Google has entered the health club industry with a new booking tool to help fitness consumers register for health and wellness classes.
Google's pilot program, Reserve with Google, was announced and launched in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco in December 2016. Fitness consumers wanting to book a class in those cities can register directly through the Reserve with Google site on desktop, mobile web, Google Search or Google Maps. Reserve with Google users can also search for nearby fitness studios and receive class recommendations.
"Reserve with Google will help make completing your New Year's resolution as easy as click, click, booked," Rajas Moonka, group product manager, Google, wrote in a Dec. 13 blog post announcing the service.
Bryan O'Rourke, president, Fitness Industry Technology Council, views Reserve with Google as a small slice of the future for club consumers and health club operators.
"[Reserve with Google] is not surprising and expect to see other forms of this type of service being launched and offered in the coming months and years ahead," O'Rourke told Club Industry. "In the end, it's all about having a much wider array of business offerings and experiences and choices being provided to customers."
Google partnered with Mindbody, Full Slate, Front Desk, Appointy, zingFit, MyTime and Genbook for the pilot program. The duration of the pilot program and potential expansion into other cities was not disclosed in the announcement. Google did not respond to a Club Industry request seeking additional details for this story.
In Mindbody's case, the pilot program surfaces class schedules of its subscribers located within approximately 10,000 square miles of the three pilot cities. Reserve with Google has potential to tap into the 58,000 businesses worldwide that use the Mindbody platform should the program expand.
Mindbody could help Google surface a diverse real-time inventory of millions of available daily class and appointment spaces, Rick Stollmeyer, CEO and co-founder of Mindbody, told Club Industry. For Mindbody subscribers, the result of the partnership is greater visibility and customer reach for Mindbody subscribers, he said.
"Once complete, this partnership will take consumers from Google's classic search interfaces directly to an aggregated listing of available classes and appointments that they can then easily book and pay for," Stollmeyer told Club Industry. "That frictionless integration will make it easier than ever for people to discover and engage wellness services in their communities."
Google is the latest partner to participate in the Mindbody Network marketing platform, which also includes promoted introductory offers on the Mindbody app and fitness bookings through Under Armour's MyFitnessPal app, Stollmeyer noted.
"Through the Mindbody Network, we are creating a uniquely effective marketing engine that wellness business owners can use to enhance their brand and connect to a larger audience of high-value customers," Stollmeyer said. "It's all about filling classes and appointment books and fueling wellness business growth in a way that benefits everyone involved."
Mindbody envisioned the partnership with Google "many years ago" and communicated with Google for "several years" prior to the Reserve with Google collaboration, Stollmeyer said.
"This partnership aligns beautifully with our vision of an omni-channel, transaction-enabled marketplace connecting the world of wellness," Stollmeyer said. "Google's mission is 'to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.' From their perspective, it makes perfect sense that health and wellness services not only be easily searchable but bookable as well from Google interfaces. However, the real-time inventory of available classes and services is a uniquely difficult piece of information to access, and to make it truly useful, Google needs to deliver direct booking and purchase. In our markets, that requires direct integration into cloud business management software like ours."
Mindbody will consider the partnership a success if it drives more customers and more bookings to its subscribers, Stollmeyer said.
"Awareness and adoption among our subscribers will be our biggest challenge as this pilot program rolls out across the country," Stollmeyer said. "As such, we will be diligently educating our subscribers on how they can best list their inventory so that it easily and effectively surfaces within Reserve with Google. This program is creating a library of real-time bookable inventory, and we want to make it a user-friendly experience for both our subscribers and Google's users."
Reserve with Google appears to be in competition for digital consumer engagement with other booking services, such as Groupon and ClassPass. Some clubs offer discounts for a multiple-class booking on Groupon, for example. ClassPass has recorded more than 30 million worldwide reservations since 2013 when it launched its subscription-based business that connects consumers to a variety of fitness classes.
"As the global leader and first mover in the space, we are encouraged by the [Reserve with Google] news as a positive signal to the market and strong validator of the space that ClassPass has been investing in for the past three years," a ClassPass spokesperson told Club Industry. "Ultimately, we view this as a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats scenario given our different value propositions; we're both trying to grow the fitness industry as a whole, which is a win for members and fitness providers."
ClassPass' platform allows customers to filter classes by geography, class type, amenities, studio, time and location. The company also has invested in machine learning and algorithms that provide recommendations to consumers based on past usage habits, the spokesperson said.
"We know our members love the unprecedented choice and flexibility of our 8,000 studio and gym offerings worldwide, and our partners have benefited from ClassPass being a yield optimization engine for unsold inventory," the spokesperson said.
Changing consumer expectations, business model sustainability, technologies and globalism as key trends facing health clubs, according to O'Rourke. Today's club consumer expects more choice and does not necessarily want to commit to month-to-month agreements, which leads to further unbundling for many club operations, he said.
"Offering booking, personalization, customization and real engagement are keys to business models," O'Rourke said. "Consumers want convenience and are willing to pay a premium for convenience and great experiences both digitally and physically."
Technologies to create those digital and physical experiences are crucial for the most successful and most profitable club operators, O'Rourke said. As an example, he cited the SoulCycle app, which offers class booking, instructor music playlist streaming and apparel. It also shows upcoming schedules for each of its studios.
"This represents the new era of standards consumers are looking for," O'Rourke said.
O'Rourke said that the move may drive the consumption of fitness overall.
"As people experience a great variety of fitness experiences and are able to do it conveniently, their propensity to want to do more is expanded," O'Rourke said.
He cautioned club operators who are concerned by change.
"Choice sometimes threatens some club operators, and in other cases it opens the doors for others to figure out new ways to reach a broader marketplace," O'Rourke said. "It's a mistake to be romantic about the past when thinking of any business because the marketplace doesn't care about your sentiment."
O'Rourke added: "The bottom line is that the future of the health club industry and its greatest products and services haven't been invented yet. There are infinite possibilities."