eTail Europe 2021

London, UK

Boots Sales Assist App Prescribes a Better Customer Experience

Founded in Nottingham, England, in 1849, Boots has grown to become the UK’s leading pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer. With more than 2,500 stores serving the UK and Ireland, the Boots brand is as British as the NHS – and now the retailer wants to lead the way in transforming the customer experience in the Digital Age.

Last year, Boots became the world’s first retailer to take advantage of the IBM and Apple partnership that helps businesses build more iOS enterprise apps. The move marks a strategic change in the Boots business model, which will now be more focussed towards enhancing the in-store experience for customers. Launching Sales Assist – an IBM MobileFirst for iOS app – across its UK stores in June 2016, this was the moment that Boots took the first big step towards becoming an omnichannel business.

The Sales Assist App

The app itself is designed to improve customer service. Now running on 3,700 in-store iPads across the entire Boots’ store estate, Sales Assist enables employees to access online inventory and locate products on behalf of customers coming into the store. Tapping into product databases on, Boots staff are able to give detailed answers to customer questions about the Boots range, including product reviews, ratings and location availability.

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Using the application, Boots representatives can instantly view product information and check in-store inventory. If an item is out of stock but available at another location, the item can be immediately ordered for later collection. Utilising IBM’s analytics platform, Boots employees are also able to use the app to make recommendations based off the user profiles of Boots’ online customers, and thereby advise them more effectively.

Robin Phillips, Director of Omnichannel and Development at Boots between 2015 and 2017, explained that it was important for Boots to be able to access the same information that its customers were obtaining across the internet.

“What we needed to do was to get our colleagues to be able to do what customers can,” said Phillips. “I saw customers coming in store [with images on smartphones] and asking colleagues ‘do you have that?’ What we don’t want is customers coming in and being disappointed.”

An Omnichannel Future

The app is just one component of Boots’ ongoing omnichannel strategy. For now, its primary function is to help in-store associates better serve customers by way of helping them find products and make recommendations, but Phillips says that its functionality is being developed. “There is a roadmap beyond this product”, he said, adding, “the things it should be doing it probably will be doing in the future”.

Philips sees the app as just the beginning, saying that it is “laying down the core foundations to execute an omnichannel strategy”. But he was keen to assert that the app would be developed with a strong focus on continuing to empower in-store associates, and give them the tools they need to keep improving the in-store experience.

“What we are trying to empower colleagues to do is move away from a traditional retail job into one that is more in front of the customer and is part of the overall experience and service which a customer is increasingly expecting when they come into Boots. We are providing reassurance to customers and the colleague is enabled to provide that service. I see the role of the colleague evolving to be more in front of the customer in the moment.”

Driving Transformation with Mobility

Boots is in an ideal position to improve its services with this kind of assisted selling. With its wide range of healthcare products, perfumes and makeup items, customers often need to know more about ingredients and provenance, as well as what the alternatives are and details about Boots’ Order and Collect service.

Rather than having to refer shoppers to the Boots website, Boots’ representatives can now make use of the improved (and improving) functionality of Sales Assist to provide customers with the information they need in real-time, and subsequently drive more sales – either online or in-store.

The last word goes to Robin Phillips. 

“At Boots UK we’re investing in innovative new technology to further improve the retail experience for our customers, and mobility is at the forefront of this transformation. By developing Sales Assist, in collaboration with IBM and Apple, and launching it on the 3,700 iPads in our stores, we’re integrating our digital and in-store presence to deliver an even better shopping environment for customers. The unique tool allows our colleagues to quickly show product information, ratings and reviews, look up inventory online and make recommendations based on online analytics, all from the shop floor. It will help even our smallest stores feel like a flagship shop, with access to the entire Boots range at their fingertips.”

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About John Waldron: John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in Cornwall, UK. He writes regularly across all aspects of marketing and tech, including SEO, social media, FinTech, IoT, apps and software development.

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