In the same week the UK government unveiled its new obesity strategy, designed to get the nation fit and healthy, Holland & Barrett has opened a new concept store which aims to make wellness more accessible.
While the opening of the new branch today in Chelmsford chimes perfectly with the government’s announcement, it was not planned that way, says Holland & Barrett chief executive Tony Buffin.
“It was not done by design but rather is a part of what we do – helping people live healthier and less obese lives is important to us,” he says. “We have a big category in diet management, for instance, but it’s more important when people understand the benefits,” he states.
The new format store has been in genesis for 12 months, since Letter One Retail Group took over the running of the business, and follows some testing of new concepts in the Netherlands. The new look and feel, which has an open layout and features higher ceilings, is designed to create a more modern environment for shoppers.
The Covid-19 pandemic and current environment around health and immunity has propelled some of the new concepts to the fore.
Vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements are now located at the front of the store, alongside popular immunity product bays and with beauty lines opposite, for example.
This enables customers to get into store and find the products they want quickly, says Buffin.
Social distancing rules are in place, along with perspex screens at till points and the aisles have been widened with temperature checking on entry.
There are lockers for contactless click and collect orders for shoppers who do not wish to queue or touch products in-store plus contactless payment for purchases up to £45.00. Staff wear headsets to enable customers to access team members for advice or via an assist button. There is hand sanitisation throughout the store plus sinks for added hygiene, given a future return to product sampling.
According to Buffin, the aim has been to future proof the store but also make it a convenient and safe environment for customers. “It’s the right thing to do in the long term and current climate,” he says.
On trend products such as gut microbiome tests and DNA diagnostic kits are also to the fore and with accessible price points, Buffin says.
Consultation services in topics such as personal training and weight management are also new and offered in a dedicated room in-store by trained in-store colleagues or via video links to specialists at Holland & Barrett’s Nuneaton HQ.
Increasingly popular CBD products and Manuka honey have more prominence in Chelmsford too. Food, meanwhile, has been relocated to the back of the store, where there is more room to browse but is clearly signposted by dietary requirements. Sports nutrition is now conveniently located alongside as a natural extension of normal nutrition ie eating healthily for an active lifestyle, Buffin says.
On the environmental front household products feature more sustainable ingredients while in beauty, liquid soaps, shampoos and body washes are available in bar format, saving on both plastic and water to minimise their environmental impact.
Elsewhere, the retailer’s pick and mix bays have been replaced by refill stations for a more hygienic dispensing solution and to promote zero waste.
There are new daily vitamin packs, which are available in-store and will be offered via a subscription service in September for home delivery.
Buffin reports Holland & Barrett has enjoyed huge growth in subscriptions during lockdown with sales leaping from half a percent of turnover to 3% as people apply for more products online.
As Holland & Barrett kept the majority of its stores open during lockdown, in keeping with DEFRA guidelines, the business has seen half of the declines in footfall experienced elsewhere on the high street but online sales have trebled, Buffin reports. Shoppers were more purposeful and conversion rates were higher with a bigger basket spend, especially online, he says.
All markets – Holland & Barrett operates 1,300+ stores worldwide – are now reported to be in growth, with online orders for food and immunity products now available on next day or nominated delivery, following a spike in demand in May as shoppers failed to access products from supermarkets.
Buffin said the customer response to the new concept store will now be reviewed and, if positive, will be rolled out to the rest of the estate.