Women of CX: How Boots Drives Online Performance Through Customer Experience

April 12, 2022
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The latest episode in our Women of CX webinar series turns to one of the best known high street brands: Boots.

Paula Bobbett is Boots’ eCommerce Director and has overseen a period of massive digital transformation for the brand in a relatively short time. This past Thursday, she sat down (via Zoom) with our very own Anisha Kainth for a deep dive into her career to date and to discuss how Boots is transferring what it does so well offline into an increasingly digital ecosystem.

Read on for our key takeaways from the webinar. You can always watch the uncut conversation (including the Q&A) in the video below.

Women of CX: How Boots Drives Online Performance Through Customer Experience - Chattermill

Paula’s journey into CX

Bobbett’s career started in analytics at British Airways. Her work has been grounded in data ever since, as she has taken on roles at Debenhams, Curries, Carphone Warehouse and eBay in the intervening years.

‘I kind of fell into digital analytics, to be honest,’ she says. ‘I fell in love with it – a combination of loving the data, an ever-changing environment, and its commercial element. And I love being creative with data and using that to take action and drive differences in behaviour.’

As she moved to Boots in 2020, Bobbett was keen to change how the brand approached digital – transforming it from a heritage retailer to a leading eCommerce business.

‘Being authentic to who you are is really powerful to achieving your goals.’

Bobbett doesn’t view herself as a typical analyst. But she believes being a person more in tune with feeling may have worked to her advantage.

‘I didn’t fit the profile,’ she admits. ‘Being authentic to who you are is really powerful to achieving your goals.’

‘At Debenhams, we used to do department reviews to understand how things were performing and why. So we’d gather all the data, but then we’d go to the store and take photos to back up some of the points. So you could have the conversation with some of the data people in terms of “this is what the numbers are telling us”, but for others where data was less important, you can also show them from the visual perspective why things weren’t working the way they expected.’

Bobbett's work has a strict sense of balance – in trying to marry feeling and data into a holistic understanding of how a business is performing. She also describes the work/life balance as being a continual challenge.

‘I’ve got three very lively children,’ she says. ‘You’ve got to get the right balance between putting your heart and soul into your job and keeping the right balance with your family.’

How Boots has transformed from an offline retailer to an online retailer

‘Boots is still about democratising health and appealing to a broad church of consumers,’ Bobbett says. ‘That sits at the core of everything we do.’

But like all businesses, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed things significantly for the company. Online activity has tripled during Covid-19 and the most crucial thing, according to Bobbett, was to ensure they had the suitable supply chain capacity to capitalise on it.

‘We had to develop creative solutions to deal with that capacity,’ she says. ‘Over a short time, we set up stores as hybrid picking and micro-fulfilment centres. That’s something that didn’t exist before the pandemic, and now it’s something we use over peak periods to try and manage demand.’

The result? Boots saw its online share of sales grow from 5% to 15% while it also implemented a wealth of changes behind the scenes – from a new eCommerce CMS, platform upgrades, and improvements to the speed of its mobile app.

‘In all my time in digital, I’ve never seen that level of digital transformation,’ Bobbett says. ‘We’re investing more in digital capabilities. We’re investing more in our supply chains to make them automated.’

On top of this, Boots has also broadened their range of products and services – from onboarding 66 new beauty brands and introducing online doctor services to tapping into the growing need for consumers to be able to get prescriptions from their local store.

Customer behaviour has fundamentally changed

‘I do think customer behaviour has fundamentally changed.’ Bobbett says. ‘I think people are more willing to engage online now. We’re trying to bring some of the elements of what makes our stores successful to the digital journey.’

One of Boots’ trial services is a partnership with Deliveroo, which promises to deliver healthcare essentials to your door within 20 minutes.

Bobbett also anticipates that the Boots online doctor service, the health hub, and virtual consultations will continue to be used as long as the online and offline experience is sufficiently joined-up. ‘We can serve the customer where they need to be served,’ she says.

Transforming in-store customer experience by learning from online successes

Bobbett is excited by how digital is changing the customer experience in stores.

The Boots shop in Covent Garden, London, is trialling digital technology that allows customers to try on make-up in the same way as their virtual try-on works online.

Likewise, working with No.7, they have also launched a new technology that scans customers' skin, provides a dermatological grade, and prescribes a set of No. 7 products to improve it.

‘In 4 weeks, you can go back and see whether it’s made a difference,’ Bobbett adds. ‘That role of technology is increasingly important.’

Aligning company values with CX strategy

We can see how much Boots’ core values overlap with their current customer experience goals by looking at Bobbett’s five critical areas of CX strategy:

  1. Mass personalisation – giving customers the right messages, in the right place, at the right time.
  2. Convenience – bringing the convenience of the high street to online channels.
  3. Unrivalled products and services.
  4. Continuing to offer value.
  5. Care and expertise.

All of these make sense as pillars of CX, but it is easy to see that they are virtues that have been present within the Boots brand for a long time – from the way they offer one-to-one experiences in-store to ensuring they have a presence on most UK high streets.

The future of CX in eCommerce and retail

Bobbett points to redefining what eCommerce actually is as a reason to be excited about where the industry is going.

‘I think it’s a fascinating time for eCommerce – the change in the sphere of eCommerce in terms of what you count it as,’ she says. ‘The last five, ten years is about how you drive traffic to your website. Now I feel it’s more about how you are present when the customers need you.’

Bobbett anticipates social media contexts growing in importance as places where consumers make purchases. She also cites new payment providers as marketplaces in their own right. Further down the line, she sees opportunities for brands such as Boots in spaces like gaming worlds, cryptocurrencies and even NFTs.

‘I think there will be a real reimagining of what eCommerce is in the future,’ she says.

Watch the webinar again

Women of CX: How Boots Drives Online Performance Through Customer Experience - Chattermill

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