Forbes Blog: Wellness is the New Luxury—Is Healthy and Happy the Future of Retail?

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Consumers are placing more value on health and wellness than on material objects these days, and the definition of health and wellness has evolved. The phrase no longer refers simply to a lack of illness and disease, but to a more holistic state of being, where one’s mental, physical and emotional health are in sync. And in an era in which so many catalog their lives on social media, looking great, feeling good and sleeping well are the new luxuries that consumers want to enjoy and flaunt.

Last week, I heard Jack Ma, Chairman and Founder of Alibaba, speak at Alibaba’s Gateway ’17 summit in Detroit, and I think he properly summed up this growing trend: today’s customers want to be healthy and happy, no matter who they are. Owning the most expensive or the latest goods has taken a back seat to looking good and feeling good, and consumers are showing an increasing preference for participating in activities and indulging in experiences that promote their well-being—and sharing those experiences with their friends.

People are spending on a holistic approach to health and wellness that includes nearly every aspect of life, even sleep. Consumers are increasingly participating in fitness classes and activities that improve well-being; using products, devices and apps that aid sleep; and eating organic and natural foods, taking health supplements, and following special diets.

The popularity of the health and wellness trend is visible across consumer groups, and it differs significantly from the various food and exercise trends that took hold in previous decades. Eating healthily, exercising regularly and monitoring one’s health have become a lifestyle choice. According to Euromonitor International, the global market for health and wellness offerings reached $686 billion in 2016 and it is expected to grow at a 3.5% CAGR, to $815 billion, by 2021.

 

Millennials: The Driving Force Behind the Wellness Trend

While this trend is visible across age groups, millennials are driving its growth. Millennials, who were born between 1980 and 1999, have grown up in a time of rapid change, so their priorities and expectations are sharply different from those of previous generations. According to the Harris Group, 72% of millennials would rather spend money on experiences than on material goods, and that preference is forcing retailers to adapt as more millennials ascend into adulthood and increase their spending power. For millennials, wellness is a daily, active pursuit, and one they are willing to spend on. Many of them bring fitness into everyday life visibly by wearing athleisure apparel for all kinds of activities other than working out. They also enthusiastically track their fitness training and sleep data through apps: research firm Forrester found that millennials and Gen Zers combined account for 69% of all fitness wearable owners.

In terms of shopping, millennials tend to prefer an experiential retail environment that goes beyond the transactional. Anjee Solanki of Colliers International, a leading global commercial real estate company, says that “any successful brick-and-mortar retail business knows that it’s important to give customers a memorable experience in an immersive, dynamic environment by changing the physical spaces constantly to give customers something fresh and new.”

A version of this story is available on Forbes, where Deborah Weinswig is a retail contributor. See all of her posts and subscribe to her channel here.