This article is sponsored by Fisikal.
During the last two years, the global pandemic has put a firecracker under the fitness industry’s digital journey. Through periods of lockdown, the value of being able to maintain a connection to members remotely has been unequivocally proven, supported by the consumers’ willingness and ability to engage. So, it is fair to conclude that, as an industry, we need to continue to invest in digitalizing our services, maintaining relevance in a world that is increasingly driven by digitalization.
The May 2020 McKinsey report, “The Covid-19 recovery will be digital: A plan for the first 90 days,” found that as a result of the first pandemic-induced lockdown, the world jumped ahead five years in consumer and business digital adoption in a period of around eight weeks.
Digitalization is all around us. It drives the way we shop, the way we obtain information, the way we enjoy entertainment, the way we order takeout and taxis. Digitalization is influencing the way we engage with products and services in all aspects of life. As an industry, we need to be a part of this new digital age or we risk being left behind and disappearing into insignificance.
What do we mean by digital transformation?
The term digital transformation means the integration of digital technology across all aspects of a business, fundamentally changing operations and the consumer experience.
Where is the fitness industry on its digital transformation journey?
To shed some light on this question, ukactive in partnership with ReWrite Digital, as part of its input to the 2021 Digital Futures report, invited 12 ukactive operator members to complete a multiple choice survey covering more than 40 individual measures across five digital classifications. The results would then establish a digital maturity and effectiveness score.
Individual scores were combined to result in an average score of 55 percent, placing the industry in the United Kingdom at “digital experimenter” level, roughly halfway along the digital pathway. Although data is not directly comparable, this places the fitness industry behind sectors such as retail, financial services, automotive and fast-moving consumer goods, suggesting there is still much to be done.
Even though the evidence documented in this report is focused on the UK market, operators around the globe face the same challenge – how does a sector driven by brick-and-mortar facilities maintain relevance in a world that is digitally driven?
What are operators' thoughts on digitalization?
In October 2021, at its in-person annual conference, ukactive hosted a session exploring operator sentiment around the topic of digitalization.
During the session, operators were invited to take part in a live survey. It was encouraging to learn that 98 percent of operators taking part said digital will play a significant role in their future operations. This statistic was mirrored in the ukactive Digital Futures report, which also found that 50 percent of operators agreed that digital will play a critical role moving forward. So, there is a general understanding of the importance of transformation.
However, 28 percent of operators also admitted to having incomplete systems that are not adequate to meet today’s digital demands with 84 percent also confessing to being unhappy with their current digital strategy. Only 5 percent of operators taking part said that they maintain a reliable, powerful and efficient ecosystem of modern, up-to-date technical solutions.
What factors are holding the industry back?
In the live survey at the ukactive conference, the three dominant barriers to digital transformation cited by operators were a lack of knowledge, cost and inadequate expertise.
The barrier to digital transformation was predominantly due to a lack of available funds and uncertainty about how to measure the return on investment, according to a survey of 275 fitness operators commissioned by EGYM in association with California-based research specialist Pulse QA and included in the “Digital Technologies – Friend or Foe?” report. While 75 percent of those surveyed stated they intended to invest in digitalization in 2022, 45 percent admitted to being unclear as to how best to spend their money.
How far have we come and where do we go from here?
During the pandemic, our industry demonstrated extraordinary adaptability. In a matter of weeks, the vast majority of operators moved their in-person services online – employing an array of generic and custom-designed platforms and apps to deliver an amazing array of online content.
The response from consumers was hugely positive. After the first national UK lockdown, about 59 percent of people maintained or increased activity levels while confined to their homes and 72 percent of them used online workouts to do so, according to the 2020 National Fitness Survey of 4,000 consumers conducted by TA6 and powered by Alliance Leisure. However, this is just scratching the surface on the opportunities digitalization offers to operators.
Yes, it can play a valuable role uniting communities through digital connection, but it can also add huge value to the members’ in-club experience.
Whether it be through the provision of a connected gym floor where equipment, wearables, body analyzers and apps all digitally connect, utilizing collated data to provide each and every member with a highly personalized experience or digitally driven administration services such as online bookings that create a frictionless environment where members can focus entirely on their workout experience – digitalization needs to be the new normal.
So far, we have focused on how digitalization can enhance the member experience, but it can also positively impact operational efficiencies. The effective and efficient collation of performance and operational data can empower club operators to make informed, evidence-based decisions that impact costs and revenue. Data can be collated in user-friendly dashboards that provide real-time snapshots of business performance, accessible anytime, from anywhere with an internet connection.
What are the consequence of not engaging in digitalization?
The world is evolving, and digitalization is driving the world around us. Pioneering brands such as Amazon, Google, Netflix and Facebook have identified and exploited opportunities created by the coming together of technological advancements and widespread access to broadband to develop a whole new way of engaging consumers and influencing behaviours on a global scale.
The global wellness market is worth a staggering $1.5 trillion, according to the April 2021 article “Feeling Good – the future of the $1.5 trillion wellness market,” published by McKinsey. The global healthcare market will reach a value just shy of $12 trillion in 2022, according to “The Healthcare Global Market Opportunities And Strategies To 2022” report published by researchandmarkets.com. If our brick-and-mortar offer wants to maintain a slice of the fitness, health and wellbeing pie, we need to invest in our offer to ensure it remains relevant and connects to the world around us. If we don’t invest in digitalization, we risk being left behind in the fight to secure consumer’s fitness, health and wellbeing attention.
The digital age is happening now. Although the fitness industry has started its digitalization journey, it still has a long way to go. The encouraging news is that most operators understand the benefits of investing in a digital strategy, but many are still unsure of how best to progress.
This is where brands such as Fisikal can really help. We work with operator partners to develop a digital strategy that addresses their needs and optimizes their opportunities. Every gym, every club, every organization will have different needs and will be at a different point on their digital journey. We specialize in developing bespoke digital strategies based in detailed consultation and needs analysis.
Emma Excell is COO at Fisikal. For more information about the products and services Fisikal offers visit fisikal.com.