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 14,000 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 10.8% to £5,948 in the financial year to 31 August 2020 (FY2020), swinging to a pre-tax loss of £287m.

Boots said that in FY2019 it had placed more than 200 underperforming stores under review for possible closure over the next two years in a bid to stem falling sales and profits.

And 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.

The retailer is part of WBA’s retail pharmacy international division. In addition to the UK network, this comprises some 2,100 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.

Innovation rating: 3

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