In this episode:

Wendy Liebmann talks to Lauren Brindley, Former Group Vice President and General Merchandise Manager for Beauty and Personal Care, Walgreens, about whether the future of the beauty category is now truly connected to health and wellness.

They discuss:

  • How US shoppers have come to understand the natural link between beauty, health, and wellbeing and the opportunities for healthcare companies and retailers to support shoppers on this new journey
  • How Walgreens is connecting the pharmacy to the skin care aisle with training, merchandising, and education
  • The need – and opportunity – to create more personalized, inclusive offers to ensure healthy beauty (and the entire store) is more inclusive
  • Where national and exclusive brands fit into the new retail beauty model
  • And how the online-offline offer to shoppers will enable their more personalized connection and drive loyalty

Additional sources mentioned in this episode:

Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.

Wendy  00:10
Hello, everyone. I’m Wendy Liebmann, CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, and this is Future Shop. This is where I talk to innovators and disruptors about the future of retail. Today, the topic is the future of beauty, healthy or not. It struck me of light that all the big social movements that have emerged over the last five years, and now impacting positively not only negatively the beauty category, health and wellness technology, diversity and inclusion, social media, retail fragmentation, all of these macro shifts that we’re seeing in the broader landscape. So the question is, how is beauty changing? And what does retail need to do to serve the new expectations of beauty shoppers, I have the perfect guest for that today. My guest is Lauren Brindley. She is the Group Vice President and General Merchandise Manager for beauty and personal care at Walgreens. She oversees strategy, profitability, and the execution of beauty across its 9000 Plus stores, ecommerce as well as the physical places and responsibility for 3500, and more I think beauty consultants across the country. She’s got a lot on her plate. She’s English, as you will hear very soon. So we’ve got two foreigners in the room, which is also dangerous, but that’s good. We love to disrupt. She moved here about six or seven years ago, with a mission to develop a long-term strategy to transform Walgreens into a more modern and relevant beauty and personal care destination, both digitally and in store. Prior to Walgreens, she held roles of increasing responsibility within the UK is leading health and beauty retailer Boots, many of you will know Boots, where she was accountable for the successful relaunch of the leading beauty brand Boots No. 7 that we all idealize with its success, as well as its luxury business in the UK. She’s also spent time working for Boots around the world, Hong Kong, Taiwan. And she began her career on the grocery side at Tesco where she learned to be very focused on customers, which is our passion, our mutual passion, as well as brands and retail. The other thing about Lauren that you need to know is she’s very committed to the internal culture of the organization particularly does a lot of work around diversity and inclusion, supplier diversity, as well as within her internal teams. So after that very long introduction, Lauren, sorry. Hello, welcome.

Lauren  02:47
Thank you so much for having me. It’s always a delight Wendy to talk to you. So I’m really looking forward to this as always,

Wendy  02:54
yeah, I just think about we did actually get to see each other in the middle of all this craziness in Chicago last fall, right, where you were one of the highly recognized most influential women in retail, congratulations from MMR, that was a wonderful award. That was just a treat to see you and a group of an amazing women in real life for the first time you and I’ve talked about this a lot before this connection between beauty and health. And I think the question I keep asking myself, are we finally at that moment, when shoppers actually expect beauty with real benefits?

Lauren  03:30
I think we arrived. And I truly believe that the pandemic has changed so much about what’s important to customers, you know, how we live our lives. And that also is impacted what we want from our beauty regimes. The pandemic changed our relationship with beauty and our parents, you know, you think for some people, you know, working from home, a lot of people took a bit of a step back from their beauty rituals, and suddenly, were focusing much more on their self-care. People were really having to think about, you know, what, do I need to build my immunity? You know, how do I need to look after myself in a different way, both inside and out. And you know, I think customers really started to understand the natural link with what they put in their body, how they feel, and therefore how they look and therefore what they need from from beauty. I think we are definitely there now. And I think now it’s the responsibility and accountability of the industry to think about what does that mean for customers? What are they looking for that they maybe weren’t looking for before? And how do we need to kind of service customers differently now that they’ve really started to kind of like understand the link between truly Health Beauty and well-being?

Wendy  04:48
Yeah, I do think I know as you’ve thought a lot coming from a Boots background initially, it always seemed to me that Boots was quite aware head on that. I think about some of the products in the categories in terms of stress and sleep, and that connection of inner and outer health and beauty. So are you seeing us make that leap here? Or is that the next step in this journey?

Lauren  05:12
I wouldn’t say we made a leap here. But we’ve definitely moved fast into that space. We know when I think about, you know, health and beauty merging, I really think about my Asian experience almost more than I think about the UK, my European experience, because even back in 2008 2009, when I was working in Asia, one of my top selling products, Wendy was actually a detox beauty drink. And the Asian consumers have long understood the link between health and beauty. You know, they have 10 Step skincare routines, they take multivitamins and drinks and detox drinks to really make their skin look great, their hair look great, their nails look great. They really understand that intrinsic link. And so it’s been a philosophy around the world for a long, long time. But I really think that what’s happened in the recent couple of years here in the US has really made us as a society understand that more. And I think there’s definitely more of a demand for understanding that link between health and well-being and wellness and our overall kind of white beauty care regimes.

Wendy  06:25
Yes, we’ve done shopper research in Asia, and most recently in South Korea, and studying that link between wellness and the interconnectedness of health with beauty was really clear to us in all of that work. I do think, at least in this country, I always call it the paint and paper, let’s just put it on, cover it up. And we’ll be fine. Whereas in Europe and Asia, as you say, there was always other ways that people thought about beauty and the sort of emotional side of beauty as well. And, and all the shifts that have occurred, even pre pandemic, you’re right, as we started to consider and we saw in all of our How America Shops® research, this sort of notion of sort of what we called well care, or even self-care, but the sense of happiness, and what does happiness mean to us emotionally? And then what’s the outer expectation of that as well? So it seems to me in that that healthcare retailers have a lot of advantage in that storyline. Do you feel that way?

Lauren  07:25
I do. I think that it’s an opportunity for healthcare companies and retailers to support customers on that new journey. And those new experiences and the new solutions that they’re looking for me and as a healthcare company, Walgreens are our mission is to create more joyful lives through better health. And the joy comes from power we feel about ourselves, and the health is intrinsically linked to that our health and well-being is intrinsically linked to that. So we definitely see health as holistic health, we see health, not as just physical health, but we also see it about our mental health and wellbeing and how those two things are linked. And so healthcare companies that understand the physiology, the physical manifestation of health, and what that can actually do to a person’s mental state have, I think, a responsibility to really bring new solutions to market and help customers understand how, you know, certain solutions and their overall health and wellbeing are linked to how their beauty routine should show up and what those opportunities are. So I think it’s an opportunity, but it’s definitely on the healthcare companies to take that opportunity and to be able to help customers in maybe ways that they haven’t been kind of helped before. And one of those areas, you know, I was thinking about Wendy is, you know, skin health. So I think about our beauty regimes, you know, it all starts a lot of it starts with the health of our skin, and the health of our skin is linked to so many different things, you know, it can be impacted by the medications that we take, it can be impacted by the amount of UVA and UVB rays that our skin gets, it can be impacted by other chronic conditions that we’re dealing with. And so you know, really good example is you know, as a health care company, we can help customers understand what those impacts are doing to their skin, and actually what can they do to be able to improve the quality and the health of their skin and therefore how actually their skin shows up to the worlds and also potentially what they might want to put on their skin to help enhance how beautiful it already looks

Wendy  09:40
Yeah. So I would think Walgreens has this extraordinary advantage as does Boots in the UK of beauty advisors. Walgreens has always been committed to beauty advisors since I first came here. Remember the ladies and the pink smocks and sometimes purple hair which actually seems to have turned into me. But as I think about that, I remember at one point, you were kind enough to walk me through some of the new things you’re working on a few years ago, and how do you see the role then of both advantage, but the role of the beauty advisor in the stores. Now, as you tell that connected story,

Lauren  10:17
you know how passionate I am about our expertise in Walgreens, and I think we have to really think about as a healthcare company and as a pharmacy, we have a unique opportunity to connect the expertise in our pharmacies with the expertise that we have in our beauty aisles. And we have to make that connection stronger, and to be able to explain that connection to our customers. So when I think about, for example, in skin health, we can really connect our pharmacists, with our beauty consultants, also, with some of the dermatology services that we now offer through could be in our VillageMD stores, through our Health Care Corners, or even through our digital healthcare marketplace through Find Care. We have to really be able to explain to customers how unique that is and how we can maybe help them. And our beauty consultants can continue to help match the right foundation to your skin tone, and they can continue to help you get the best look for the season. But they do understand skincare, they are clinically trained in skincare, which is probably very different to the beauty consultants you would find in a department store, in a beauty specialty store. And they also know where you need to get further advice and expertise from a physician or dermatologist or a pharmacist. The other thing that we are really uniquely started to do is connect customers and their medications to potentially the skincare that they would need. So really great example is this summer, we’re going to be starting to identify patients and consumers who will have more vulnerable skin to UVA and UVB rays because of the medication they’re on. And we’re going to actually be able to talk to them when we see them at the pharmacy and actually give a warm transition to a beauty consultant in the store to be able to help them find the right solution for them from an SPF perspective. Now something very unique that only a Walgreens or a company like ours could provide.

Wendy  13:15
So that’s very exciting that bridge between skincare and more traditional health care. I mean, we see it and conditions like diabetes, of course and as you say, dermatological conditions but that bridge across the store. So how do you then think about in the physical space, how will the store be different in terms of the connection between pharmacies skin, the rest of beauty?

Lauren  13:40
I think that we make sure that our team in every store are connected. So we make sure that they have devices that enable to connect the experts in a store so that if there is a customer or patient that needs to move from the pharmacy over to the skincare aisle, that we call it a warm transfer, so the pharmacist is able to call on the beauty consultant. And the beauty consultant can actually come collect our patient or consumer and actually take them to the solution sets that they need to, I think how we bring our stores to life as well. We need to make sure that in the skincare area that our customers know the services that we offer, and that they can understand that there’s a uniqueness of expertise that we can offer. So you’ll see over time even more of that coming through our skincare departments where we really explain the services for the health of consumers of skin.

Wendy  14:37
And then when you think about immunity, you think about vitamins and other OTC or pharmacy medications, that connection in terms of thinking about my inner and outer beauty. How do you see I mean obviously there are brands out there now over the last few years that talk about healthier skin, healthier nails, healthier hair where do you see that headed in the future in terms of, again, the connecting the tentacles?

Lauren  15:04
I’m a big believer in storytelling, whether that be in the online or the offline, one of the biggest opportunities we have is to help consumers who have a specific need, say, to connect the dots for them. So it could be that in a store, we pull together a display that maybe has vitamins on it alongside the skincare alongside some better for you nutrition products, we have to help consumers pull together the solutions that can help them. And then if you think about it digitally, that’s even easier to do. We can create social media stories, we can create landing pages, we can create really exciting bits of content that we either put out on third party social media sites, we use digital programmatic, but I think it’s really all about storytelling and being able to tell those connected consumer stories and experiences, and then really putting it in the right places for them to experience and to learn more, you have

Wendy  16:11
three young boys, so maybe it’s a little ahead of the game with them. But all the conversations about skincare particularly are not just to focus on skincare here. But I think about young men growing up everything from acne, to shaving to suncare. And all of those things. I mean, if you look at your three sons, and now think tomorrow, how do you think about engaging them in this whole story on young men and men in this whole story? Is that the next big leap here? Or are they already there?

Lauren  16:40
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely I think that again, the men’s grooming category has been one of the fastest-growing categories, and especially in the US, there’s a lot of opportunities, I think, in that space, I think the younger men coming through are more comfortable in that space, I think they are more comfortable researching, experiencing, looking for different solutions for themselves. You look at the whole grooming trends in terms of beard care, these young men coming through want to express themselves individually. And I think that’s absolutely wonderful and should be celebrated. So I definitely think it’s going to be a growing category. Definitely, the young men that are coming through are doing their own purchasing their own researching their own shopping, embracing that individuality. And I think there’s lots of different solutions that we can bring through. I also do think that it’s important that we help educate young men and women coming through about how to look after your skin health, how to look after your oral health, how to look after themselves have to self-care from as early an age as possible. And I actually think that things like TikTok are fantastic. My sones are a little bit too young yet for TikTok. But I know that nieces and nephews, it’s a great can be a great source of information and inspiration. And I actually think it’s good that you know, some of these conversations and TikToks are talking about things like that, in terms of how to craft your health, how to express yourself, personally, I think it’s great.

Wendy  18:15
You brought up the subject of TikTok and social media, we see the inclusiveness of that, we also see the challenges in terms of mental health, and how we think about stress. And I know you’re so focused on inclusiveness and all the work you’re doing around diversity and inclusion, the role of a retailer in that space to invite everybody in and create a safe space for everybody. Can you talk a bit about that?

Lauren  18:44
Yeah, so this is obviously something I’m very personally kind of passionate about. I mean, you think about all the different communities that will bring services across America, I mean, 9000 stores in every single community across America and in order to represent and serve those communities. We need to represent them we need to mirror those communities. And whether that be from making sure we’re inclusive on the suppliers that we work with the brands and the assortment that we show up with but also from a team members that are representing those communities and serving those communities. There are so many different facets to how we should be inclusive in all aspects of our business. And I’m really proud of Walgreens because it truly is something that’s always been at the heart of Walgreens as a brand. But I think we recognize there’s more that we can and we should be doing. And so we’ve actually at Walgreens, we have an approach to diversity, equity inclusion. That’s really it’s the heart of absolutely everything that we are doing. And a few examples of that would be from an a brand assortment perspective, we actually cluster our stores. Most categories are clustered how about five or six different types of assortments that ensure that the assortment that we show up with in Puerto Rico is very different to what we show up within a rural location in Texas to an urban store in New York, And so we cluster our stores to make sure we actually tailor our assortment, we tailor our brands choices, based on the demographic of the consumer that we need to serve in those different areas, we recognize there was even more of an opportunity to make it sharper, and to potentially have even deeper choice in some areas. And so we’ve actually highlighted about 16 categories across our full portfolio of retail products at Walgreens, where we feel that we need to get some deeper assortments especially to serve our black African American consumers, and also our Hispanic consumers, we have been actively bringing on board new diverse suppliers, and more diverse brands. So this is being very specific about what our customers need were from us and making sure that we’re bringing the right assortment and the right solutions to the right consumer at the right point in time.

Wendy  21:55
I understand the complexity of that within an environment. When you think about all of that moving forward, how do you envision the space? one of the things we are seeing in all our research that the store still matters, and people they’re looking for what they call a happy store. Now happy store doesn’t necessarily mean all bells and whistles, but a happy store. How do you envision what your store will look like 18 months from now?

Lauren  22:28
it’s really great question Wendy and how I answer it by we know that customers talk about my Walgreens. And we’ve also relaunched our loyalty program over the last year, which is called My Walgreens. And it’s very intentional. Because how I think about merging the online and the offline, how I think about all of this inclusivity but relevancy to you as an individual. It all comes down to the personalization, and the tailoring of that offer. What’s really exciting for us at Walgreens is that we have about 95 million plus consumers on our My Walgreens loyalty database, we have an accountability to use the information and the data to be able to serve you up individually with what would be relevant to you. We can also use that data to make sure that the ranges, the assortment, the space, the experience that we put into My Walgreens is relevant to my community. And I think that what’s beautiful about merging the online and the offline is that you know the offline My Walgreens is kind of my gateway to a broader assortment, the full assortments but you’re putting what’s most relevant to me right in front of me for my experience in that location. The same with the app, for example, Wendy your app when you open your app would be very different to my app, because they are personalized and very, very relevant to us as individuals. But they’re gateways they’re gateways to whatever brands or experience or solution you’re looking for. So you’ve got this expanded aisles opportunity digitally, but then you have these very personalized interfaces to make sure that we are kind of serving up front of mind what we believe is going to be most relevant to you based on what we know about you. And also hopefully, in that process, we’re going to save you a lot of time, because we’re going to help you know almost edit and curate for you on your behalf. I think customers more and more appreciate that from a retailer and from a brand.

Wendy  24:45
I also think that struck me as you were talking about that as the expectations then of your brand partners. As you move on this journey. Those particularly where you’re thinking more and more about the connection between health and beauty and what they could put their hands up for and say, here’s what we can do for you. Obviously, Walgreens has, particularly with the Boots relationship has had a very strong position of unique brands such as Boots No. 7, and all the extended brands. So how are you thinking about that, with the brand offer you now have moving forward, what’s the role of sort of the national, broadly available brands and your more exclusive brands,

Lauren  25:29
I always want to make sure that the brand partners that we work with, they are really clear on who their target customer is. And they’re also really clear on where they’re offering an unmet need, or they’re addressing a need in a different way. Because in a world of personalization, the beautiful thing about it is that we can literally connect the right consumer to the right individual product within an overall brand. Or, you know, if it’s a smaller brand, maybe it’s the whole brand is targeting a specific kind of consumer. And that’s what I think is really exciting about this personalization, and data world that we are now in and is fast becoming the new way of marketing and connecting with consumers is that doesn’t matter how big your brand is, or how small your brand is, as long as you are clear on your point of difference, and who you are targeting. The other thing about for sure, exclusive brands or brands that are more in limited distribution from a retail perspective, are always very important because they give uniquely a reason to use you as a retailer and for your customers to engage with you more often. So they definitely will continue to have a really important role to play for retailers. And you know, on No. 7 brand has also been really important to us because of the fact that it really is, I think one of the best brands in our beauty portfolio that really demonstrates this connection between health and beauty.

Wendy  27:13
I just keep waiting for you to let me get my Liz Earle more effectively in the US so, so wonderful brand that the company owns from the Isle of Wight. Anyway, so last question. So now if a healthcare company wants to knock on your door and say, Hello, Lauren, we keep trying to figure out the connection here, how can we do that? I mean, are you looking for those kind of questions hands up? Or is that still coming through the OTC healthcare side?

Lauren  27:46
Absolutely. We are always looking for breakthrough innovation. And you know better than anybody breakthrough innovation can come from all different spaces, all different markets, all different channels, I think it’s all about have you got something Have you got something really innovative, that can either meet an unmet need for our customers, or can address an unmet need in a better way than we have a solution for it today. And we are open to where that innovation comes from. We’re just looking for breakthrough innovation all the time. It’s the lifeblood of this industry. And you know, ultimately, the customers came. And if we can find a better solution for her or him we’re all in doesn’t matter where it comes from.

Wendy  28:36
I do sometimes wonder shake some of the healthcare industry people and say, don’t just stay in that aisle think about this aisle because that’s where the consumer shopper is. And they’re thinking very holistically about all of this opportunity or all their needs, as you say that the solutions they’re looking for. So it just feels to me like the healthcare retailers are in a really strong place for this.

Lauren  29:12
So I would love to invite companies to really think about potentially bringing new solutions to market that could really support that connection between beauty and health care for pleasure.

Wendy  29:26
As always, I look forward to seeing you very soon somewhere in person again.

Lauren  29:31
And thank you so much for having me Wendy, as always an absolute pleasure. I really enjoyed the conversation as always, so thank you.

Wendy  29:38
So here’s the thing, for those of you who have or are working on innovative connections between health and beauty, or who have unique solutions to unmet consumer and shopper needs, whether in categories or technology or experiences, this is the time to take note of Lauren’s call to action. And if you’re not yet working on the space yet, then you better hurry up. You should be. So take a look at our website,, at all our shopper and retail research on what we call the Big Business of Well. It’s a roadmap to the opportunities and potential success for you in this interconnected new world of well health and beauty care, so happy reading. See you in the future.

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