Big changes are coming at Boots, the venerable UK pharmacy and beauty chain, where new CEO Sebastian James is shaking things up in a business he feels has been held back by its heritage.

“We have some incredible assets at Boots,” he said at the recent Retail Week Live conference, “but we will not be immune to deep changes in customer behaviour unless we change as well – a lot.”

Six months into his tenure, he believes that hasn’t been happening because the hugely trusted brand has actually become something of a prison, rather than “a living, breathing thing” that is focused on being relevant to today’s customers.

“One of the things I want to make happen in Boots over the coming months and years is for us to become much swifter and more responsive,” he stated. (For more, read WARC’s report: Boots: a legacy brand in a hurry.)

Accordingly, a cultural shift is under way within the business as he encourages staff not to fear failure – which he has observed as inhibiting people – and to take action, accepting that won’t get it right every time.

This month will also see the introduction of a new store look as the retailer builds out its wellness offer. It’s already trialling a scheme where customers can walk in without an appointment, get a urinary tract infection diagnosed and medicine dispensed within the space of a few minutes.

It’s an area where the brand’s heritage “gives us permission” to talk to customers about wellness in all its forms, according to James.

“We have to do more than just put vitamins on the shelves,” he said – and that involves rethinking the store to create a space that is “welcoming, peaceful, relaxing” and where advice can be given.

On the beauty side, he’s hugely ambitious, promising “radical, radical change” to redress a situation where Boots has fallen behind the curve.

Corrective action includes using Boots’ vast bank of data, to create a personalised retail experience.

“That is a process that will happen during the course of this year,” James promised. “I aim to be the global leader in this beauty personalisation space within a year.”

Sourced from WARC