The Vitamin Shoppe Turns To eCommerce, Subscriptions To Supplement Its Brick-And-Mortar Business

From fitness freaks to makeup mavens, Health and Beauty shoppers are going mobile. The latest Omni Usage Index reports 44 percent of these consumers use retailer mobile apps  a far higher percentage than other retail verticals can boast. But with consumers giving retailers an average satisfaction score of just 37.9 out of 100, many merchants are seemingly missing the mark. PYMNTS examines 900-plus data points to gauge where merchants are excelling and where they’re falling behind, inside the Index.

Staying healthy and keeping fit has become a big business in the United States and around the world.

Industry research has found the health and wellness market is already a $100 billion industry, raking in more than $167 billion in the U.S. alone last year and with revenue projected to top $170 billion in 2018. The market is even larger internationally, bringing in roughly $3.7 trillion in revenue per year as of 2017.

According to Sam Norpel, general manager of digital commerce for The Vitamin Shoppe, catering to the burgeoning health and wellness customer base is more challenging than in other retail sectors.

There’s a big difference between selling other products — say, fashion or apparel — online [and] selling health and wellness products online,” Norpel explained. “Purchasing a health and wellness product for the first time is something that’s a lot different than buying a new T-shirt. It is a very personal choice.

The company refuses to give up simply because selling vitamins, supplements and other health products online is a challenge, however. In fact, it’s doing quite the opposite. In an interview with PYMNTS, Norpel described the recent push to bring more of its business to online channels — and its plans for the future.

Bringing offline service to online customers

The Vitamin Shoppe is one of the largest health and wellness retailers in the U.S., with more than 700 stores in operation throughout the country. Though providing high-quality products has been critical for the retailer’s growth, Norpel said offering seamless customer service has been equally important both online and off.

The company’s in-store employees, known as “health enthusiasts,” are trained to provide information and personal service to help consumers find the products that best fit their needs.

“When it comes to health and wellness, it’s about figuring out if that’s the right product to have a customer ingest, how it’s going to affect them and how it’s going to mix with other supplements and medications they’re taking,” Norpel said. “We’ve found that having our trained and knowledgeable health enthusiasts in the store can be really helpful to that process.”

Customers can also make virtual appointments online or by phone if they would rather not visit the store. The idea is to connect online shoppers with health enthusiasts directly, providing a more consistent shopping experience across multiple channels.

Giving online shoppers the same personal service they have come to expect in-store was part of a push to move more products online, a move Norpel and her team began in 2017. To that end, The Vitamin Shoppe pays in-store associates a commission for purchases made online by customers with whom they have previously worked.

“We wanted to enable our customers to have the same amazing experience they have no matter where they shop,” Norpel said. “So far, that’s really helped create a more seamless experience for both our health enthusiasts and our customers, in stores and online.” 

Supplement subscriptions

It isn’t just about getting consumers high-quality service and accurate information, though.

Norpel noted that customers also expect to get their hands on health and wellness products exactly when they need them. This can further complicate online selling efforts, as consumers will often make purchases from a brick-and-mortar store to avoid waiting for a product to arrive.

To better address customer needs, The Vitamin Shoppe recently partnered with OrderGroove to roll out a subscription supplement delivery program. The program enables customers to make purchases from the comfort and convenience of their own homes, Norpel said, without worrying if their products will arrive on time. They can place orders online or in-person, and automatically register for regular delivery intervals, such as every 30, 45, 60 or 90 days.

“A lot of the benefits our products bring only exist because people take those vitamins and supplements on a regular schedule,” Norpel noted. “So, by enabling this auto-delivery program, we’re really trying to take the guesswork out of this, so people don’t have to worry about running out of their vitamin C and [having to] go find a store and pick it up. This way, they have the comfort, security and convenience of knowing exactly when it’s going to be delivered based on how they set up their subscription.”

The service seems to be resonating with users so far, she said, claiming the company saw that “compared to other subscription services — even Netflix — our subscriptions have exceeded those [rates] through the first six months of the program’s existence.”

The Vitamin Shoppe is planning to continue its online shopping push in the coming months. This includes giving customers more opportunities to access information on health and wellness products, and get their questions answered by experts. It is working to build communities in which customers targeting various health problems or wellness goals can learn from host nutritionists, other specialists and each other to have their questions answered via Facebook Live and other social media channels.

“We’re looking to find how we can continue that one-to-one relationship with customers that we work to build in stores, and work to develop that same relationship across our different digital touch points,” Norpel said.

As health and wellness becomes a bigger business, providing convenience, great product information and personalized service remains the top priority for retailers hoping to find success in the booming market.

About the Index

The Omni Usage Index™, powered by Vantiv (now Worldpay), measures consumer satisfaction with various omnichannel purchasing features at health and beauty retailers, and focuses on how shoppers feel about retail brand offerings across multiple channels.

It is based on a survey of more than 2,000 consumers regarding their most recent shopping trip. We asked them questions about their experiences, their knowledge of various omnichannel features offered by the merchant, whether they used these features and how they felt about them.