Close this search box.

Boots: being by your side

Boots: being by your side

Boots: being by your side

Robin Phillips, Director of Omnichannel & Development, Boots UK, spoke to Emma Herrod about the company’s omnichannel transformation and the latest developments for customers and staff.

OVER FIFTEEN people in the UK have used their Boots Advantage card in the past six months collecting loyalty points in exchange for sharing their personal details and how they shop. That’s an awful lot of data and insight that the company can use in its health and beauty business. But aren’t the days gone of mailing out (electronically or otherwise) promotions, money-off coupons and incentives to purchase a certain product in exchange for extra points? Hasn’t digital moved on further?

Robin Phillips, Director of Omnichannel & Development, Boots believes so. The time has come to move from targeted CRM to a “rifle shot” with advice, content and promotions getting increasingly granular. He believes that retailers also need to try and predict how to serve each shopper next. Those steps, of course, have to work seamlessly across devices and touchpoints, whether online or in store.

The customer journey is changing and brands need to change along with customers’ digital and social behaviour. “We need to track, through analytics, which content shoppers consume and their every event through to purchase, what else they did around their mission and consider how to bring them around to purchase again,” he explains. All this needs to be a slick experience regardless of digital or store touchpoints and easy for store colleagues, too.

Therefore, the amount of content which Boots creates is increasing and will be used along with product information to give customers an experience that’s contextualised and relevant to the device they are using. “We know where you are and what you last did, and we should present you with what you need next,” he says. Without it, he thinks shoppers will go elsewhere.

Technology is the enabler for the smooth experience all the way through, tracking and building data on customers so they don’t get frustrated. It’s also about being device agnostic so retailers have to think all the way through the journey how they deliver the best experience – and make it relevant at each stage – and through each stage of a customer’s life, he explains.


Boots wants to increase share of wallet and one way it can do that is to curate the huge range of products it stocks. Its new Beautiful You service is providing “a complete eco-system of beauty”, using a questionnaire combined with technology to provide individual shoppers with a complete, personalised skincare and beauty regime. It’s like expert beauty from your best friend, explains Ellen Borrowdale, Product Manager at Boots, who has been guiding the development of Beautiful You as the link between user experience, technology and business requirements.

She explains that the service has been in testing since August 2015 and was prototyped in a small number of stores before being rolled out to its current 13 locations.

It has to work as a customer-facing app both in store and on the customer’s own mobile or tablet device as well as being accessible and easy to use on a dedicated tablet by the member of store staff who has been trained to operate Beautiful You in a consultative setting. “It’s adaptive to any device,” she comments.

The questions which customers are asked about include their skin tone, size of pores, pigmentation, wrinkles and skin concerns all had to be easy for them to understand and answer. These are combined with questions about age and testing in store by the Beauty Insider consultant using a handheld skin analyser from South Korea which assesses how the person’s skin age compares to their actual age. Boots looked to South Korea as it is at the cutting edge of beauty technology and chose an off-the-shelf device from Aram Huvis which is essentially an Android phone with a special lens to analyse moisture, sebum, U/T-Zone, pores, melanin, acne, wrinkles and sensitivity.

The culmination of the online or in-store consultation is a personalised Beauty Cabinet containing product recommendations from across the entire range stocked by Boots and not exclusively its own brands. Customer reviews of each of the products can be viewed, along with up to three other recommendations for each category recommended, such as cleanser and day moisturiser. The customer then needs to simply add to basket to purchase any of the recommendations.

Beautiful You looks likely to be rolled out to more Boots stores as the number of users going on to make a purchase has “beaten expectations”. Of the 200,000 customers targeted to test Beautiful You, 77% of those who logged-in completed the assessment. The in-store conversion rate is running at 44% and online conversion is more than double that of


Boots is also a pharmacy and health business, running under regulatory guidelines and restrictions. Its pharmacists are highly skilled professionals and the company is trying to automate the processes that it can, such as developing a production line for repeat prescriptions at a central depot in Peterborough. The company also plays an important role in helping people who don’t need to be seen by a primary or secondary healthcare professional – this country’s GPs and A&Es.

Its pharmacists carry out customer consultations and help people to manage long-term health problems such as Type 2 diabetes. It is currently trialling a 12-week digital personalised omnichannel programme for people with the condition, which enhances the support they receive. The trackable programme includes content to help them manage how they exercise and what they eat as well and to maintain the correct blood sugar level.

It starts with a consultation in a private room in store during which various medical tests, such as blood pressure, are completed, questions answered and medications noted. This results in a set of goals – or three healthy habits – which is signed off by a pharmacist.

Each person is able to keep track of their progress and measure them against the goals on the Boots’ site and also connect to a tracker such as a Fitbit. The programme is reviewed again with the individual after 12 weeks.

The app containing their goals can be accessed by the customer from a mobile, tablet or desktop device. It also contains their electronic prescription and a record of their over-the-counter drugs, thus making repeat prescriptions and purchases easier.

The app has been on trial in 9 stores since April and involves trained health advisors in store as well as pharmacists. Every part of the system had to be signed off by pharmacists before going live because of the medical information and recommendations being offered. Boots has also had to consider what would help customers as well as what they are likely to do. “It has behavioural psychology at the heart of it,” says Phillips, explaining that if Boots can help customers to get fitter, adhere to their drugs regime and remain healthier they will also be reducing pressure on GP surgeries and hospitals.

It also evolves the role of the pharmacist from being a checker and dispenser of drugs to a carer, keeping people out of hospital, Phillips adds. In addition, it ties in with the company’s ambition to automate as many pharmacy processes as possible.


Both Beautiful You and Health Coach were developed by BetaLab, Boots’ London-based digital laboratory, over a period of 5 to 6 months. They show how the company is personalising its services and product recommendations for individual shoppers, building up trust and providing a curated product range. These have both been developed in an agile environment and tested in a minimalised form, further developed based on feedback from customers and colleagues, before being rolled out for further testing.

It has therefore been important that the services don’t impact on the main Boots systems, so where necessary the development teams have worked with copies of data. They are also set up to link back into those same systems, so when scaled for roll out or live installation this can be done easily. “We didn’t link into the customer Advantage Card database, for example, but the system is set up to do that and any information gathered is in a format that it can be transferred across,” says Borrowdale.

Boots also utilises existing systems wherever possible. For example, the in-store booking system for making appointments in real time is used by the Beautiful You and Health Coach services, as is the content management system (CMS) and product data. Customers don’t want to go from one app to another and find that prices are different, explains Borrowdale.

In areas where the company doesn’t need to differentiate or localise – such as stock control and finance data – it uses off-the-shelf systems such as SAP. “However, where differentiation is needed, we build our own IP,” says Phillips.

The apps also give Boots the opportunity to further engage with shoppers in the future through a subscription service and inspirational content and how-to guides from experts and celebrities. A new CMS will allow the company to turn around articles quickly and easily link to associated products.

It will provide shoppers with an integrated experience since Boots can already identify browsers when they log on. The question, therefore, is how to make the most of the information that is known about them, such as offering them prompts like ‘here’s more information on the product categories you were looking at’ or ‘your order is now ready for collection’.


Boots is also rolling out 3,700 iPads to staff across its 2,500 stores. A team from the company went out to Cupertino in the US to work closely with Apple and IBM on the development of its Sales Assist app, which gives store colleagues full details of products, stock levels and locations and orders.

Customers were coming into store, showing staff a product on the website on their phone and asking if it was in stock. Sales Assist gets around this, explains Phillips. It contains everything that’s on the website – product data and images, customer reviews, prices and promotions and so on – along with recommendations on upsells and cross-sells and stock details. If it’s not in stock in the store, the store colleague can click through to a map and see if it’s available locally or easily add it to a basket and order it for delivery to store the next day. The customer is given a unique order number when this happens. The homepage contains products which are on promotion, new or being marketed to customers so staff can find them easily.

“It’s all representative of what the new site will look like,” comments Phillips. The new site will be based on IBM products and launch “in the summer”. Boots’ current site runs on IBM WebSphere.

Boots has also made a big investment in replacing back-end systems including its order management system, enterprise CMS and digital asset management. The company is about a third of the way through the transformation of its back-end systems required by its omnichannel transformation and half way through the transformation of the customer-facing front end.

The past 18 month have been spent combining design, proposition development – design and architectural understanding – to build digital things and omnichannel which are tied into the customer experience and powered by customer data both for beauty and healthcare.

These applications are just the beginning of the news and roll out of customer-facing developments from Boots this year, with Sales Assist just stage one. A lot more will be happening “particularly over the next 6 months,” says Phillips.


Boots has a long-established presence on the high street and 90% of the UK population lives within 10 minutes of one of its stores. Because of the medicines it stocks and its promise of being able to fulfil prescriptions, deliveries are made to every store twice a day. “They can deliver other things too,” says Phillips – and this extends to click and collect orders. He also points out that because Boots doesn’t have to rely on third parties, having its own DC in Nottingham and an online DC in Burton, it can, “guarantee on peak deliveries”.

Boots has its own brands and product laboratory, and customers trust its pharmacists. Its founder, Jesse Boot, set the business up to “give perfect service” and to “minister to the comfort of the community in a hundred ways”, and that is what Boots continues to strive to do today, providing customers with the right information, at the right time and the right location.

Our view: Boots can track customers through analytics, which content they consumed and its relevance to the eventual purchase, what else they did, such as collecting in store, and consider how to encourage them to purchase again. By introducing a greater amount of contextual content that’s relevant to the individual shopper and by personalising everything from their browsing to their purchasing and their wider lifestyle, Boots has the opportunity not only to curate and manage bathroom cabinets across the country but also to have an impact on the health of us all, while capturing a larger share of the growing healthcare market as it stretches from prescriptions and plasters to fitness aids and beauty treatments and from nappies and Calpol to incontinence pads and Gaviscon. We go out as we come in and Boots wants to be holding our hand throughout, whether our other one is holding a mobile phone, a wearable or an embedded chip.

If the manifestation of healthcare is a slick, cross-device experience where everyone and every device knows what we need before we know it, then Boots will continue to be “by your side” – but for only as long as it has your trust and a department to provide the digital innovations.

As InternetRetailing goes to print, a new Managing Director takes to the helm at Boots. Elizabeth Fagan has moved from managing Boots Opticians, to marketing, and international responsibilities before being promoted to Managing Director of the chain in the UK. Having been responsible for Boots’ ‘Here come the girls’ advertising, it will be interesting to watch how her marketing lead will impact on the customer insight needed to push forward the company’s trust, loyalty and personalisation agenda.

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on