Mass beauty: The heart of the beauty department


 Barb Larson has seen myriad changes in her role as division merchandise manager at Walgreens. But what she’s most proud of today is how Walgreens has become more connected to shoppers than ever.

“We’re focused on the customer and we’ve become a customer-led company, being relevant to her and delighting her at the same time,” Larson said.

Using Walgreens’ Consumer Insights, Larson said, the chain tailors the format and assortment for each store to match the market. Leadership keeps an ear tuned to feedback from local markets. The result is a different mix from store to store that helps ensure success for suppliers and shoppers. “We are not one-size-fits-all anymore,” she said. “We are now able to understand every customer better.”

The laser-like focus on the customer allows Walgreens to present greater value, Larson said. The value equation isn’t just the cheapest cost. “Price is what you pay, value is what you get,” said Larson, who believes shoppers are more interested in value than ever. Walgreens’ beauty delivers value in many ways, including convenience, selection and service.

Building the business together

Larson said suppliers can be good partners by sharing knowledge and delivering innovation. Walgreens craves trend information, right down to local markets. “Suppliers can help us on this journey by bringing us up to date data on trends and creating innovation,” she said.

Innovation is an ingredient for success in the fast-paced beauty industry. Even as Walgreens builds out its offer with prestige and masstige logos, national beauty brands are the engine driving sales. The power beauty brands, through marketing — whether in print, television or social media — bring shoppers into Walgreens where they know they can find a large selection and the latest products. And now they can shop in a department that’s well lit and thoughtfully merchandised around the way women have said they like to shop.

The chain wants to be first to market and welcomes partnerships with suppliers for consumer building events. “We look to have an open dialogue [with suppliers] to see how we can delight and add value to our customers together.”

Some trends in which Walgreens has jumped out in front of the market have included oils, textured hair care, BB and CC creams, nail and the bevy of new mascaras. The presence of Walgreens’ 26,000 Beauty Advisors gives Walgreens a market advantage, said Larson, not only because they provide assistance, but they can help distribute samples or gifts with the purchase. That helps Walgreens reduce reliance on such margin-shaving promotions as buy-one-get-one, and gives shoppers something that they appreciate, such as a gift or sample. That’s crucial in fragrance, she said, since it is a hands-on business. Suppliers also can help provide the tools needed for educating Beauty Advisors on products.

“What’s coming to the category? And how do we build new items or a category together?” Larson often asks suppliers. “How can we reach shoppers at all touch points?” Working in tandem, Walgreens has helped many suppliers succeed with new products and categories. A good example of such a partnership was Walgreens and Procter & Gamble’s efforts around The People’s Choice awards. Walgreens and Procter & Gamble leveraged the appeal of the televised event and the power of social media to drive business and engage customers. Beauty brands featured included CoverGirl, Olay and Pantene. Another example was the launch of Axe Apollo, during which Walgreens offered a chance to win a trip to space camp.


Perhaps more than many of the others on the beauty team, Larson has witnessed the change in how beauty consumers shop. It isn’t just brick and mortar, she said, and that impacts where, when and how they shop. That’s a benefit for Walgreens, which has a solution in all scenarios through its stores and its own website, as well as, and


“It is important to carry a cohesive message across online and brick and mortar, and we do that,” she said. In addition to giving shoppers choices, she said Walgreens uses digital resources to better understand shoppers and the chain is in tune with beauty influencers and beauty bloggers.    

All of the pieces in mass beauty — innovative products, partnerships with suppliers and the online capabilities — keep Walgreens competitive at a time when more and more channels are entering the beauty fray. “We look at competition closely— other drug, mass, specialty, department and the online channel. We each play in the same arena and we work tirelessly to create a different customer experience for our customers.”

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