CAN WELLNESS SAVE RETAIL?

Can in-store wellness classes save retail?
By Emily Laurence. Source: Well+Good.

Going to yoga at Athleta doesn’t seem all that strange, but unrolling a mat at Urban Outfitters or sweating through a boot-camp workout in the middle of Saks Fifth Avenue? It’s happening. From free classes to group meditations, stores are no longer just for shopping—and that trainer who you follow on Instagram could be teaching her next class at the mall.

Why? It’s no secret that in-store retail sales are down. When you think about the choice between waiting in line for a fitting room or shopping from your phone and trying things on in the comfort of your own bedroom, it’s not shocking that many prefer the latter.

Right now shoppers make 51 percent of their purchase online (up from 48 percent in 2015 and 47 percent in 2014)—but getting you in the door is still a top priority for retailers because the IRL experience is key for building brand loyalty, says trend forecaster Jane Buckingham. “Online, people are just looking for the product they want and the lowest price, no matter where they can find it.”

So where are people spending their time, if they’re not at the mall? You can bet your ClassPass subscription it’s at a workout studio. Retail sales may be down, but wellness is booming—big time. More than ever, people are spending their money on everything from healthy food to boutique fitness (which is a $24.2 billion industry).

Fashion brands large and small alike have turned to wellness to be their revenue savior in the past. (Remember a few years ago, when it seemed like every big-name designer got in on the activewear game?) Once again, they’re looking to the healthy world for a boost—this time by driving customers to stores not with leggings and sneakers, but studio-inspired workouts, yoga flows, and more.

The wellness revolution in shopping

How do you get people to put down their phones and go shopping the old-fashioned way? Offer them something else they’re into—preferably for free. “Wellness makes a lot of sense because it’s a huge trend right now, particularly among young women,” Buckingham says. “[Hosting a wellness event] tells them, ‘We don’t just want your money. We want to take care of you.’ And who doesn’t want to be taken care of?”

Recently, Lou & Grey started offering in-store meditations as a way to introduce more people to the brand, and also to get them to stick around the store for a while. “It seemed a natural extension to host events where [the shopper] can come in, relax, and take a breath—literally,” says Jenny Lilly, a spokesperson for the brand. And you can guess what happens the longer people stay in a store: Yep, more sales.

Urban Outfitters, meanwhile, is trading its rebellious-teenager reputation for something a bit healthier. You’re now just as likely to stumble upon a free reiki workshop or sound bath as you are a concert offering up buzz bands and beer. Take Space Ninety 8, one of the company’s concept stores: There’s a monthly yoga class, as well as DIY nail art, henna, and aromatherapy blending stations—all of which “builds a community connection,” says Cara Flaherty, the events and content manager.

She makes a good point: They’re the perfect thing to invite a friend to—and said friend might, after class, encourage you to buy those essential oils you were eying. And okay, that crop top, too.

Last month, Urban Outfitter’s sister company Free People started offering four weekly events at a new New York City pop-up store: Savasana Sundays (a free in-store yoga class), Movement Mondays (with every purchase customers are given a pass to a free fitness class), Wellness Wednesdays (typically panel discussions), and Self-Care Saturdays (free consultations).

So, has it driven sales? Absolutely, says Abby Morgan, Free People’s director of marketing—especially when it comes to beauty, since shoppers can try the products and learn what’s in them.

Big names are jumping on the trend, too

While department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom have gotten on board, hosting one-off fitness and meditation events, Saks Fifth Avenue is making a huge investment in the health-savvy crowd with its new Wellery Center, which opened this week at the retailer’s flagship New York City location. The 16,000 square-foot space takes up the bulk of the second floor, with 20 different concept spaces—all wellness-related in some way—filling out the prime real estate.

“We want our customers to use the Wellery as a wellness sanctuary—someplace to find peace and solace in the middle of our bustling city,” says Saks Fifth Avenue senior vice president and fashion director Roopal Patel.

Besides stocking up on Alo Yoga and Spiritual Gangster, you can get stretched out with Bendable Body, have your vitamin regimen customized by Care Of, squeeze in a quick detox session in a Breathe salt chamber, or get a vegan manicure while listening to a meditation—all in between visits to the fitting room.

And the high-end retailer doesn’t mind things getting sweaty; in addition to bringing in some of the biggest names in fitness and mindfulness to offer classes in a studio space (so far, Tracy Anderson, ModelFIT, Bari Studio, and MNDFL are all on the list), the Wellery is also home to ConBody‘s second bootcamp-centric location. (You will, however, need to pay for your mat spot.)

Next up: Wellness centers flip the script

Three years ago, makeup artist Juliet Silva-Yee had a vision during a massage (literally): She saw a place that truly was a shopping and wellness center, all in one. She had been hosting pop-up events to bring clean beauty brands, essential oils, and other wellness-related products to a bigger audience—but this idea was a full-on game-changer.

Now, it’s about to become a reality. Doing Living—a massive four-story complex near NYC’s Columbus Circle with fashion and beauty retailers, meditation, yoga, reiki healers, and even a resident shaman—who happens to be Well+Good’s resident energy expert, Alyson Charles—is slated to open in June. “It’s a new take on what a department store or mall can be,” she says.

But instead of using wellness as a way to get people through the door to shop, Silva-Yee is using retail as the catalyst, to expose them to all sorts of woo-woo goodness they might not know about yet. “It’s about mind, body, and soul,” she says. “Retail is just to get them through the door.”

So what does the future of retail looks like? If this is any indication, it’s about to get a lot easier to put together a pretty perfect Saturday—shopping, yoga, and an entire menu of self-care specials—all in one place.

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