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Can we reframe ‘retail therapy’ to make shopping a healthy experience?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has given retail a rare opportunity to stop and consider what we want the future of retail to become. Yet, while we wait for life to return to normal, we have seen two fundamental shifts in our attitudes and behaviour: an increased sense of empathy for others, and protection for ourselves. On the other side of this pandemic, retail will need to respond to these new needs of customers and find innovative new ways to create brand experiences. We have identified several areas of emerging attitudes and have outlined how they lead to exciting opportunities in retail in a series of articles.


Can we reframe ‘retail therapy’ to make shopping a healthy experience?

The COVID-19 crisis has made us all more aware than ever of our fragility and the importance of our health. We've increasingly come to understand what is healthy and are using the downtime to engage in healthy practices. Health has become a higher priority and a more significant part of people’s essential daily activities. This pandemic has forced us to deal with the consequences of our immediate health status and promoted a greater urgency for health maintenance that will last beyond the pandemic and into the new normal. Perhaps our new drive is in preparation for when our health is tested, much like saving for a financial rainy day.

Our evaluation of what constitutes health will be different on the other side of COVID-19. It's our immune systems that have been the focus of this health crisis. The complexity of factors affecting immune strength is leading us to a much more holistic view of health. Factors such as diet and stress have never been more topical as people scramble to understand what builds the right armoury for a potential fight against the COVID-19 virus.

As we spend time in isolation, the importance of mental health has never been so appreciated. There's no doubt waves of people across the globe have experienced profound anxiety, and perhaps depressive symptoms for the first time. A wider societal appreciation for the difficulties of mental health symptoms will emerge from this period of lockdown.

Many people's health realities are becoming our collective values as other people's health becomes vital to us all. These new values are another thread of our empathy towards human conditions. The opportunity for others to be healthy will be a lasting social issue, and this will extend to conditions within the retail environment. Like other social issues, consumers will make health a brand affiliation that will drive future purchasing decisions.


Self-development through Retail

Transforming retail experiences are nothing new, but usually, they exist in the domain of education or skill development. A customer can leave an Apple store with improved drawing skills or product expertise. We've already seen a rise in transformational experiences in stores - both mental and physical. Learning is at the cornerstone of these transformational experiences and will become the standard baseline in all types of retail. Customer's understanding of what can be experienced in a retail store will continue to expand, and they'll increasingly want to get the most out of their products and brand benefits from interactions and activities embedded in the store experience.

Many brands are offering customers interactive transforming experiences as an extension of their brand values. Samsung offers educational events; Lulu Lemon hosts yoga classes and Nike enables skills training.

A Healthy Retail Experience

What about leaving a retail store healthier than when you entered it? Could shopping be re-framed as a healthy activity? Could we create a different incentive to shop? As health markers become more objectively measurable, imagine measuring your activity or step-count as you shop. You leave a store with a new product you love, but also with an understanding of how many calories you have burned in the process and what this means for your health. How can stores promote a healthier shopping experience? Stores could be promoting 'no escalators' in stores, encouraging customers to take the stairs. Perhaps brands could incentivise being healthy by providing discounts to people walking to the store rather than validating parking for free. Stores commonly offer complimentary coffee and water, but what about vitamins or other health supplements? As a starting point, biophilia should be integrated into store design where possible; daylight, plants, fresh air are all solutions to greater holistic health in retail. We can imagine future in-store experiences that can objectively induce alpha-brain waves; a meditating state has proven to have healing properties and lower stress.

Biophilic design is becoming more common in retail stores and brands understand the value in experiences that promote psychological wellbeing. Brands such as Apple, Innisfree and Anthropology feature high ceilings, natural light and greenery in their stores.

Can we View Shopping as Meditative?

We readily understand the health benefits of a walk in the park. If we can design the shopping experience well, we can re-frame the way we think about it. How can we bring 'Retail Therapy' to life so we can understand and value the emotional rewards in shopping? What is the value of discovery? Or of an ephemeral sensory experience? We overlook many aspects of shopping - we can socialise, learn, discover, or escape. Somewhere between functional convenience and frictionless retail, we have lost sight of the value and benefits that shopping can add to our daily lives. The time we've spent at home might put some of this into perspective, but recognition needs to come from retail designers and brands. This perspective needs to inform design and marketing decisions moving forward. Currently, marketing is about value and price – it's never about healthy experiences. Brands have the power to change the way people view their store experiences and retail designers have an opportunity (perhaps an obligation) to change the way we all perceive shopping.

The best physical experiences evoke our senses. Stores that harness multisensory experiences allow us to escape. The Casper Dreamery allows customers to book in sessions of restorative sleeping. The Fragrance Lab installation at Selfridges in London evoked customers sense of smell.


The current COVID-19 pandemic has been a health crisis that has brought personal health and wellness to the fore. We are more aware than ever about the importance of health. Our idea of health has pivoted slightly, we are now concerned with our immune system and look at things more holistically, including our mental health, and view larger communal health as a social cause of importance. Retail will need to provide transformative experiences more than ever if we want to improve ourselves while shopping. The idea of ‘health’ will be at the forefront of brand benefits, and this will come to life within retail environments and experiences. Brands will be asking how retail can be healthier and how can shopping can improve customers health and wellness. A key component will be viewing retail in a different light; focusing on the more positive aspects of a new-found Retail Therapy.


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