Boots Ireland Keeps Ahead of What’s Next with ECRM  9/29/2020

COVID has changed the way consumers around the world think about their health. Long gone are the days when they just wait for a stuffy nose or cough before running out to get products that will address their symptoms; now they are looking for products that will prevent these symptoms from occurring in the first place, as well as strengthen their body’s systems for better health and longevity in the future.

Indeed, with all of the rapid changes occurring, it can be difficult to keep up, much less get a jump on upcoming trends. But that’s just what Conor O’ Farrell, Buying Manager for Positive Healthcare at Boots Ireland is able to do, thanks to the work he puts into preparing for his supplier meetings at ECRM sessions, where he and his colleagues in other categories routinely find unique products with which they are often first-to-market. (Click here to see the full lineup of ECRM’s category-specific sessions).

A recent participant in ECRM’s European Health Nutrition & Wellness Virtual Session, over the past few months O' Farrell has witnessed firsthand the erratic shift in consumer shopping habits at the retailer’s stores. Like everywhere else in the world, there was the rush for essentials when the pandemic first hit, as people stocked up on paper products, PPE, and shelf-stable foods. But once they were fully stocked up, the focus turned to preventative health. 

“Once they had all of the essentials, they shifted their focus onto wellness, vitamins and supplements, and building their immunity,” says Farrell. “Whereas normally as winter ends we are coming out of immunity season, as the summer approached this past year people continued stocking up on Vitamin C, Zinc, and those kind of products. And they are not just getting these products for themselves, but for the whole family.


"So it’s been important for us to stay on top of what’s happening with the pandemic and adjusting our forecasts, because things are changing so rapidly. We came out of lockdown, and now cases are picking up again and we are seeing a couple of local lockdowns happening again.”

Boots consumers are also looking to stay ahead of the virus, and seek out that information from the experts on the Boots staff. “In the past, most of our shoppers kind of knew what they were looking for, or maybe had some product-related questions,” says O’ Farrell. “Now we’re seeing a lot more questions being asked of our healthcare advisors about what they should be doing from an immunity standpoint, what they and their families should be taking to keep them healthy.”

While many Boots customers like to have the one-to-one interaction with the healthcare advisors, they increasingly shifted to online for information during lockdowns, and Boots provides a wealth of digital content for these consumers. In addition, Boots offers next-day delivery for those who prefer to not venture outside. 

When it comes to other health-related products, O’ Farrell closely watches trends in the U.S. to see what may be coming down the pike. Keto diets, for example, are just gaining in popularity in Ireland, as are supplements with specific functional benefits such as turmeric and mushroom powder. “We watch the US market quite a lot to see what emerging brands are coming out to meet these trends,” says O’ Farrell. 

The ECRM Connect Experience
ECRM’s sessions are another source of information about key category trends, and O’ Farrell has been to several in-person sessions over the years as well as the recent virtual session. He’s definitely a pro at squeezing as much value out of each meeting by thoroughly preparing for them beforehand, leveraging the variety of digital tools ECRM provides and working closely with his Client Success Managers.

“Audrey, whom I’ve worked with closely over the years, took me through the platform and how it works, the tools that are available, and how to find the information we needed on the prep site,” says O’ Farrell. “These include meeting documents the suppliers have uploaded, product information and images, our meeting schedule, and any related information provided for the meetings “I think that whether it’s in-person or virtual, preparation is the key to make the most out of those 5-, 10- and 20-minute meetings, and to approach the suppliers with the right questions. If you go into a meeting starting from scratch and have to spend time trying to get a feel for the company and its products, you’re wasting a lot of valuable minutes that can be used for determining if what they have fits your specific needs.”

With all of the basic information at his fingertips on the prep site, O’ Farrell can spend his time discussing items that are NOT in the supplier’s slide deck, or getting more details on the company’s products and capabilities. And when it comes to slide decks, he recommends that suppliers limit their presentations to some key stats and consumer trends, maybe five or six slides that will take up no more than half the meeting time, so that they can spend more time going back and forth in a conversation. Having products to show on camera helps too, he says, as it gives him an idea of their size and how they will appear on the shelf. 

He also needs to know if suppliers have everything in place in order to do business in Ireland, as going through regulatory requirements can sometimes take one-and-a-half to two years. Not that it’s a dealbreaker, but knowing where a supplier is in the regulatory process can impact the timing of a launch.

As for the virtual experience itself, O’ Farrell says it’s a close approximation of what he experiences at in-person sessions – except, of course, the fact that they are not in the same room. “The platform was pretty seamless,” he adds. “You get an alert when the meeting is about to end just like the knock you would get on the door, you have the follow up site with all of my notes and rankings of each meeting are saved, that I can send right to my email inbox. It was perfect.”

This all results in O’ Farrell’s ability to start engaging suppliers with follow ups immediately after the session concludes. “I already have some conversations going on with some of the suppliers I met at the virtual session, where we are looking at what we need to do to get them into Ireland,” he says. “It's great to start the follow up discussions instantaneously, while the appetite is still there.”

Prep = success
All of this meeting prep certainly pays off; O’ Farrell and his colleagues at Boots Ireland in the beauty and personal care categories have discovered many products from various countries that have been a success on their shelves. “We found some new innovative items that we were the first-to-market with in Ireland, that keep us on the forefront of our shoppers minds as far as leading the trends,” he says. “This has happened at every session in which we participated.”

Looking ahead to the future, O’ Farrell believes that virtual is here to stay; the efficiencies it delivers are just to great to ignore. “I think it’s a new way of doing business and it’s probably going to stay even after COVID is gone,” he says. “For example, if I need a meeting with one of our suppliers plus our marketing team and supply team, you can organize one pretty quickly using virtual because you can always find a half-hour or hour that fits everyone. But it is nice to have someone sitting with you, as well, and there is a lot to be said for face-to-face meetings as well.”

Hopefully sooner rather than later, ECRM will have both to offer him!


John Van der Valk

ECRM Europe

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