Merchant Innovation

The Retail Health Race Heats Up Again

As more customers turn to eCommerce merchants instead of once dominant brick-and-mortar retailers, in-store brands are being increasingly forced to offer customers products and services that the online world can’t. While some retailers choose to go all in on location-based beacon marketing and innovative pricing strategies, tech advances have yet to slow online’s steady march forward.

That’s why some of the largest retail name brands in the country are getting serious about a product area online can’t match: health and wellness.

According to Fortune, Walmart, a retailer not widely known for its health offerings, is planning a massive overhaul for not only the health products and services it will offer, but how they will be displayed in stores. Beginning in January 2016, Walmart will commence a campaign to align its brand with a more health-conscious image that will include free screening days for blood pressure and blood glucose levels, as well as a store layout redesign that places nutritional energy bars in more highly visible locations.

“We’re probably a little bit ahead of the customer here but we certainly think that that’s where the customer is going,” Michelle Gloeckler, executive vice president for consumable and health and wellness at Walmart, told Fortune.

Gloeckler’s comments are true in some respects – Walmart has no reason not to believe that the health market is primed for success. However, Jason Goldberg, vice president of commerce at Razorfish, told Retail Dive that offering health services that can only be conducted in-person is a fantastic way to increase traffic without worrying about leakage to online merchants.

“Those are all great opportunities to serve the Walmart customer better, and gets them to be more and more sticky,” Goldberg said. “Do your taxes here, cash your paycheck, do your grocery shopping. This is how to improve the share of wallet for that core Walmart customer.”

Long before Walmart got into the retail health product area, though, CVS was rebranding itself from a convenience store-neighborhood pharmacy hybrid to an all-inclusive health and wellness depot. The initiative began several years ago, and in an indication of how crowded this space is getting, CVS announced on Tuesday (Oct. 6) that it would be launching a pilot program for hearing and optical screenings in stores around the Dallas, Cleveland and Baltimore-Washington, D.C. areas.

“Hearing and optical services are a great fit with the existing health offerings in our stores, including industry-leading pharmacy products and services, our MinuteClinic walk-in medical clinics and a comprehensive smoking cessation program,” said Andrew Sussman, M.D., president of CVS. “By expanding our retail health offerings into vision and hearing services, we are providing customers a convenient, single destination on their path to better health.”

Until online retailers come up with a groundbreaking plan to cater to customers’ health needs, then B&M merchants have a leg up on their digital counterparts for the time being. However, with Walmart, CVS and others getting serious about cornering a market that appears temporarily insulated from consumers’ increasing eCommerce preferences, it also means that precious time remains for smaller retailers who want to get in on the health and wellness game. According to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Manatt Health Solutions, CVS currently snags 50 percent of retail health clinic visitors, with Walgreens in second at 24 percent, Kroger at 8 percent and Walmart at 6 percent.

Retail health is already a crowded field, but there’s a chance that it remains the exclusive purview of B&M retailers. If that’s how the next few years pan out, expect more merchants to make a pass at until consumers are just about sick of retail health.

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