Planet and for us all. Free Hydration stations are great, if they are side by side with less sugary drinks and fresh juices or smoothies, as opposed to pasteurised ones with hardly any nutritional value. Am I asking too much?
Customer service is the battleground in the super competitive beauty, health & wellbeing marketplace, yet many retailers fail to grasp its importance. The result if not only loss of profit margins, but no less importantly, loss of consumer trust, which can be a death spell for business. I often see great small boutiques or pop-ups that are much faster at incorporating the changes demanded by consumers, offering holistic environment & brand selection to browse, shop, talk & snack on the go and yet they don’t have the budgets that big retailers have. I think I am not alone in my sentiments Boots, so shall we talk & see if together we can make better progress when it comes to catering to consumer needs, wants and desires?!