Digital wellness brands are something of a dime a dozen these days on the web — whatever serum, treatment or regimen based on cutting-edge science, technology or ancient arcane wisdom you may have heard of is likely already available for sale from a DTC up-and-comer with an interesting new twist on extending your life, improving your memory or giving a youthful glow to your skin.
And while the era of bespoke wellness is certainly a boon to the health-minded consumer with a taste for the eclectic, and has created any number of interesting options in business models and delivery methods, it has had costs for players in the wellness game that got in before the current wave of enthusiasm.
The Vitamin Shoppe, for example, has been into wellness since long before wellness was cool — it was founded in 1977 by a pharmacist hoping to help consumers better reach their personal fitness goals. Today there are over 700 Vitamin Shoppe locations in the U.S. and the firm has been a publicly-traded entity for just over a decade. The first third of its time on the public markets was a strong season for the retailer — its stock price rose nearly 300 percent from its initial public offering (IPO) to its peak stock price of rough $65 a share in 2013.
But as a decidedly brick-and-mortar retail player that was initially slow to respond to the rise of eCommerce, the company’s fortunes since 2013 have declined sharply, dropping to an all-time low of $3.65 cents a share in 2017. Disrupted by the rise of eCommerce in general, and the spike in bespoke digital wellness specifically, the Vitamin Shoppe decided it was time to rethink and refocus its retail efforts.
And while what it sells has not changed radically at base (though it has expanded; more on that in a minute) the company’s work of the last few years has been to reconsider how it is selling it.
“It’s important to us that our customers are able to shop when they want, where they want, and how they want,” said Andy Laudato, executive vice president and chief technology officer at The Vitamin Shoppe.
Instead of an experience tailored entirely to the physical store, the focus has been not so much on digital, he said, but on omnicommerce and how the firm can best meet and and aid in its customers' full retail journey, which is increasingly happening in a variety of stages. Consumers often want to start online, he noted, and research the goods and products they want to use.
Some are ready to move on a purchase right them, but others have more specific questions and issues that they need addressed. That is where the large network of physical stores and their associates sales clerks (“Health Enthusiasts,” in store parlance) becomes an advantage — the customers can take a more specialized specific question to an in-store expert who will either have experience with their issue, or be able to quickly connect them to someone who does.
“After I decide what works for me, I simply set up auto-delivery and the items are shipped to me every month,” Laudato said.
Part and parcel to the effort to bring a more omnichannel experience to The Vitamin Shoppe shopping experience is the firm’s recent rollout of a loyalty program, Healthy Awards. In terms of what is offered, The Vitamin Shoppe’s program is similar to many other offerings on the market — users accrue points for making purchases, subscribing to goods, etc., and then can trade in those points for certain rewards. Those rewards get larger as consumers earn more points and move up through the various tiers of the loyalty program.
In terms of what it allows The Vitamin Shoppe to offer, however, it is a uniquely helpful tool for harvesting information about customer preferences, as well providing another point from with the firm can interact directly with its consumer base.
And while it is impossible to argue that these changes have led to a full turnaround — the company’s share price is still well below where it was at its IPO a decade ago — it is fair to say that results are showing up. Since hitting that low point in 2017, The Vitamin Shoppe’s stock price has steadily risen and has now more than doubled where it was at the low water mark.
And, the brand notes, its efforts in turning around its fortunes are still beginning. Last week the brand announced the opening of the first of one of four planned “next-generation stores” in Edgewood, New Jersey. According to the company, the newly redesigned units are meant to meld a “modern apothecary vibe” with advances in technology such as on-demand digital product guides, enhanced mobile POS checkout, a complimentary body composition analysis station and a supplement sampling machine.
Because The Vitamin Shoppe is betting at the end of the day that offering bespoke services in wellness isn’t just about offering a slew of so-called custom products. It’s also about letting customers come in to experiment, talk to an expert and ultimately act as as their own wellness system designer.