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Curtin, team add a little love to Walgreens beauty


 Walgreens is on a journey to transform its beauty offer, satisfying the desires of a new breed of beauty shoppers in a big way — whether in stores, online or on smartphones. Going Big in Beauty is paying off big for Walgreens.

When GVP/GMM, beauty and personal care Shannon Curtin arrived at Walgreen Co. about five years ago, the beauty department was already regarded as one of the best and most efficient in the mass business.

But it was missing one element Curtin and her teamwork diligently to nurture — love. “We are on the quest to become the world’s most shopped and loved beauty destination,” Curtin said. “Loved” is now part of the beauty mission statement for how Walgreens wants customers to think about the category and our brand.

“Any savvy business person works hard to maximize share of wallet, but becoming the most loved in the heart of your customer is something you have to work on every day,” Curtin said.

Her vision is that every time a customer comes in to our stores or shops with us online, they should feel a little more loved than the last time. “That takes steady, consistent work with a huge group of folks at corporate and with our talented 26,000 Beauty Advisors out in the field.”

Customers appear to really love Walgreens beauty. The chain is already the third largest beauty purveyor in the United States. But Curtin has more work to do. “I’m still really hungry for the business — this is a business that I love, and one where we still have opportunity.”

Building the beauty basket

Why the focus on beauty? Roughly 70% of Walgreens shoppers are female, and not all of them purchase something in the beauty aisles. “We know they are not finishing the basket with us today, that is why we will continue to expand our product portfolio,” Curtin explained. The emerging male shopper also is critical to Walgreens’ strategy. With Walgreens’ strong heritage in pharmacy, Curtin continues to find ways to strengthen the link between feeling well and looking good.

To complete that basket, Walgreens has a three-pronged approach, including burnishing the store environment and service, enriching the product assortment and providing a seamless approach to purchasing — whether online or in the store.

Not your mother’s Walgreens

A consumer who hasn’t visited Walgreens in the past five years might think they’ve been transported into a department or specialty store. The fixtures are gleaming, illuminated in lighting that helps guests see the array of products. No one needs to feel lost in a sea of stock-keeping units thanks to well-trained Beauty Advisors at the ready. Many mass retailers eliminated service over the past two decades — and some are adding advisors back in — but Walgreens never strayed from its philosophy of offering help when customers want it. There are currently more than 26,000 highly trained Beauty Advisors — both female and male — staffing Walgreens stores.

“We’ve created a foundation of continuous learning for our Beauty Advisors. One aspect is Beauty University, a site with training for new hires, seasoned staffers and even trained estheticians who can find resources to help better inform customers,” Curtin said. This is critical today because shoppers crave more education and tips, and often come into the store armed with knowledge from researching online.

The right products in the right stores

The next piece of Walgreens transformation is expanded beauty assortments. Merchants pored over shopper data to identify clusters, which help curate an assortment for each store. That means the beauty mix in one store could differ greatly from one just 20 miles away.

All of the mass brands “people would expect” are stocked and are important partners for Walgreens. At the heart of buying and merchandising decisions is the customer, Curtin said.

Curtin and her team strive to be totally transparent when dealing with suppliers with a goal of sell through success for both. “We’re here to serve customers. We are also a for-profit operation, just as they (suppliers) are, our mutual financial discipline is crucial to long-term business and customer delight success. We strive to create the right balance for all three (customer, supplier, and Walgreens).”

The output of those decisions is the litmus test for space allocations. The best performing brands get maximum footage and treatment, and Walgreens’ owned brands are “treated like national brands” as all brands in the box must perform.

National name beauty brands are as important as ever, Curtin said, because they drive shoppers into stores. She knows shoppers want to visit Walgreens for newness, whether it is debut mascara from CoverGirl or Maybelline, or a lipstick from Revlon or Rimmel. That scenario was recently played out in a store where a confused husband sought the advice of the Beauty Advisor to find a “new butterfly mascara” his wife wanted for Valentine’s Day.

But beauty consumers experiment frequently, with only 10% to 25% loyal to one brand. That’s why Walgreens offers the freedom to shop other selections.

Walgreens’ Duane Reade woke up the industry with just how much an impact a drug chain can make when it opened 40 Wall Street in 2011 with sushi, an in-store hair salon and manicures. The LOOK Boutique beauty department was jaw dropping with brands many thought would never be available in a drug store. Walgreens continues to select markets that are a good fit for its prestige selection housed in LOOK Boutiques, and the departments continue to be the industry’s gold standard.

But not every market is a candidate for that model, and a few years ago, Curtin searched for solutions to offer more masstige items. A strategic relationship with Boots in the United Kingdom helped bring the fan favorite No7 to Walgreens, along with a treasure trove of other Boots properties. Now with Walgreens’ merger with Alliance Boots complete, the pipeline offers tremendous potential to grow other Boots’ brands.

Exclusive launches

In addition to Boots, Curtin has filled in other gaps in the masstige offer with exclusive curated brands. Intrigued with the creative force behind butter LONDON, Curtin had the chance to meet the magnetic Nonie Creme. Finding they shared many goals, the duo put their heads together for a new line rolling out Walgreens and Duane Reade called Colour Prevails, which also is available on and The range, which is dramatically different from other mass lines, includes more than 140 stock-keeping units, priced from $9 for liquid eyeliner to $19 for an eye shadow palette. The assortment of hair color is priced from $10.99 to $12.99.

When actress Eva Mendes was looking to make her mark in beauty, she found a good partner in Walgreens and Curtin — and not just because they could swap new baby stories. Working with Maesa Group and with Mendes as the ambassador, Walgreens is debuting Circa in March, also across Walgreens and Duane Reade doors. Curtin said the line harkens back to the days of Hollywood Glamour wi

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