Walgreens' Digestive Health Category Reset
GlaxoSmithKline and Walgreens' deep collaboration results in transformation that has lifted the chain’s whole category
Shoppers inside Walgreens stores look for high-profile, recognizable brands to find the aisle they need, according to a GlaxoSmithKline path to purchase study. The brand is the wayfinder.
In the digestive health aisle, that brand is Tums, and while this insight seems simple enough, it sparked a complete overhaul of the aisle in all of Walgreens’ 9,000-plus stores.
The aisle transformation took 18 months from pitch to in-store completion, according to GSK’s Steve Zurek and Walgreens’ Rob McCabe, who have known each other for 10 years. Sitting down to discuss the program in GSK’s Deerfield location, they told Path to Purchase IQ that the success of the project can be attributed to meaningful collaboration.
“We’ve collaborated on a plethora of different projects, but this aisle reinvention is probably the most monumental,” says McCabe, category manager, antacids and laxatives, for Walgreens. “We literally wiped the planogram clean, and most of our planograms are 24 feet long. We literally had to take every item off the shelf and reorder the aisle, so it took a lot of courage, as Steve likes to say, calculated risk, and labor both from intellectual capital as well as store labor to pull this off.”
When Zurek and GSK first proposed the aisle change to him, McCabe was skeptical. “What vendor wouldn’t want to lead the aisle with their brand? But after seeing all of the hard work, when you saw the data and consumer insight, it made perfect sense.”
Previously, the digestive health aisle led off with the prebiotic and probiotic section, but the study found that most shoppers relate antacids to digestive health and don’t know probiotics by brand as they do Tums, the brand with the highest penetration in the category. “We had to change the aisle so that the shopper could recognize it quickly,” Zurek says. “What we know about shoppers is that they use major, high-penetration brands as locators for sections in the store.”
GSK’s shopper insights team collaborated with research shop Ipsos to conduct “The Digestive Health Shopper Path to Purchase Study,” which found that just by altering the flow of the aisle – with no new promotion schedule changes, no new digital marketing tactics – Walgreens would see a big bump in sales.
And, the early results have been in line with expectations. Looking at year-over-year numbers, overall category sales went from flat to a positive single-digit gain, with some sub-segments delivering low double-digit growth. Other shopper metrics have shown positive increases, including more trips per customer down the aisle and dollars per shopper. Both Walgreens and GSK measure through IRI, and the program is leveraging Walgreens’ Balance Rewards loyalty data.
Zurek and McCabe’s work on this project began in April 2018 when GSK presented findings from the study, which looked at several different retailers and how shoppers shopped those stores. It leaned on shopper interviews, shopalongs, and eye-tracking and heat-mapping of planograms.
Walgreens then agreed to launch a test in roughly 35 stores, geographically dispersed to hit different demographics and regions. The tests ran for three months, got measured, and the new planogram rolled out that summer.
Despite leading the aisle off with a GSK brand in Tums, McCabe says it was a “very brand-agnostic approach” that focused on lifting the entire category and was always grounded in consumer insight. He says his role changed a bit with the project in that, as a retailer, he’s used to buying product. Here, he became a salesman and needed to sell the idea internally, but the proof was in the data.
“I would love to say that every one of the vendors that calls on me is rich with customer data, but the reality is, it’s the vast minority,” McCabe says, acknowledging that smaller brands may not have the resources or budget to hire a consulting firm for insights work. “GSK has the data, uses it properly, and that makes for good decisions for both of us.”
To execute the transformation, the partners needed the help of several departments on both sides working together. Next up: GSK and Walgreens are working on enhancing the digital content on Walgreens.com. McCabe is working with GSK’s shopper marketing agency to create succinct, educational digital pieces to support some longer form content that’s harder to find on the site. And. of course, they’re already working on the next planogram.