Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Visit to Boots UK: An International Pharmacy Photo Essay

In August, my family and I spent a wonderful 9 days in a surprisingly sunny London. In addition to the usual tourist haunts, I visited a few Boots pharmacies. (Of course I did!) I gained valuable insight into a key overseas pharmacy player that is now part of Walgreens.

Below are my observations on how Boots compares with U.S. drugstore chains. From my photos, you’ll see some similarities but also very intriguing differences. And by publishing this post, I can convert my entire vacation into a business expense. (Shhh, don’t tell the IRS.)

Bonus: I’ve included a photo of my amazing visit to (full-size) Stonehenge. Drug Channels goes to 11!


I visited a few Boots locations in London. The photos below were taken in the Boots at 193 Oxford Street. Special thanks to my lovely assistant, Audrey. Click a photo to enlarge it.

As I note in Walgreen+Alliance Boots: Questions about Global Pharmacy, Boots UK pharmacies depend less on prescription revenues than do Walgreens pharmacies. Non-drug sales are 49% at Boots vs. 25% at Walgreens. When you enter a Boots store, this disparity is immediately apparent. In many Boots locations, the entire first floor resembles the beauty section of a high-end American department store. Boots carries brands such as Chanel and Clinique—not your usual drugstore assortment.

The Boots private label No7 brand beauty products are merchandised just like other leading beauty brands. However, this section was placed at the back of the store.

The pharmacy was on the second floor. As you can see, it was very open and inviting, so consumers could easily meet face-to-face with the pharmacist. To me, the counter layout looks more like an independent pharmacy’s than like a large U.S. chain drugstore. A downside: I didn’t see a private counseling area, so any conversations could be easily overheard.

The sections for front-end OTC and HBA items are the areas most similar to those in U.S. drugstores. There were many unfamiliar brands, although some were manufactured by international companies that also make U.S. products.

Oops, wrong aisle.

The most startling difference is the absence of cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and other tobacco products. I asked a chemist why Boots doesn’t sell tobacco. He looked at me as if I was bonkers for having suggested such a loony notion.

I’ve always been amazed that U.S. drugstore chains want to be taken seriously as “health care destinations,” yet gladly sell tobacco and fill their aisles with junk food and candy. Walgreens has even launched its own discount private label beer. (See Walgreens Rx for Growth: Beer!) Sounds like the corner of Happy and Unhealthy.


Besides Boots, we visited a few other attractions, including a spectacular sunset tour of mighty Stonehenge. As you can see, an actual triptych is more than 18” high. Truly astonishing and highly recommended.

Our tour guide, Nigel Tufnel, solemnly informed us: “In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people... the Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing...”

See the video below for more Stonehenge secrets. (Click here if you can’t see the video.)



  1. What about the food. Where did Nigel recommend?

  2. It's interesting to me that Target sells the No. 7 and Boots beauty brands. Will Walgreens and Target both now carry them?

  3. Only you could have worked in Spinal Tap! Interesting view on where sales are focused...49% wow!

  4. Adam, My local Walgreen's has already started heading in this direction with a completely revamped more open layout and upgraded look and feel. Thanks for the pics and love the Spinal Tap reference! Cheers, Richard

  5. Sounds like a great tour and good that you had nice weather for it!

  6. Target Pharmacy are losing money. It will be smart move for Target to convert their internal pharmacy to Walgreens and focus on their core business.

  7. Worked for Boots as an intern, and as a pharmacist.Boots was and still is the most popular established pharmacy in the UK. also worked for Walgreens for 16 years. Enjoyed your spiel. Stonehenge is very cool.

  8. Boots is not very popular with those of its workforce (hundreds of pharmacists) who have very public disagreements over imposed contract terms

  9. Uh, you mean 18' (feet), right? I thought so.

  10. Apparently, you are not a Spinal Tap fan. Watch the video.