Major deal with medical journal steers giant further into the healthcare arena

Boots is to ramp up its online offer next month, in the first clear sign of new owner Stefano Pessina’s determination to create the world’s leading healthcare brand.

The healthcare and beauty giant is to bolster the site with a wealth of consumer health information supplied by the respected British Medical Journal (BMJ), in an effort to drive sales and position itself as the first port of call for consumers’ healthcare needs.

The initiative is likely to be read by some observers as a sign of Pessina’s increasing focus on healthcare provision and advice.

The retailer – which was taken private in an£11.1 billion deal by then-deputy chairman Pessina and US private equity giant KKR in June – has earmarked£65 million to rebrand the majority of its community pharmacy network to the Your Local Boots Pharmacy brand over two years.

Pessina has outlined plans to exploit opportunities for Boots as a key healthcare provider in the UK, as well as plans to make both retail and wholesale acquisitions in international markets (Retail Week, March 16).

The online health library, which contains detailed information on more than 180 medical conditions, is thought to be called Ask Boots and will feature as a link on the main Boots site. The deal is believed to have cost Boots hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A source close to Boots said: “The deal for the BMJ content is part of a wider review of Boots’ web presence. is undergoing a massive overhaul and it is aiming to relaunch the web site in summer 2008.”

Ask Boots moves in the direction of the Government’s NHS Direct advice site and will drive sales of over-the-counter medicines via the main site.

It is unclear whether Boots will use the site to process online prescriptions in the future.

A Boots spokeswoman said: “Boots is consolidating its position as the most trusted and expert brand for health.”