Well.ca Explores Growth and Partnerships Under New Ownership

 Photo:  BetaKit.com

Photo: BetaKit.com

By Megan Harman

As Canadian e-commerce retailer Well.ca settles in under new ownership at McKesson Canada Corp., the brand is exploring growth opportunities that could see it develop a more prominent physical retail presence.

Well.ca, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, sells beauty products, baby products and a variety of health and wellness items.  In particular, the retailer specializes in green and natural products, which comprise more than half of its annual sales.

“Our mission is to help our customers live healthier and happier lives,” says Erin Young, Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer at Well.ca. “We’re seeing a lot of growth and excitement among our customers around more natural products and also craft brands, so things that are harder to find, things that people are discovering on social media.”

  Photo: Well.ca Twitter

Photo: Well.ca Twitter

The brand’s business model revolves around providing “unique products, unique content curation and an exceptional customer experience,” Young adds. Beyond simply selling products, Well.ca has strived to create a community revolving around wellness, featuring articles, videos and advice on topics related to health and wellness, along with opportunities for shoppers to interact with their peers and with experts such as nutritionists, naturopaths and skin care specialists.

“Our view is that people want to make better choices,” Young says, “but often they don’t know where to start or how to do it.”

The company has grown significantly since it was founded in Guelph, Ont. in 2008 by Ali Asaria, a former software engineer at Research In Motion Ltd.

In December 2017, Well.ca was acquired by health care services and pharmaceutical distribution company McKesson Canada, which operates more than 2,000 retail pharmacies across Canada, including the Rexall Pharmacy Group.

Under the new ownership, Well.ca will continue to operate as an independent brand, however the acquisition could lead to some collaboration with McKesson’s other business units. For example, the Well.ca e-commerce platform could provide a new distribution channel for some of McKesson’s other properties, while McKesson’s physical retail footprint could present an opportunity for Well.ca to expand distribution through that channel.

“McKesson obviously brings a lot to the table – they have a great distribution business and supply chain – things we’ll be able to leverage,” Young says. “There are also great opportunities for us to explore partnerships.”

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In addition to its e-commerce site, Well.ca currently operates a baby store in Guelph and a pop-up shop at CF Sherway Gardens, which opened in October 2016 and just closed at the end of January. In the past, the company also operated pop up shops at locations including Shops at Don Mills and Toronto’s Union Station.

“We find with physical retail, it’s a great way to introduce new people to the brand, and it’s also great for existing customers to come in and discover new things,” Young says.

Although Well.ca has more than 40,000 products available through its website, physical stores provide an opportunity for the company to showcase a curated selection of items that customers might prefer to buy in person rather than online.

“There are certain things that people want to touch and feel,” Young says.

The brand is now on the lookout for other potential pop-up store locations, she says, as well as opportunities to sell Well.ca products within other retailers’ stores. The new relationship with Rexall, for instance, could result in distribution of Well.ca products through that retail chain.

“We are exploring partnerships with other retailers, and ways of putting a Well.ca store within a store,” Young says.

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Megan Harman is a business reporter based in Toronto. She writes about topics including retail, financial services and technology. Megan covers Toronto’s retail industry through her blog Retail Realm (torontoretail.wordpress.com). Follow her on Twitter at @meganmharman.

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