Retail Therapy: Health Conscious Consumers Drive the Market

By Lynn Dehlinger, Sr. Economic Development Manager/Broker Associate/ICSC P3 Florida Chair, Private Sector


As everyday consumers push the health-and-wellness movement from the earthy-crunchy margins to the mainstream, retailers are going beyond just selling Fitbit wellness trackers and organic, gluten-free bread.

Ushering in the next wave of healthy-living consumerism, merchants are taking on the overtones of the medical, psychotherapeutic and fitness communities. They’re wrapping the sale of “better for you goods” in services and experiences that aim at holistic, mind-body-soul approaches to wellness.

Professional and personal lives tethered to smartphones and digital screens have taken an existential toll on shoppers who are already buried in “peak stuff.”

Experts point to the rise of the so-called “self-care generation,” and what Euromonitor International dubs “clean lifers,” younger consumers “who are saying no to unhealthy habits…and uninformed spending.”

People would rather spend their money on experiences, such as weekends away, festivals and restaurants, where they can chat with friends, or healthier social alternatives, such as hosting fitness class parties from yoga to high-intensity workouts, in today’s world, so they’re increasingly turning to retailers to deliver something more, be it added convenience, service, guidance or inspiration.

There is an imperative today to deliver shoppers meaningful experiences that they can’t get online, Health and wellness is a natural fit, as increasingly savvy consumers “want to trust the information they get” in a Good-Housekeeping Institute stamp of approval fashion.

Eileen Fisher’s New Making Space Store: Serving Up Retail Therapy

Eileen Fisher has branded ethical consumerism into the retailer’s branding world ever since she founded the fashion chain in 1984. As a Certified B Corporation, for one, it voluntarily meets higher criteria for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, a rare designation among fashion brands.

Now the fashion retailer, on a mission to achieve maximum sustainability by 2020, wants to help you to not only wear clothes that reflect conscious capitalism, but find your purpose, too, said Kate McShane, Director of Brand Marketing at Making Space, according to International Council Shopping Center’s research.

That all comes together at its new Making Space test store in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, what it bills as a “community-centered retail experience.”

The store features an outsized mix of Eileen Fisher’s Renew and Remade recycled clothing collections—crafted from shoppers returned worn garments that have been refashioned for a second life. It also features a rotating roster of community-based artists in residence like Lilah Horwitz, who makes one-of-a-kind pieces and will hold an on-site workshop on creating new designs from damaged clothing.

The store’s lower level gives new meaning to the term “retail therapy.” Eileen Fisher’s signature LifeWork guest lectures and panel discussions, like “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,” once reserved for its employees, is being opened up to its shoppers.

Lens Crafters: Reinventing the Exam

Another retailer, LensCrafters, is ‘Reinventing The Exam’ With Digital Technology.  At the same time, retailers are catering to consumers’ growing penchant to measure their health and wellness via technology such as wearables that track their exercise activity, heart rates and even stress levels, while joining forces with medical experts to give their merchandise and marketing a wellness stamp of authenticity.

LensCrafters is seizing that inclination. New technology is propelling the brand into the future of vision care in a market where consumers, with a heightened awareness of their health, play a participatory role in safeguarding it, said Giorgio Candido, senior vice president and general manager of the eyewear chain.

A comprehensive eye exam has always been key to maintaining good eye health, he said. However, the retailer says the chain is upping that protection by “completely reinventing” the eye-exam experience with Clarifye, its proprietary, a digitally based exam that’s conducted in store.

Clarifye scans the inside and outside structure of the eye, generating a digital fingerprint of the visual system.  The result is an eye exam that gathers five times more data on the characteristics of a consumer’s visual health that far eclipses the precision of a standard screening, according to the retailer.

“Not only can we detect eye diseases and underlying health conditions, which don’t have early warnings signs and couldn’t be detected through a regular screening, but the patient is also part of the experience, learning about their eyes and seeing what the doctor sees,” he said. “They walk out of the exam room with a much deeper understanding of their eyes and what makes them healthy.  This has raised the bar and with it, consumers’ expectations.”

DSW: Feet Healing At The  ‘Sole Lounge’

DSW, with more than 500 stores in 55 states, is eyeing wellness as part of its larger goal to forge an emotional bond with shoppers via services, along with cause marketing efforts that go beyond the mere sale of products.

“We see health and wellness as a big opportunity,” Roger Rawlins, CEO of DSW, said in an interview. “People are more aware of their own health and wellness and things… they can do to improve their lives, and we can provide our customers with tools and products that can further their well-being.”

The footwear retailer’s service-meets-wellness push comes to life in DSW’s “innovation lab store” in Polaris, designed to “offer exclusive experiences and services, ” Rawlins said. A key feature: the Sole Lounge, an in-store shop offering manicures and pedicures, shoe repair as well as custom-made orthotics, as foot health is integral to total health, Rawlins said.

Meanwhile, DSW is tapping into its shoppers’ growing interest in conscious consumption. That, coupled with its own, “be the change you want to see in the world” goals, birthed the DSW Gives campaign last month, which focuses on (spacing here)“empowerment, wellness and community.” Via an expanded partnership with Soles4Souls, DSW shoppers can now bring their gently worn shoes to one of its stores and the organization will donate pairs to children and families in need around the world. Shoppers earn 50 loyalty rewards points in return.

“We hope to do our small part to build resiliency and promote wellness in the communities where our associates live and work and inspire others to do the same,” Rawlins said.

CVS: Health-and-Wellness Makeover – do we want to mention they stopped selling cigarettes also?

CVS’ health-and-wellness makeover debuted in a mock store last year in New York City that signaled a push to morph into something akin to the Whole Foods of drugstore retailing. The shift marks efforts by the retailer to change along with its core consumers, who are asking for wellness, preventative and “better-for-you” fare, executives said.

There is a product, merchandising and philosophical shift from a focus on “sick care,” or “expected,” products like over-the-counter cold medications and sleep aids (sleep, or lack thereof, is the number one issue that CVS shoppers come in trying to solve) to “unexpected,” preventative “self-care” solutions, such as natural supplements, sleep tracking devices, sleep masks and aromatherapy, CVS executives said.

The retailer has since expanded its health-focused format to select stores, signature features of which include industry disruptive “discovery zones” that spotlight holistic solutions via educational displays that guide shoppers in their purchase of better-for-you goods, “with messages emphasizing health expertise.”

The zones feature connected-health items such as diagnostic scales, wireless thermometers and digital trackers to active-nutrition supplements such as elderberry “for those on a journey to holistic wellness and self-care,” said Erin Pensa, senior director of retail communications for CVS Pharmacy, items previously reserved for specialty health store and online retailers.

In conclusion,  the health and wellness retail market is becoming an important business model.   So use this knowledge in your community to attract these retailers.


  • Forbes, September 2018
  • Barbara Thau
  • ICSC, Research Department