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Do People Actually Want Personal Styling Services?

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Vitamins Are Trendy. Vitamin Stores Aren’t.

Last week, the health and nutrition retailer GNC announced that as part of an ongoing initiative to improve its business, the company will be closing 200 stores.

This move can be attributed to a larger narrative in retail: Companies have way too many stores and need to close down locations to scale back on costs like rent in favor of focusing on e-commerce. GNC has 8,905 stores around the world, with 3,385 locations in the US alone — and that number doesn’t even include franchise stores or the store-within-a-store partnerships it has with Rite-Aid.

But there’s more to GNC’s trouble than simply closing stores. The company’s revenue has been down over the past two years, from $2.6 billion in 2015 to $2.4 billion as of 2017. And while that’s certainly not chump change, it also doesn’t reflect the boom that the overall vitamin and supplement market is currently enjoying. There are projections that customers will spend $13.9 billion on vitamins and supplements this year, and analysts calculate the overall global market will hit $220 billion by 2023.

With such promising projections, why isn’t a company like GNC reigning supreme? Especially given that it has advantages like a huge retail footprint, as well as an 83-year standing in the category. The disconnect lies within the burgeoning, lucrative, and largely unregulated sector of wellness.

It’s fair to point to Gwyneth Paltrow for this one: Wellness has become a booming economy. A study from Women’s Marketing found that between fitness, beauty, health, anti-aging, andmindfulness, products in the wellness sector bring in $3.7 trillion annually. This study also found that women in the US invest in $40 billion worth of alternative medicine like supplements.

Wellness has become a status symbol, and it directly correlates to how people view vitamins and supplements. Wellness has created an opportunity in which “individuals among high socio-economic and upper-middle-class income groups are expected to perceive the nutraceuticals including dietary supplements as the alternatives to prescribed drugs,” a report from Grandview Research found.

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Stores Want to Draw in New Customers With an Old Service
Ssense cafe

The Montreal-based retailer Ssense has been in the news lately for not-so-amazing reasons (acquiring Polyvore’s user data just as the collaging tool was shut down for good, thereby angering droves of fans), but this week, it’s starting things off with a more positive announcement: the opening, on Thursday, of a massive new store in its hometown.

Though Ssense has had a brick-and-mortar presence for the better part of a decade — its first and only boutique, now closed, opened in Montreal in 2010 — it mostly lives online. So like any good concept shop, its new location is packed with services that give shoppers a reason to leave their homes, including a cafe and space for events and art installations. (Also clothes that you can buy.)

Ssense goes long on labels that can be intimidatingly weird to the general population but are catnip to hardcore fashion fans (Vetements, Comme des Garçons), and in keeping with that vibe, the space is all concrete and chrome, like an industrial gallery space or an upscale bunker.

On top of that, Ssense has dedicated two of the building’s five floors (and eight “spacious” fitting rooms) to personal shopping appointments. This represents a significant investment not just in square footage but in technology and operations: Customers book their appointments online, and they can request to try on any of the more than 20,000 products on Ssense’s site.

This isn’t by itself notable because retailers employing personal shoppers is something new. Plenty of clothing stores run personal styling programs, including J. CrewSaksBergdorf GoodmanMacy’s, and even Topshop. In recent years, digital startups have launched styling services to varying degrees of success. The shift is relevant because in the era of “experiential retail,” personal shopping takes on a new function. It’s not just about building loyalty or getting people to buy more stuff, but about getting them out to stores in the first place.

Is the market for personal shopping really that big? Maybe. Stitch Fix, a subscription box service powered by one-on-one styling, went public in October. For Ssense, offering an in-depth service like this may not be such a risky move because it already caters to an exceptionally fashion-conscious crowd who are probably excited to see the goods in person.

More to the point, it fits into a bigger framework, that of retailer as all-encompassing lifestyle. Ssense has a beefy editorial wing online, where you go to read as well as shop. Now it’s also where you eat and look at art. You could browse for clothing on your own, but since styling services are available, why not let it dress you too? -- Eliza Brooke, reporter

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