THE BLOG

Wellness, Technology and Consumer Trust

25/04/2013 15:40 BST | Updated 24/06/2013 10:12 BST

The wellness industry is expanding at lightning speed. It has seemingly infinite aspects, from what we eat and how we move to the holidays we take and our children's genetic makeup. Advanced technologies are pushing innovations along, but companies should help make the world they're creating for the consumer simpler, not more complicated.

Many are already achieving this with new forms of integration. For example, take real estate wellness. Bloomberg reported last month that twin brothers and former Goldman SVPs Paul and Peter Scialla are leaving to run their real estate firm Delos, which builds offices, hotels, and homes that literally imbue physical structures with wellness properties. With board members including wellness mega guru Deepak Chopra; Nicholas LaRusso, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation; and Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic, their mission of enhancing the spaces we inhabit has serious clout behind it.

The spa sector is another niche that is increasingly diversifying its wellness offerings, with more and more personalised medical treatments that blur the line between medicine and beauty. By taking medical treatment out of the hospital and incorporating it into a more holistic vision of health and wellness, they are also capitalising on the increasingly mainstream view that a healthy body is not just illness-free.

Real estate and spa wellness of course appeal to an affluent demographic that can afford to spend money on state-of-the-art flats and spa breaks, but the growth of these sectors reflects a general trend toward the awareness that everything we touch and interact with affects us. They embody the proactive wellness - the aim to improve one's quality of life and health - that more and more people are practicing on an individual level with their calorie tracker apps, YouTube yoga tutorials, and vegan shoes.

Collectively, the market catering to both groups is vast. An SRI report published in 2010 estimated (conservatively) that the global wellness industry is worth almost $2 trillion. They valued the Fitness & Mind-Body sector alone at $390.1 billion and estimated that there are 289 million wellness consumers in the 30 most industrialized and richest countries.

With such a massive industry and audience, there is plenty of opportunity for companies to get involved. And with wellness touching every corner of their clients' and employees' lives, there is no excuse not to.

When I came up with the idea for what would become my company's flagship product -technology-enhanced running shorts -in 2008, I really wanted to harness the wealth of technological advances out there to improve my ability to be physically active, and get results in the process.

Today, my team is constantly on the hunt for smart technologies and materials that make people's lives healthier and their time more efficient. There's plenty of regular (and lovely looking) workout apparel and yoga pants on the high street, but people are looking for something different that will give them a boost and create some space in their time-poor schedules.

Yet while all of this technology may seem like a good thing, research suggests a decided ambivalence in the minds of consumers. In January the Huffington Post reported on a study showing that people are divided on the role of technology in wellness: while 54% of people believe it can benefit health, 46% think it hurts it. That is a substantial number of doubters.

So how can companies balance consumer fears with industry momentum? By being transparent with them and listening to what they want. The fitness apparel I create may be less invasive than a laser eye procedure, but both share a simple collective purpose: helping people feel healthier and happier. They have to use sound materials and methods to achieve that purpose and win the trust of the people investing their hard-earned money in it.

For a surface glimpse of consumer psychology around this subject, look at some of the trends projected for wellness in 2013. The health blog Well And Good NYC's choices show how they're all about making wellness solutions natural (such as juicing and the increased use of plant-based body oils) and accessible (the proliferation of online fitness studios). This tells me that consumers are embracing technology in wellness, but on their own terms. It's in the interest of business owners to meet those terms and then exceed expectations with transparently sourced and engineered wellness solutions that live up to the promises they make.