D&W Fresh Market, part of the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Spartan retail chain, now has an online tool on its website to match customers to vitamins. Consumers take a five-minute survey of their age, health history and eating habits, and … voila! … they get a personalized list of supplements to take, ranked by priority. The recommendations have been approved by health professionals at the University of Illinois.
My take: The Top Care Vitamin Finder’s recommendations were spot-on for me, albeit pretty basic—a women's multi, calcium, vitamin D. However, I’m healthy. I’m not on any pharmaceutical drugs. And I’m not going under the knife anytime soon if I can help it. Despite the fine-print disclaimer, I worry that evaluating the needs of those with serious health conditions and those with complicated pill-popping regimens or family histories could be too tricky for a computer program—no matter how smart.
And, of course, there’s a catch: The tool includes only 25 supplements all of which are Top Care private-label brand.
Why should you care? Despite the limitations, an online tool that tailors products to individuals is a slick idea, especially because 91 percent of 19-to-34-year-olds use the Internet to research and shop, according to New York-based eMarketer. And this demographic group trusts reviews and personal recommendations over traditional marketing messages. If you want to reach these millennials, you have to meet them where they are and give them what they want. A web-based or mobile supplements finder—adapted to your target customers and your supplement stock—is worth consideration.
If the experience of staff at the Ohio-based Ritzman Natural Health Pharmacy is any indicator, online consumer information can boost in-store sales. “Even when people read about something online, they still want to come into the store to read and feel the package and to talk to somebody for reassurance,” says Janine Peterson-Black, retail operations manager for Ritzman. And there is where the deal goes down.
What can you do? To make development affordable—and, yes, it will be pricey—ask the manufacturers of products you stock, which have a lot to gain from the results of the service, to fund the tool’s development.
Another strategy: Band together with other natural products retailers to create a tool that serves all stores. I know it sounds a little crazy to work with potential competitors, but if the store is on the other end of the country, you likely aren’t vying for the same customers. To find retailers to collaborate with, seek the help of trade associations, like the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association or the Natural Products Association.