How Cigna Is Using Retail To Change Health Care’s Story

Shopping has a long and noble track record in making people feel better. It’s why the idiom “retail therapy” exists after all — to describe the tiny, but scientifically demonstrable psychological benefits that actually go along with buying something for the average human being.

And as it turns out, what they buy doesn’t even have to be for them — the mere act of purchasing tends to cheer people up because it boosts their sense of control, enhances their sense of stability and well-being, and carries the good endorphin rush that most of life’s better activities bring in their wake. And those are generic benefits. Specific experiences tend to rack up their benefits — getting a good deal tends to make consumers feel smart, buying for others makes people feel generous, shopping as a form of celebration is tied to enhanced joy (ice cream tastes better if you eat it on the day you get a promotion).

These are benefits that are specific to shopping, not spending money. Paying bills have none of these good effects and in some cases has the complete opposite effect (shopping is relaxing for most consumers; bill paying is stressful).

Given these realities, it is unsurprising that the most popular retail buzzwords of the late 2010s are “experiential commerce.” The goal, particularly for retailers in the physical (as opposed to digital) world, is to build a shopping environment that doesn’t merely leave the customer wanting to buy, but instead leaves them kind of wanting to move in — or at least make several day trips.

Physical retail done right isn’t merely pleasant. At it’s best, it can be therapeutic. It is unsurprising that as a category physical retailers are trying to tap into that, especially as they are trying to fend off eCommerce and its central benefit of incredible efficiency.

What is a bit more surprising is the recent collaboration between a very big and public health insurance firm and a one-location boutique in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, which considered retail’s obviously long track record in making people feel better about life — and wondered if it could work its magic in making people feel better in life.

Can retail be as good for the body as retail therapy is good for the mind?

Such is the experiment of global health insurance giant Cigna and small New York City concept retailer STORY. Cigna is big — with 4.5 million global medical customers, 58 million medical claims processed and sales capacity in 30 countries and jurisdictions. STORY is most decidedly not big — existing only in one 2,000-square-foot location — but in the case of STORY’s narrative, small is less a problem than a selling feature toward its very unique proposition.

STORY isn’t telling one retail story with its merchandise, but is instead demonstrating something like a retail anthology. The business was founded by former brand consultant Rachel Shechtman to be a sort of living magazine, or retail gallery. The goods on display all go together, all represent a point of view and all offer what Shechtman has called an “end-to-end editorial viewpoint.”

“Every four to eight weeks, STORY completely reinvents itself —from the design to the merchandise — with the goal of bringing to light a new theme, trend or issue,” the firm notes on its site. “The idea was to create a retail concept that would serve as a matchmaker between brands and consumers, integrating strategies of marketing, merchandising and business development.”

The concept has caught high-profile attention and praise of late.

“There is a huge value for brands in having a place where you can experiment, and to have a lab that actually creates a profit and a recurring revenue stream, and gives people a good experience,” GE CMO Beth Comstock noted.

And it drew the curiosity of Cigna, which decided to work with STORY to see what kind of retail narrative could be constructed around health and wellness.

“Cigna is all about developing effective ways to help people achieve healthier, more secure lives,” said Cigna Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Bacus. “STORY provides a wonderful platform to help us learn and understand your interests, preferences and health, so that we may meet you where you are and help get you to where you want to be.”

The “Feel Good” partnership currently running in New York City through Feb. 28 is timed to coincide with resolution season (especially those resolutions that involve going back to the gym) and is designed to offer shoppers “a 360-degree experience,” according to Shechtman.

That immersive experience will come care of complimentary classes and panel discussions on health and wellness.

The STORY concept will leverage Cigna’s mind/body health and fitness expertise, bringing the online experience of the Coach by Cigna health and fitness app offline through a six-week series of over 20 events, featuring Cigna coaches from around the country and NYC fitness gurus to help lead panel discussions and fitness classes. It will also allow customers to experiment with some fitness tech options that aren’t quite on the market en masse yet, but soon will be. That includes the Cigna Virtual Relaxation Pod. Built on Oculus technology, the pod “transports” users to one of three VR environments, accompanied by expert guided meditation to promote mindfulness.

Beam us up, Scotty.

And, as STORY is still a store, there will be plenty of things on hand to buy. Some of the highlights include CardioArm, a Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure monitor; Withings’ newest connected watch, The Activate Steel; and the Sensoria Sock for runners looking to improve their form. WiseWear’s new Bluetooth-empowered “Socialite” bracelet is also now available. Designed with Iris Apfel, the bracelet enables wearers to track their activity and offers a distress signal option. The goods on offer are built around the Coach by Cigna app, the company’s platform to help their customers promote a more wellness-oriented lifestyle.

Plus, there’s food. The Good Eats section features the artisan marketplace, Farm to People, and fermented beverages make Better Off Spread.

The partnership is truly groundbreaking in scope,” notes Shechtman.

The collaboration marks a first for Cigna, but it may not be its last, as Cigna has confirmed it might continue looking at out-of-the-box health care collaborations, depending on how this one pans out.


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