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Boots appoints Sebastian James as its new managing director and as senior vice president for Walgreens Boots Alliance.

New appointment

James will take on his new role on 1st September, and will report into Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Gourlay commented, "We are delighted that Sebastian will join our company at an equally exciting and challenging time for the retail environment in the UK and for the future development of Boots, a brand synonymous with pharmacy and care. We are sure his deep retail expertise will drive significant progress and innovation at Boots for the benefit all our stakeholders.”

Elizabeth Fagan, who has previously acted as managing director for Boots will continue to work with the company, taking on the newly created role of non-executive chairman of Boots.

Surprise departure

James joins Boots from Dixons Carphone, following ten years with the business, where he was appointed as CEO in 2012. The announcement comes just days before Dixons Carphone is due to release its Christmas trading results.

The move follows the departure of Humphrey Singer from the business, who is set to replace Helen Weir as Chief Finance Officer for M&S.

Walgreens Boots Alliance reported lower retail sales in its US and International divisions in the first quarter of the year. At a company level, sales increased 7.9% to $30.7bn, whilst operating income declined 8.6% to $1.3bn.

Pharmacy driving growth in the US

The US Retail Pharmacy business performed strongly, with sales increasing 8.9% to $22.5bn, and same store sales up 4.7%. Pharmacy was the driver behind this, benefitting from higher prescription volumes. In contrast, retail sales fell -2.8%, and same store sales were down 0.9%. However, performance of health & wellness and beauty categories were positive, offsetting weaker sales in general merchandise and grocery.

The integration of Rite Aid stores remains on track for the end of 2020.

Weaker International performance

The International Retail Pharmacy division saw sales decline -0.8% to $3.1bn, with same store sales falling -0.7% on a constant currency basis. This reflected lower retail sales at Boots in the UK.

In China, the company's recent acquisition of a 40% stake in leading Chinese pharmacy chain Sinopharm Holding Guoda Drugstores Co., Ltd positions WBA for retail growth, whilst the sale of its stake in Chinese wholesale partner Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals Corporation is set to generate a substantial cash return. Both agreements are subject to regulatory review and approval.

Latest developments include CVS's $69bn merger with health insurer Aetna, Walgreens launching a new marketing campaign, and an innovative service-focused concept store in Dallas.

CVS to merge with health insurer Aetna in $69bn deal

US pharmacy chain CVS plans to acquire one of the market's leading health insurance companies Aetna for $69bn. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of next year, and is subject to regulatory approval. The combination of CVS's store network, including more than 9,700 stores and 1,100 walk-in clinics, with Aetna's health care benefits programme will create a platform that is "easier to use and less expensive for consumers", says CVS's CEO Larry J. Merlo.

As a result of the merger, the retailer describes a future of community-based health hubs, including new health services in many locations. It also emphasises the benefits of integrated data and analytics, such as helping patients manage healthcare after they are discharged from hospital, to prevent re-admission.

Walgreens brand repositioning

Walgreens is phasing out "At the corner of happy and healthy" and introducing a new tagline "Trusted since 1901". As Walgreens' vast and expanding network of stores across the US continues to offer a convenient, neighbourhood-based service to shoppers, this new tagline underlines the business's heritage and decades of expertise in the industry. Care, trust and accessibility are the characteristics that define Walgreens' relationship with its customers, according to Walgreens Boots Alliance's COO Alex Gourlay. These are reflected in the new series of adverts each featuring a "care story" of Walgreens shoppers.

The company's CMO Adam Holyk commented "Beyond a new tagline, we hope to reflect where our brand is headed in the future with new initiatives and services that align to our brand promise: to always to be here to help you feel good.”

This emphasis of the company's heritage and its connection to customers and communities comes at a time when reports speculate whether Amazon will enter the pharmaceutical market. In Japan, Amazon has already taken its first steps in this direction, selling medicines which require approval of a pharmacist before they are delivered. It has also partnered with two drugstore chains to supply products through its Amazon Prime delivery service, according to reports in The Japan Times. 

Walgreens plans expansion in China

Walgreens plans to acquire a 40% stake in Chinese drug store chain Guoda Drug Store Co. Ltd., owned by Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd., reports Caixin Global.  The chain has close to 3,700 outlets, making it the largest drug store chain in the market. The $420m deal needs approval from China's Ministry of Commerce to go ahead.

New service-focused concept store from MAC and Bumble and bumble

The new 2,200 sq ft store in Dallas is the first time the two brands, both owned by Estee Lauder Companies Inc.., have been brought together in one space. The hair and make up studio concept was inspired by how MAC and Bumble and bumble work together backstage at fashion shows, comments MAC's senior VP and general manager for North America Gustavo Andriani in interview with Women's Wear Daily.


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