The Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) empire was created through the combination of the US drugstore giant Walgreens and the UK’s leading pharmacy retailer Alliance Boots in December 2014.
The merger created a global health and beauty business - with just under 13,000 company-owned stores across 11 countries and a wholesale presence in around 20.
Its scale was given a boost in September 2017, when WBA agreed a $4.4bn (£3.2bn) deal to acquire 1,932 stores from US pharmacy rival Rite Aid.
WBA in the UK has been re-investing funds in technology to up its digital capabilities. As part of the plans it wants to build a “really seamless omnichannel offer”. Developing a single customer view is a big focus, while it continues to innovate in personalisation.
Boots UK has come under the spotlight as its parent company embarked on a three-year cost-saving programme, from late 2018, on the back of “challenging market conditions”.
Boots remains the UK’s largest chemist chain by some margin, trading through just under 2,350 pharmacy-led health and beauty outlets. But in an intensely competitive marketplace, sales have been sluggish across both its retail and pharmacy divisions for the past few years.
UK sales declined 2.3% to £5,812 in the financial year to 31 August 2021 (FY2021), with pre-tax losses narrowing to £58m, from a loss of £287m the previous year.
Recent strategic measures have included the closure of underperforming stores in a bid to stem falling sales and profits, while in mid 2020 Boots announced that it would be cutting 4,000 roles across its business as well as closing 48 Boots Opticians in the wake of a fall in sales during the coronavirus pandemic and to accelerate its transformation plan.
Well-respected Seb James continues to drive the UK business forward as MD and is looking at ways to differentiate the brand including an online pharmacy offering, express prescription pick-up trials, taking the Advantage Card loyalty scheme online and the overhaul of its largest beauty halls, which includes the rapid in-take of a raft of trendy, cult brands.
Boots further diversified from 2021 using the wealth of Advantage Card data at its fingertips to launch media and marketing agency, the Boots Media Group, which helps third-party brands deliver personalised campaigns to customers.
The retailer is part of WBA’s retail pharmacy international division. In addition to the UK network, this comprises some 1,800 stores across Europe, Latin America and Thailand.
Boots’ parent company is further shifting its focus to its core retail business following the announcement, in early 2021, that it has struck a deal to sell its Alliance Healthcare wholesale business.
Furthermore, the planned sale of Boots by WBA was shelved in mid June 2022 after prospective buyers failed to secure the financing necessary to meet the asking price. See Strategy
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