If ever there was a topic on everyone’s mind these days it is health. No, don’t panic: I’m not referring to all the vitriol coming out of Washington around the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (although clearly that’s one reason).
What I am talking about is how, in this retail environment, where growth is hard to come by, health and wellness offers real, substantial opportunities for many — not only those in traditional health categories.
In our How America Shops research over the last several years, we’ve tracked shoppers’ attitudes to their health: how they define being well, how they want to support themselves and their family’s health, and where they want to buy it.
Follow the wellness shopper
Coming out of the recession was when we first noted shoppers’ shifting attitudes to their health. They were grounded in their changing values: their drive for a better quality of life, more financial control, less stress and greater well-being. This is where the new wellness movement began to take root.
That’s important to recognize. One of the reasons more and more Americans are immersed in the idea of health and wellness is because it supports their new value system.
It was then that many Americans began to recognize that being healthy was an economic imperative and a social proposition. (Economic because of the cost of health care: Being sick often means there’s the risk of being out of work, in addition to the actual cost of getting better. Social because being well often means having a better quality of life.)
Americans at large began to do what they could afford to do to be healthy. They began to read more labels, drink fewer carbonated beverages, eat less sugar and more organic or healthier food, stop smoking, and even get a little more exercise. For many it was being “a little less bad.” For some it became a passion.
This drove the growth of organic produce at retailers from premium-priced Whole Foods to more affordable supermarkets like Albertsons and Aldi. Water, vitamin drinks, smoothies and herbal teas began to erode the carbonated beverage market, and healthier food options appeared at McDonald’s. Probiotics and at-home health devices became hot new health categories, and new nutritional supplements brands like Olly popped up in big boxes like Target.
Americans also began to look for ways to make their lives less stressful. In our How America Shops study on health, “Redefining Wellness for All,” nine in 10 women said that simplifying their life has become an imperative to their future wellness.
The top five ways women say they are doing that are: easier meal preparation, using easier hair and makeup products and routines, buying simpler products instead of special formulas, spending less time shopping, and spending less time on social media (or at least trying to).
That’s the sweet spot where many new opportunities now lie for all types of companies — manufacturers, service companies and retailers.
Big opportunity gaps emerge
The chaos of 21st century shopping, according to WSL Strategic Retail’s Shopping Life, has created the next big business opportunity. It is all about satisfying Americans’ quest for energy. I don’t mean energy like gas and oil. But rather the energy for everyday life.
The No. 1 and No. 2 barriers to health today, as identified by shoppers, are stress and lack of sleep. Being rested and physically fit translates into energy, which is what shoppers tell us they want most and achieve least. Seven in 10 women tell us energy is a priority for them, yet only four in 10 say they achieve it.
Second is a healthy mental outlook: two-thirds of women say it’s a priority; only four in 10 say they achieve it. Then there’s the look of health: four in 10 say it’s a priority, but only one in four achieve it. These are three big opportunity gaps for many companies.
Delivering the opportunity
So many of the latest business success stories are grounded in addressing these gaps.
Casper, the New York-based mattress company, offers the solution for sleep and less stress, all at the same time, with its “one perfect mattress,” easy delivery, a 100-nights satisfaction guarantee or free return, affordable prices and whimsical messaging. After its initial success it expanded into healthier (breathable) bed linens and pillows. And now there’s a Casper Dog Mattress (better sleep and less stress for the entire family).
Casper has a sleep podcast series called “In Your Dreams,” a toll-free number you can call when you can’t sleep, and a recreational vehicle that tours the country with sleep pods in it so people can test the mattress. Most recently, Target invested in Casper, and its mattresses will now available in the retailer’s stores.
Beyond Casper, meal services like Blue Apron and Go Fresh now abound to make people’s lives easier and healthier. There are health subscription services for vitamins (Wellpath) and a prescription delivery service called Capsule.com. Just some of the innovations emerging.
Broader-based opportunities are in the “look” of health, both services and products. Skin Laundry enables people to have laser skin treatments in just 15 minutes (sort of Drybar for your skin). Fitness studios the likes of Bandier feature not only exercise classes but also cafés, music and clothes. Health and beauty company Naturopathic offers consultative services, a “vitality bar” with custom drinks, yoga classes, and health and beauty products in its stores and online.
Even department stores are getting in on the movement. London’s Selfridges department store has expanded its athleisure department to include a spa and yoga classes. It offers an extensive selection of healthy food options in its food hall, including the “Detox Salad Bar.” In the U.S., Saks Fifth Avenue has recently opened The Wellery in its New York City flagship store.
Of course, there’s a health and wellness app for everything. And alternative health and wellness “advisors” are beginning to rival pharmacists (62%) as trusted sources of advice: with nutritionists at 52% and health websites at 50%.
Google is testing a smart bathroom that tells you your heart rate, blood pressure and other key health measures all while you clean your teeth and wash your face. Surely it won’t be long before Amazon’s Alexa will tell shoppers ordering unhealthy products that she can suggest a healthier alternative!
Millennials lead wellness movement
Millennials are leading this new revolution. They are taking their health into their own hands, relying on themselves more, going to the doctor less often and instead using urgent care clinics. Many treat themselves with alternative remedies, and they are leading the way on using genetic testing.
Their voice is becoming more resonant in once-sleepy and conservative health categories such as feminine hygiene.
A bevy of new Millennial-sounding brands are on the market, including Lola, organic feminine hygiene products presented in well-designed packaging (good enough to be seen) that can be ordered via subscription. Sweetspot Labs, originally developed for spas, has expanded into a line of feminine hygiene products sold online and now at retail. Love Wellness offers a range of products that includes treatment for yeast infections, probiotics and pH-balanced cleansing products; all are sold online (“Ditch the drug store” is its call to action).
Even traditional brands like Fleet’s Summer’s Eve and Combe’s Vagisil are retelling their health and wellness stories in Millennial-friendly, irreverent terms.
May health be with you
As health continues to be the topic writ large on many minds, opportunities really do abound for retailers, manufacturers and service companies — everyone. So view this as a friendly call to action — and fast.
Wendy Liebmann is CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, a global retail strategy consultancy based in New York and the publisher of How America Shops. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.