In this episode:

WSL’s Wendy Liebmann, CEO, and Candace Corlett, President, discuss WSL’s latest research, the health and wellness shopper revolution it reveals and the implications for retailers and brands.

They discuss:

  • How health and wellness has changed over the last 8 years, and the new conditions, such as mental health, that are impacting Americans’ health issues.
  • How trust of established professionals has eroded as America continues to move through the COVID pandemic.
  • That technology has had both a positive and negative impact on wellness – from the benefits of virtual health care to the problems of loneliness, especially in Gen Z.
  • How the new openness around categories, such as sexual health, the growing interest in alternative solutions (e.g., immunity), and new retail concepts, are creating untapped growth opportunities.
Don’t miss upcoming episodes, stay up-to-date by visiting the WSL Shopper Insights Library, or our Podcast page.

Wendy  00:07
Hello, my name is Wendy Liebmann. I’m the CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail and this is Future Shop. This is where I have a fast and furious sometimes controversial chat with smart, bold, often iconoclastic thinkers about the future of retail, not only about the future but what companies need to do to both envision and execute that future. The reason I’m smiling so much today, although you can’t see me is that I’m here with my best interviewee… my business partner, dear friend and partner in all things shopper WSL is President, drumroll, Candace Corlett. Hello, Candace

Candace  00:50
Hello Wendy, how are you today?

Wendy  00:52
Hi, I’m in pretty tip top shape. Happy fall and happy baseball playoff season. We’ve just completed our latest shopper study for everybody’s news on Health and Wellness. Candace and I previewed this a little bit last time we chatted. We’ve titled the study The Next Wellness Ffrontier, we’ve been studying Americans journey from sick care to well care for at least the last eight years. And now as we move out of our COVID cocoon, it’s clear that shoppers are really breaching new frontiers. So Candace, what was the biggest surprise for you in this latest survey?

Candace  01:31
Probably the emergence of new conditions that we were smart enough to ask about because you know, they’re just the natural, unintended consequences of the way we live of the way we manage our communications, I am startled at the high percentage of people who say loneliness is an obstacle to being well, and you know, it particularly hits home with Generation Z, when you have a quarter of people saying loneliness is an obstacle to my health, and Generation Z, it’s like almost 40%, you have to step back and say, this is the unintended consequence of texting, having an avatar as your best friend, dressing your avatar. And the interesting thing about it is it’s a condition that retailers and brands can solve for. And I don’t mean by creating an herb that boosts your mood, although we are seeing a lot of new mood boosters, displayed in stores. But it’s also the opportunity to take retail space and make it a community. And we can talk about many of the examples where that’s happening. Either wittingly or unwittingly retailers have said, we have space and we want to invite people in to connect.

Wendy  02:58
It’s interesting, you talk about that, because the obvious leap is we’ve spent two and a half years locked down. So how much has COVID impacted that but then I looked at the numbers, the number one condition that people said they manage, which was anxiety and depression. And we’ve seen that and we’ve seen it grow. And so that combination of that and stress and issues around sleep, and then COVID on top of it, I found really just extraordinary,

Candace  03:28
And that’s right. It’s the accumulation of all these things. But I’d like us to remember that, as awful is COVID has been, this movement started well before COVID, the whole concept of stress and sleeplessness, we were identifying them as the number one and two obstacles to health back in 2018.

Wendy  03:52
And I think that’s why that’s so important for everybody to understand. There are certain things that we’ve talked about over this last year or so. And as we track the evolution or revolution of COVID, that we can say, Okay, that was COVID related. But there was so many of these trends that we are seeing emerge now across the national population that really were embedded in issues and lifestyle that we were identifying way before COVID. And I think Candace to your point about loneliness, that whole conversation around screen time and social media and seeing younger people who are now sort of stepping back from that or challenging and rethinking how much time they should be spending in that virtual world.

Candace  04:40
I think that that’s right. And it’s not just, I mean, I think switching topics a bit. It is the unintended consequence of the way we live, we text we don’t call we minimize our interpersonal contact in favor of abstract messaging. But you know, moving even beyond that, so many products have come on the market for so many new conditions and been so readily accepted.

Wendy  05:13
The other thing that I found really compelling about this study too was as we’ve looked, and we track a lot of categories in this space, the universe of products that people have been using to treat their health and wellness has continued to expand. I remember the 2020 study, we talked about clothing, and we talked about pets, and we talked about the universe expanding in terms of everything from comfort and mental health. But those things sexual wellness, immunity, you talked about sleep alternative remedies for things, that to me, when I looked at the results of the survey, were just extraordinary, both for opportunities and competitive set. For more traditional categories, is that the way you feel too?

Candace  06:00
I’m sort of overwhelmed at the creativity of putting prebiotics in soda, putting collagen in water, it’s like there’s literally a wild frontier, because seems that you can put every health booster in any form, whether it’s an on the go bar that you eat for breakfast, or a snack, or a beverage that you drink. And that beverage can be soda, seltzer water, coffee, tea, they all include now a health message. We are seeing younger people in particular, love these dual purpose products. I mean, we know the importance of getting everything done fast and easy. And what could be easier than getting your prebiotic in a carbonated beverage.

Wendy  06:54
Yeah, just drink it. Save one step, right.

Candace  06:58
One step and perhaps less expensive than buying a vitamin and, or a, you know, a prebiotic, or a probiotic. And a beverage

Wendy  07:09
It’s interesting to look at sexual wellness, a category I mean, the podcast when I had Sally Mueller on, who is one of the co founders of Womaness, which is a brand that’s all focused around menopause, all of a sudden, there are so many menopause brands in the marketplace. And Sally and her team have really done an extraordinary job around it. So everybody listened to that podcast. There’s a category nobody talks about it. And you’ve got Boomers, Gen Xers and Boomers, living through menopause. And all of a sudden somebody woke up and said, Oh, there’s an opportunity.

Candace  07:44
Well, and on the other end of the age spectrum, menstruation has come all these conditions that used to be hush hush are now boldly addressed on endcaps whether it’s an Urban Outfitters or Victoria’s Secret, both of them very aggressive around menstruation. You know, nutrition for when you have your period. I mean, these used to be hush hush topics. Sexual Health, yes. And now Sexual Pleasure.

Wendy  08:11
Oh, I think it’s extraordinary. Yeah.

Candace  08:14
And that shoppers are responding. They’re not recoiling, some may, but they’re responding and they’re buying these products.

Wendy  08:23
The other thing that struck me about this work the the voice in so many of these categories now, this much more direct, much more overt brand voice and I don’t mean you know, in your face rude I just mean, it’s you can hear the voice of the brand you can hear the voice of the shopper in it. I had to laugh Urban Outfitters for those of you who have not been to an Urban Outfitters with your kids recently, or yourself, has expanded their health and beauty selection. And the products that tickles my fancy is called Crustacean Menstruation. And I’m like, Huh, you know, and you’re like, really have to stop and think about that twice. But as Candace said, it’s in a little display that’s also got chocolate that’s good for you, when you’ve got your period, panties. I mean, this this extraordinary selection that a drugstore or a mass merchant has not even thought about and if you’re thinking about an 18 year old or 20 year old, it’s where they are,

Candace  09:19
it is where they are. And I’m, you know, the innovators who I mean brain health. We talk about dementia, we talk about Alzheimer’s, we talk about forgetfulness, which people in their 30s are forgetful because their brain is on so much overload. But the concept of products for brain health. It’s now one of the top rated things that people buy to help their immune system

Wendy  09:48
and think about all the games and puzzles and all of those things. That when we think about brain health as a as a category, or not even a condition but a category the breath, if you’ve got if you’re innovative as a company or brand or retailer, you think about what that looks like. I thought that was interesting. We did a some of you may have attended a virtual Retail Safari® on health and wellness last week. And one of the examples we included was an amazing retailer out of Amsterdam called Rituals. And one of the departments they have, there’s a Brain Bar with games and digital tools to evaluate your brain assessment. And it’s a beautiful beauty experience store and they’re up on the third floor or fourth floors of Brain Bar. So I think these things are really fascinating. If we understand the lens of the American shopper today, and what they’re looking for in terms of preventative care as well as treatment for conditions, they’ve got

Candace  10:49
The path to wellness, health care solutions. I think COVID can take huge credit for moving us faster towards telehealth for physical conditions, telehealth for mental conditions. It’s now mainstream, and being led by millennials, particularly millennial parents. And you know, Gen X and Boomers want to save time to when the opportunity is to bring them into the fold with telehealth. The apps apps have skyrocketed the use of apps to keep me well. And it runs the gamut from yes, counting my steps and my physical activity. But my sleep, my heart, my pulse, there’s an app for everything. And it’s been readily accepted as the tool by which you measure your data and trusted. Which brings me to the concern of you know, people are trusting the app readouts. They’re trusting internet sources for information. But the trust in the traditional professionals, the doctor, the pharmacist, the dentist have declined. And as we watch a new generation, manage their health. What an opportunity this is for retailers and brands to jump in and say we can help you manage your health. And we can do it faster and easier than making an appointment to go to the doctor.

Wendy  12:29
Two things struck me in all of that the pharmacist numbers which had declined from still continuing high level of usage of the pharmacist, the retail pharmacist.

Candace  12:40
Yeah, 90%. Right.

Wendy  12:41
But the decline in trust, right down to 57%. I think it used to be from 62%, or something

Candace  12:48
used to be 63% – 64%. Yeah.

Wendy  12:51
Right. And I think we really have to challenge our thinking as companies, we assume, with COVID, all the vaccinations that were done the extraordinary work that retail pharmacy did to vaccinate America efficiently. What’s that legacy of that on the one hand was a lot more people walked into a traditional pharmacy, for the most part, or some kind of clinic, but the legacy of that has not necessarily been wow, thank you for saving my life, but rather this sort of small but continued declining trust. I wonder what you think about that in the context of is it because you know, the pharmacist is still so busy, they’re behind the counter, there were so many other things to do, we burden them during COVID. And actually, the remembrance of that, thank you for saving my life actually, is not that strong,

Candace  13:45
Because that was just an occasional interaction. I think that when you go up to the pharmacy counter, you’re never sure who you’re talking to. You know, there are a lot of people who wear white coats, but they don’t seem to be the pharmacist or the reversal they’re wearing street clothes and giving you advice on your new prescription. And it’s like, who are you? You know, you look like the 18 year old high school senior who’s best friends with my daughter, and now you’re giving me advice on my prescription. So I think the pharmacy as an institution is what has lost the trust. And if we knew we were speaking to a pharmacist, I think the trust would be higher, but the pharmacy department isn’t trustworthy.

Wendy  14:36
I do think that’s a really big issue as we move forward, especially when we look at new places that are emerging in terms of care. Well, we’ve been tracking retail clinics as well as Main Street clinics. Now we’re looking at places like surgical centers, which so if anybody wonders how we begin our journey, it’s a lot of first part observational work, talking experts in a field trying to really uncover things that are beginning to emerge and then actually going out and validating. Is this a dribble? Or is this a wave? And we saw that for the first time, about a quarter of the population said they used a surgical center. Did I get my numbers right or? Yep,

Candace  15:19
you absolutely do.

Wendy  15:21
And so taking somebody out of a hospital, right doing it in a center,

Candace  15:25
Yeah. And it’s actually 61% of millennials with children, because the surgical centers are a much more affordable and accessible way to get one day surgery. And the use of clinics just jumped about 20 points. Now that people have experienced those clinics, and the high level of trust in the professionals at the clinic, the companies who sponsor the clinic, you know, the people whose name is on the door, it’s really impressive. And, again, an opportunity for retailers to seize that, and brands to support them, as urgent care clinics and retail clinics become a popular destination.

Wendy  16:15
And you do think about all of those things that have been so critical as a trip driver, a traffic builder, at traditional retail with a pharmacy. I mean, there’s lots of issues that pharmacies are dealing with financial issues, reimbursement issues, I now know more about, you know, reimbursement at pharmacies than I ever thought I would. It’s sort of like supply chain, whoever knew. But that notion of what then does the physical store need to be where pharmacy was the driver? You know, what is the clinic look like? What is the surgical center look like? Where does health care get delivered, you were talking about telehealth, and that focus around for example, dieticians, or the mental health. But there it is. And so think about that universe of both service driven and product driven experiences, that shoppers now have the opportunity to access, which, which really feels like it’s an explosion or as you as you’ve titled it, and a next frontier in terms of wellness. The other thing that was interesting to me was to think about that broader world. I mean, we’ve seen people think about their own health and wellness in the context of financial security, how am I doing? Is that okay, speaking of stress, but what about areas like which we’ve looked at before sustainability or inclusiveness, you know, diversity and those sorts of tenants now that are part of people as they think about who they trust and what the brands and companies deliver to them when they think about more of the holistic view to health and wellness?

Candace  17:53
Well, the holistic view certainly includes financial security, we see over and over again, people say yes to making healthier choices will cost me more. But it used to be that I want to be healthy as I age. Now, it’s very practical, investing in healthier choices, will (a.) helped me avoid medical bills, and (b.) reduced the amount of time I have to take off from work. So they’ve become very grounded. It’s not about oh, I want to but you know, age healthy, it’s about, I can’t afford to be away from work, and I can’t afford to waste time being sick, and I can’t afford the medical bills that go with being sick.

Wendy  18:43
And I do think about it in the context of pricing. Here we are in this hyper inflationary period. But that notion of the cost of good health, the people who say yes, it is worth it for a variety of reasons. And the people who just say I can’t afford it, it’s not accessible to me.

Candace  18:59
And then the other thing you touched on, you know, the growing awareness of trees in my community keep me healthy. And when we talk to people who live in cities, very much aware of there are no trees, there are no health centers that I can easily access. A third or the emerging cog in the telehealth wheel is online consultations, where you can go online to health sites and get the opinion of a physician or a physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner 24 hours a day. Some of these services you have to pay for, but we see a big spike in those among Hispanic people who may have access to people who speak their language, and people who live in urban areas where there may be fewer urgent care clinics or this is a more affordable choice, they can go into an urgent care clinic.

Wendy  20:03
We’ve certainly talked about food deserts for a long time. And President Biden just held their nutrition summit at the White House for the first time in 50 years talking about nutrition and better care and affordable, healthy food for Americans. And it does strike me that as we’re seeing all these fascinating new emerging categories, at the same time, we’re seeing the deficit of the basics what you were saying in communities where people don’t have access to trees, which is a an interesting health care opportunity for smart marketers, right? Grow a tree, plant a tree. So when I step back and look at the explosion of retail experiences, I remember last year when I interviewed Jo Horgan, who founded Mecca of the Australian beauty specialty chain, she talked about adding fertility clinics and naturopath to a beauty place. And we all went like really because shoppers were sure that fertility issues and information and a naturopath are an extension of internal external beauty and health. So why not? Well, that was the beginning, when we did this Retail Safari® this past week, we looked at Pepper, we looked at PINK doing a lot of work around mental health, we had Five Below showing clean beauty products at really affordable prices by marvel at the amount of innovation actually going on in non traditional retail spaces.

Candace  21:35
And you’re right about Victoria’s Secrets PINK, you go down to that floor and it is so tuned into Generation Z, their anxiety, their depression, their loneliness, you do feel like you’ve entered a mental wellness center, all the signing talks about be sure to connect. And here are numbers you can call and the percent of people who feel just like you, and then videos about how do you stay healthy and happy and upbeat. And then you know, hats off to the retailers who are inviting people in to use their space as community if you’re lonesome at home working by yourself, come in to Dom’s Market, pick up a bottle of wine, share it with a couple of friends, or you know, HEB Central Market. And now the store is not open at eight o’clock. But that doesn’t stop you from coming in sitting down having your coffee grabbing breakfast. And then maybe you’ll want to go in the store at nine o’clock. But it’s a sense of we know there’s loneliness out there. And we have space that can help you fight that.

Wendy  22:49
Yeah, and I think Lululemon was one of the first where they and maybe REI, but Lululemon where they said to people come on, we’ll have yoga classes in the store, which they did. And they created these sort of funky photos and stories about the staff that worked in the store they created this sort of knowledge and connection and storytelling. And now I know when we did the Retail Safari® for a group in Chicago, when we took them to new Lululemon flagship, and they’ve got this wonderful cafe there as well. And with healthy eats and treats, you’re absolutely right, the power of a space, a retail space, any other space for that matter. But a retail space to create a sense of community is extraordinary. But you’ve got to be willing to do it.

Candace  23:34
That’s right, and to promote it and to think about what are people really interested in coming to learn about, you know, how to use mushrooms and all the different varieties of mushrooms, how to create your own mother’s day flower arrangement that saves you money, and you pick up the flowers in the store and you go to this course class with your kids to learn how to create a great bouquet for mom. I mean, it’s they’re really focusing on things that are important to people. And let’s not forget Dick’s Sporting Goods, talk about taking physical wellness to the next level and offering nutrition consultation, immune system consultation and that great line of there’s illness, you change the eye to w-e and it becomes wellness.

Wendy  24:24
I always reflect our Wellness Summit, which was just before the world closed down December of 2019. We said that shoppers expect every product and service to deliver some element of health and wellness or wellness. And actually it feels like everybody’s listened to us however that does create an issue right?

Candace  24:45
away it does indeed and I hoped you were gonna bring that up before we close here. The shelves the aisles are overrun with wellness choices, and how do I know what to buy? Do I buy a sparkling water from brain health? Or do I buy a traditional vitamin for brain health? What do I buy? And what I’ll do I go into? Do I get all my nutrients in a protein bar or protein powder? That has a lot of other things mixed in with it? And where do I find them in store?

Wendy  25:17
I think that’s the huge issue. I mean, you walk into almost any retailer, traditional, non, and the choices just keep exploding. But this is where people need to be very thoughtful and step back, because remember where we began this conversation, right? Stress, anxiety, well, that’s in the aisles as well. This isn’t just in our world that we live in, it is in the way we shop. And when that overwhelms people, you know what the response is, either don’t buy it at all, because it’s like, way too confusing. Or click here and just buy what I’ve always bought, and don’t bother me with the risks. And I think they’re the big issues, right, to your point about unintended consequences. Everybody jumping in, but what does that what does that really mean when we’re trying to deliver a cohesive value oriented message, and I think that’s the, that’s the other piece to it. So to me, that was sort of the and now pay attention troops,

Candace  26:13
be careful what we wish for, because the aisles are now overwhelmingly filled.

Wendy  26:19
Here’s my last thought that an observation that struck me the other day, and I thought it was interesting, reflected somewhat in our data of the emerging trend. And I did talk to a health expert about it a week ago. But I’ve been observing at least around Manhattan, an increase in people smoking, that people are on this. And this is not just you know, Marijuana, which of course, you can smell everywhere these days. Smells like dead skunks on the street corners. But these are people smoking cigarettes, again, I thought wasn’t because people will shut away for two or three years, I talked to somebody who’s who’s a pulmonary expert. The other day, I was at the Kroger Wellness Festival in Cincinnati. And this gentleman said to me know, they have seen a substantial increase in smoking again, and that that’s a big concern. And I noticed in our data that was we were starting to see that increase reflected,

Candace  27:09
we did see a lift. And you know, when you think about you couldn’t smoke in the offices, but now you’re home. And there’s no sign that says no smoking in your home, unless it’s coming from your spouse or your kids. But no, you weren’t allowed to smoke in the office, you had a good damn get your coat and stand outside the building to have a cigarette. That was a big deterrent. And those deterrence went away.

Wendy  27:33
Yeah, so nicotine patches, here we go. Thank you for sharing all this. There is so much in this study, this has trended looking back to 2018. So pre and post on this COVID journey, we really have to step back and evaluate the context upon which we are building our plans and strategies and understanding what shoppers and patients and caregivers are looking for. Now, we cannot assume old world coming back with smoking and new world emerging through let’s just throw that in a drink and have it as always, I would suggest to everybody that if they want more detail on how to purchase the complete study, and please do and also the Retail Safaris® that we’ve been doing on health and wellness and many other things. Go to our website As always, Candace, you provide a data rich insight inspired view to the future of retail, so thank you for that.

Candace  28:28
Oh, no wonder I stick around with you. Thank you.

Wendy  28:31
I should hope so. And thank you all for listening and be well and we’ll see you in the future.

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