In Health We Trust: A Shopping Perspective

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Recent research from Healthline Media highlights the resilience Americans showed in 2020, a year marked by disruption and change. But how has consumer buying behavior changed, and what attributes do consumers look for when choosing products and brands? 

Leveraging the two-part survey fielded in February and December 2020, let’s take a deep dive into the minds and shopping carts of American consumers, and how brands can adapt to reach them more effectively.

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What we're buying: We've got the receipts

Even amid quarantine lockdowns and social unrest, people still spent money on health and wellness products. Maybe it’s the increased focus on our health (thanks to COVID-19), or maybe it’s an area where we can exercise a little control while everything around us feels uneasy. Whatever the reason, almost all of us have purchased (or are planning to purchase) a new health and wellness product in the past year.

Health and wellness encompasses so many different categories of products and services, not to mention how many brands exist within each category. Consumers have seemingly endless options when deciding where to spend their money. So… where are they spending their money?

Overall, vitamins, minerals, and supplements and skin care products are the most popular health and wellness purchases for U.S. adults. But a closer look at the data shows some interesting generational shopping trends:

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  • Gen Z leads the charge on mental health spending (on both counseling and meditation apps) compared to their older counterparts

  • Millennials are spending on counseling and therapy services at the same rate as fitness and gym memberships (17%) — working on both their minds and bodies

What changed?

The pandemic led to some clear shifts in what health and wellness products people are buying, with the biggest changes by generation being:

  • ⇧ An 83% increase in spending on meditation apps and 63% increase in medical cannabis by Gen Z

  • ⇧ A 15% and 12% increase in spending on vitamins, minerals, and supplements by Millennials and Gen X, respectively

  • ⇩ A 43% decrease in spending on fitness and gym memberships by Gen X and Boomers

A closer look at fitness spending: Accounting for economic inequity

Unsurprisingly, the likelihood of buying a fitness or gym membership rises with income, and across all income levels, spending in that category has gone down since the pandemic.

As of December 2020, 20% of people with an annual household income of $100K+ had fitness memberships or planned to purchase, compared to 12% earning $50-99K, and 8% earning less than $50K. That is a 150% difference across the income range.

With reduced access to gyms and classes due to quarantine, many people purchased (or made plans to purchase) fitness equipment for their home. But not all Americans have the same financial flexibility, especially lower income adults who were hit hardest by the pandemic. 

Annual Household Income

% who bought or planned

to buy fitness equipment

% change compared

to pre-pandemic

Less thank $50K

8%

⇩ 18% decrease

$50K-99K

16%

⇧ 17% increase

$100K+

20%

⇧ 26% increase

Brands take note: One size does not fit all. Different audiences have different means to adapt their approach to health. Take time to understand the realities of your audiences’ environments, and respond with messaging and product offerings that resonate.

When we’re buying: Identifying the early adopters

When it comes to health and wellness purchases, who’s on the cutting edge when it comes to trying new products when they hit the market? If you ask us…

  • 16% of U.S. adults believe they’re the first to try new health or wellness products when they come out (unsurprisingly, those with higher incomes were more likely to raise their hands)

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Mind the gap: Intention vs. action

As it turns out, we’re not always great at self-identifying. While 16% of adults believe they’re early adopters, only 10% of them actually tried new health and wellness products as soon as they came out. 

Our actual early adopters are predominantly Millennials (37%), followed by Gen X (24%), Boomers (22%), and Gen Z (17%).

Brands take note: The gap between intending to try new things and actually doing it is an opportunity for you. People crave the latest and greatest, but often lag when it comes to follow-through. To close the gap, connect with your audience to learn what’s holding them back, and offer targeted guidance to build trust and lead them to purchase. 

Why we’re buying: Putting our money where our mouth is 

As shoppers, we do our due diligence before we make a purchase. 52% of shoppers do a lot of research (reading reviews, comparing prices, etc.) before deciding to buy — with Millennials doing the most research (57%) and Boomers doing the least (48%).

Brands take note: Science has always been important on the supply side of health businesses, but it’s now gaining importance with consumers, too. Show off your science and your research. Find a way to make it connect to your overall messaging.

It’s not (just) about the price tag

Consumers aren’t just weighing the price of products and services. Yes, price and quality both top criteria lists when choosing between different health and wellness products. But so do things like ease of purchase, sustainability, and science-based research. 

People are more attuned than ever with how brands and products align with their personal values and perspectives, and that insight is driving purchase decisions. Almost one in four of U.S. adults are willing to — and do — spend more money to get products that are eco-friendly or sustainable. Men are more likely than women to do so (27% to 19% comparatively), and likelihood decreases as generations age (32% Gen Z, 30% millennials, 23% Gen X, and 15% Boomers).

Since each generation is marked by different perspectives, experiences, and priorities, it’d be a marketing miss not to scratch below the surface and check out the other factors at play: 

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  • Gen Z is more likely to buy from brands that go beyond

    • Care for the environment (32% vs. 20% general U.S. population)

    • Provide stress relief or entertainment (28% vs. 21%) 

    • Care for consumers’ mental and emotional health (23% vs. 15%)

  • Millennials are focused primarily on the product itself (but want brands to treat their employees well): 

    • High quality products (48% vs. 44% general U.S. population)

    • Natural or organic products (28% vs. 21%)

    • Care for their employees (24% vs. 19%) 

Marketers take note: It’s time to lean in

Health and wellness marketers face significant challenges in reaching their audience today. The sheer number of categories and products within the health and wellness space is overwhelming — consumers crave guidance in deciphering brands’ messages and claims.

10% of people find choosing between health and wellness products and services so challenging, it prevents them from living a healthy lifestyle. (For Gen Z, this went up 257% since before the pandemic.)

Marketers looking to make an impact should take time to connect with their users and really understand their needs. Get on their level. Help people close the gap between intention and action when it comes to their health. 

At Healthline Media, we aim to help people through small, doable behavior change. And you can too.

For more information on In Health We Trust or this Healthline Media study, please email us today or contact your Healthline Media representative.

Source: Healthline Media two-part online survey of US adults. Part one Feb 2020 n=1533, Part two Dec 2020 n=1533.

About Healthline Media

As the #1 health media property in the US, Healthline Media reaches 92MM unique visitors each month (Comscore, June 2021). We provide credible health information with a compassionate approach.