Revolutionizing the mass market beauty world

With an army of 26,000-plus beauty advisers, the expansion of the LOOK Boutique concept, the expertise from its online beauty engine Beauty.com and the Walgreens-Alliance Boots transaction, Walgreens is giving the U.S. mass market beauty world a makeover like no other. 


Going back even as little as a few years ago, Walgreens wasn’t exactly making waves in the beauty industry, as its beauty department was quite typical of that found within a traditional U.S. drug store. How times have changed.


Walgreens’ journey to transform the beauty experience within its stores to create a “best in class” beauty department focused on improved design, customer engagement and experience, really shifted into high gear following the 2010 acquisition of Duane Reade. The latter, under the guidance of visionary Joe Magnacca, then SVP and chief merchandising officer of Duane Reade, was turning the drug store beauty experience in Manhattan on its head by bringing a bit of European flair to the market with its upscale LOOK Boutique.


“The past three years have been the most exciting professional journey for me and our beauty team,” said Shannon Curtin, Walgreens divisional VP and GMM for beauty, personal care and seasonal. “As our beauty team embarked on a reinvention journey, we understood the importance of understanding our past successes and spent countless hours studying the present competitive landscape.” 


In recent years, the innovation within beauty at Walgreens has shown no signs of slowing. In fact, it is gaining steam as Walgreens now works to expand the LOOK Boutique experience at select locations across the nation. While the number of LOOK Boutiques within both Duane Reade stores in New York City and Walgreens stores nationwide continues to grow, a shining example of the retailer’s true beauty prowess can be found at the Duane Reade flagship store at 40 Wall St. in downtown Manhattan.


Within this flagship location, beauty mavens will find an expanded LOOK Boutique with exclusive, higher-end beauty products; an automatic fragrance sampler so shoppers can try before they buy; a nail salon offering manicures, gels and the latest nail color shades from OPI and Essie; a hair salon by Phyto Universe offering such services as hair/scalp analysis, blowouts and styling; a Ramy-branded brow bar for in-store brow-shaping services; and a virtual makeover tool for “trying on” makeup.


Various components of the LOOK Boutique, such as the Ramy-branded brow bar and nail salon, are being rolled out to additional store locations where it makes the most sense. “You’ll see the brow bar in most LOOK Boutiques that we open now, for both Walgreens and Duane Reade stores,” said Paul Tiberio, Walgreens divisional VP procurement and inventory strategy. “The nail salon is a perfect example of expanding beauty services. It was born in the Wall Street store, and based on its success, other locations have followed including the State and Randolph store in Chicago. You can also find one in Puerto Rico at a flagship store that recently opened.” 


“Our ‘masstige’ product lineup is starting to rival department stores when it comes to prestige beauty, as well as skin care. We can perform skin analysis on consumers to help them find the right skin products for their complexion, an area that has become popular based on the repeat purchases we are seeing,” Tiberio added.


Echoing that sentiment, Magnacca said that, based on the successes the retailer is seeing on the test concepts within its flagship stores, the learnings from its LOOK Boutiques now are being applied back into Walgreens’ Well Experience stores. One new concept Walgreens is testing in beauty that Magnacca gets excited about creates a multi-channel play inside the store, tying into some of the e-commerce assets the company acquired in 2011 in the Drugstore.com deal, he explained.


“State and Randolph is a good example of that, where you can actually kiosk the Beauty.com business. We think that has tremendous horsepower in terms of differentiating ourselves, and leading the traditional drug store space,” said Magnacca. “A lot of the elements of that have already made it into the Well Experience stores,” said Magnacca, who now serves as president of daily living products and solutions at Walgreens. “For example, taking nail from a traditional in-line category and putting it on a unique fixture in the front of the store is now a standard in our Well Experience stores moving forward.”


“If they’re out filling prescriptions or shopping for everyday essentials, customers at these locations have the convenience of shopping for themselves without making additional trips to department stores or specialty stores for prestige products,” said Marcia Gaynor, Walgreens GMM for LOOK Boutique. “When you add our trusted beauty advisers to the mix who field questions and suggest products, that customer walks away with an exceptional and memorable experience.”


If its acquisition of Drugstore.com and Beauty.com helped it step up its game in beauty, Walgreens’ latest acquisition has the capability to be a complete game-changer for the company. Serving as a powerful accelerant to its existing beauty strategy is the recent merger with Alliance Boots. “We’re very serious about beauty and so are they. So, I think we link up in a very big way,” said Magnacca, who stressed Walgreens’ commitment to its 26,000-plus beauty advisers and also noted that Walgreens will be launching its Beauty Awards program in the fall. 


“We are heavily focused on prestige skin care at this point — we’re trying to advance the skin care segment. We also want to move more into the color cosmetics side of our business, and we just believe [Alliance Boots] will be an accelerant for us in terms of their learnings through their existing relationships and through their successes.”


There’s no doubt that Alliance Boots’ successes within beauty will benefit Walgreens. For example, while Walgreens currently has no significant private-brand presence in color cosmetics, Alliance Boots has seen great success with its No7 brand — a top-selling brand in the United Kingdom for face, lip and eye makeup.


To date, the changes within beauty at Walgreens have been significant, but there’s no denying that the best is yet to come as this transformer further taps into its deepened well of resources and opportunities, and forever changes the way the U.S. drug store industry approaches beauty.