Boots UK (boots.com), the UK’s largest pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer, is part of the Retail Pharmacy International Division of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (Nasdaq: WBA), the first global pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing enterprise. With 2,511* stores in the UK, Boots UK is committed to providing exceptional customer and patient care and to being the first choice for pharmacy and healthcare. They offer innovative “only at Boots” exclusive products such as the UK’s leading skincare brand No7, which are delivered with the great value customers love. Created over 165 years ago, the Boots brand is still at the heart of the communities it serves.
Boots customers can shop on boots.com or discover health information on Boots.WebMD.com. Founded in 1849, Boots now offers omni-channel shopping, integrating its “click and collect” service with its store portfolio, allowing customers the convenience of roughly 2,500 pick up points. Approximately two thirds of online orders are collected in store, many driving repeat transactions in store when customers come to collect.
To serve its rapidly growing international customer base, Boots UK needed a way to offload the delivery of dynamically generated (but non consumer-specific) content. Boots turned to Fastly for full-page caching and the ability to tailor the boots.com shopping experience to customers based on geographic location and user agent.
“We’ve been extremely happy with Fastly. We’re very pleased in terms of support, scalability, and protecting our infrastructure. As Boots continues to grow, we know we’re in a really good place with Fastly.” Peter Dawson, Solution Architect, Boots UK
“Fastly’s Custom VCL allows us to manage our configuration changes ourselves, or through our delivery partners, rather than raising service requests to have changes made.This means we can make and implement our own updates instantly. This control and flexibility is critical in a CDN, and it is one of the major reasons why we chose Fastly.” Peter Dawson, Solution Architect, Boots UK
Varnish, the state-of-the-art web accelerator at the heart of Fastly’s content delivery network (CDN), gives Boots complete control over how its content is served. Fastly’s heavily customized version of Varnish is optimized for large-scale deployments, and uses a distributed system that synchronizes purges across all global caches, in real time. Fastly’s Instant Purge functionality has proved crucial for Boots, allowing the business to target specific objects and purge them immediately. This gives Boots the flexibility to update items on boots.com as necessary, reacting to events in real time.
Using Custom Varnish Configuration Language (VCL), boots.com can update their CDN configuration in real time, on their own, without having to engage support.
Custom VCL also allows Boots to tailor a user’s visit to boots.com depending on their geographic location. Using GeoIP Detection — an edge module enabled through Fastly’s Custom VCL — Boots can quickly identify where user requests are coming from. Boots uses GeoIP to help shoppers across the world find the Boots site that best fits their needs.
“Fastly’s GeoIP edge module has been exceedingly useful. We have a global user base and properties that are specific to geographic locations. GeoIP allows us to determine where customers are coming from and make a logical guess based on their location as to which Boots site they’d like to access. Previously, we were using a third-party for GeoIP identification — but with Fastly, we can have our CDN and GeoIP under the same roof, ensuring we’re providing the best experience for our users.” Peter Dawson, Solution Architect, Boots UK
With 40 percent of visitors to boots.com coming from mobile devices, it’s important for Boots to provide a high quality mobile experience. Fastly allows Boots to detect how customers are accessing boots.com, directing them to either the mobile or desktop site depending on the device. Using Custom VCL, Boots can identify devices via the HTTP header — when the header matches a mobile device, those users are diverted to m.boots.com. As the global presence of Boots continues to grow, mobile site personalization is integral to broadening the company’s reach into emerging markets.
“Mobile is key to the global online shopping experience — as an ecommerce site, if you’re not looking into mobile, you’re going to lose out in a big way. Fastly’s Custom VCL allows us to tailor the mobile experience by letting us identify which devices shoppers use to access our site, so we can direct them to the right version of boots.com, which helps us move into new markets.” Peter Dawson, Solution Architect, Boots UK
Boots UK experienced record levels of holiday traffic in 2014. Fastly acts as a buffer, protecting their origin during high-traffic events while ensuring shopper satisfaction.
“Fastly has been a huge asset to us, especially during the holiday season. Black Friday visitors in 2014 far surpassed those last year — we were experiencing extreme levels of traffic, and Fastly was doing its job confidently.” Peter Dawson, Solution Architect, Boots UK
“Fastly’s CDN gives us an extra buffer — this has helped us scale quite well. Fastly provides us with a level of flexibility and protection while we evaluate how much infrastructure we need to put in place.” Peter Dawson, Solution Architect, Boots UK
The extra layer of protection that Fastly provides has helped Boots scale their operations by allowing them to serve more content from the edge, reducing the number of requests hitting their origin. Fastly offloads this traffic and allows Boots to cache at various levels of their application, giving them the opportunity to evaluate how and when to build out infrastructure to accommodate growth.
Fastly’s Analytics Dashboard lets Boots monitor performance in real time and view historical stats to inform site health over time. Through the Dashboard, Boots can monitor percentage of requests per second, a global traffic profile, hit ratio, and errors — insights which are useful during high-traffic events. Monitoring traffic during these events gives Boots the opportunity to address any issues as they happen.
“Fastly’s real-time analytics and historical stats are great. We get the most value out of the real-time analytics when we’re trading at peak and we’ve got the high numbers coming through — if we see something wobble, we look at Fastly’s Dashboard and have instantaneous insight into how our service is performing.” Scott Barrowcliffe, Front-End Performance Manager, Boots UK
“We’ve been extremely pleased with Fastly support. They’re always very quick to respond and really helpful.” Peter Dawson, Solution Architect, Boots UK
When Boots was getting started with Fastly, they found Fastly documentation useful and informative, allowing them to get up and running without needing to engage an account representative. When Boots does need support, they find the Fastly team helpful and responsive. They have ready access to the engineers who built Fastly, who offer the Boots team as much coaching and guidance as they need.