Article originally published in Loyalty Management: My high school boyfriend wore Abercrombie & Fitch cologne. Its scent would waft along beside us as we roamed our local mall toward the pulsating teenage mecca that was A&F. More club than store, the enveloping atmosphere (that smelled just like him!) made us feel like we were far from suburbia.
It’s been 15 years since those untroubled excursions. When I walk by that store now, the thumping music and pungent scent make me want to run in the other direction. Research suggests I’m not alone.
In recent years, brands have responded to young consumers’ growing prioritization of wellness primarily through product offerings as evidence by the staggering number of all-natural and organic food lines, fitness trackers, and athleisure collections. Another important element in their purchasing decisions—the shopping environment—has been largely overlooked wellness-wise, and it’s an emerging opportunity in retail. New research from the Cassandra Report suggests they are shying away from over-stimulating stores in favor of environments that promote a sense of wellbeing.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, when in-store foot traffic declined and brick-and-mortar shops faced increased competition from online retailers, brands began to realize that luring young consumers through their doors would require nontraditional tactics. Like A&F, many hired in-store DJs or filled the air with pervasive signature scents to create a party-like atmosphere that countered the country’s gloomy economic vibe and, in theory, appealed to Millennials. Now that young people are alarmingly stressed (86 percent of them feel this way, according to the report), they are migrating away from such over-stimulating surroundings. In fact, 70 percent of them say that loud and busy stores turn them off.
Sounds and smells that enhance a space—not overpower it—combined with clean, thoughtful design are becoming hallmarks of the stores at which young people want to shop. This type of ambiance used to be reserved for high-end boutiques and department stores but is slowly being adopted across tiers, and for good reason: research out of Columbia University suggests that customers will spend more for products and services when they’re relaxed as it promotes abstract thinking and helps them focus on the general benefits of a purchase, not just specific features. It’s no coincidence that wellness brands Millennials list as their favorites, Nike (#1) and Adidas (#2), strive to incorporate these elements into their retail experience.
Just as relaxed environments are becoming more relevant to young consumers, so too is stress-free service—60 percent of Millennials wish brands would help them better manage their stress levels. Even seemingly small changes can have a positive impact on a customer’s experience. The gestures don’t have to involve green juice or something stereotypically “healthy.” Lululemon, which opened its first store for men in New York City’s SoHo this winter, welcomes customers with cold-brewed coffee and offers conveniences like an on-site tailor that can hem pants or customize shorts with a particular lining. Convenience is king, and young people notice when brands streamline the shopping process. For example, Topshop offers personal shopping assistants for customers regardless of how much money they’re planning to spend, and stores like Apple and Sephora take the highly convenient approach of having the checkout come to the consumers rather than the other way around.
Relaxed retail is bigger than individual stores. Although the supposed “death of malls” has been foretold, there has lately been a rise in ambitious “destination” shopping centers around the world, many of which make wellness a major highlight for consumers. The K11 Art Mall in Hong Kong, for example, incorporates expansive green spaces into its design and curates art exhibitions to evoke a tranquil atmosphere. High-quality culinary offerings are the star at Westfield Montgomery in Bethesda, MD, where the outdated food court is now home to a swanky dining terrace that serves healthy, artisanal fare. And shoppers at Morinomiya Q’s Mall in Osaka are encouraged to exercise during their trip via the complex’s not one—but two—soccer fields or its 300-meter rooftop running track.
When giving retail spaces a wellness update, brands must understand that young consumers don’t expect all stores to look and feel like sanitized spas. Rather, they want them to induce a similarly salubrious state-of-being. Brands can provide culinary offerings or in-store cafés that allow customers to indulge their healthy side, or they can serve as “third space”for consumers to relax in, as TOMS has done. Shifts like these will become increasingly relevant as young people seek out opportunities to enhance their sense of wellbeing in all areas of life.
This article was originally published in Loyalty Management.