Chicago Startup Predicts The Future Of Fitness Post Pandemic

Consumer behavior completely changed during the global pandemic getty The $4.5 trillion global wellness economy

The $4.5 trillion global wellness economy is being transformed before our eyes. Those that invest in the trends that stick and dominate will be significantly healthier, at least financially. There are some clear winners we’ve seen during the pandemic, but based on market trends and consumer feedback, the landscape continues to shift. 

To help shine a light on how wellness consumers, fitness professionals and gym owners see the future of fitness once the dust settles, I met with Jeana Anderson Cohen, the founder and CEO of aSweatLife. Her firm has had a finger on the pulse on the latest fitness trends over the past few years thanks to its annual State of Fitness survey. 

Given the enormous disruption of the fitness industry resulting from the pandemic-related lock-downs and social distancing, aSweatLife recently conducted The State of Fitness During the Global Covid-19 Pandemic survey. The results were clear. This pandemic has been a massive moment of behavior change for fitness. 

Forced gym closures and social distancing practices greatly impacted the fitness industry as health enthusiasts stopped gym visits and transitioned their fitness routines to digital at-home offerings. In some cases, the shift was counterproductive to the business interests of fitness professionals. Live workout broadcasts via free platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube flooded the social nets and threatened to change the consumer value perception of the fitness industry, which is often priced as a luxury. 

This shift is not only driving demand for at-home workouts but is also creating opportunities for startups geared toward a new era of digital fitness. The market is seeing products such as at-home fitness devices and digital apps, as well as fitness experts pivoting their programs to social media and new digital platforms. 

People are embracing digital fitness. According to aSweatLife’s data, a staggering 86% of their survey respondents are using some form of digital fitness, compared to data in January when nearly 50% of respondents didn’t use ANY form of digital fitness. Companies like Peloton, Hydrow, Mirror and Tonal that sell digital at-home workout devices are set to be the biggest winners. Their products can be connected to social workout platforms and incorporate modern data-tracking capabilities into physical workouts. However, the question emerges: will the average Jane or Joe be able, or be willing, to pay for the expensive equipment and the ongoing monthly subscription of these products? 

As price-conscious consumers seek at-home fitness solutions, fitness apps and fitness experts offering digital alternatives will benefit from a plethora of new users. ASweatLife data shows that 45.5% of their respondents are sweating with a digital fitness app, 36.7% are working out via Facebook or Instagram Live and 30% are using fitness content on YouTube. While this market is ultra-competitive with many free online alternatives, high-quality fitness solutions will have the opportunity to generate sustainable subscription revenue. Along those lines, Jeana predicts three types of consumer behavior will emerge: 

  1. Powered-up in-gym routines: Consumers who have changed their fitness behavior because of Covid-19 will continue to use apps and trainer-guided online workouts at big-box gyms to amp up workouts.
  2. Mixed digital and In Real Life (IRL) routines: Consumers will augment their fitness routines IRL with at-home digital workouts. This will be especially powerful for the emerging digital brick-and-mortar models whose usual gym-goers may still look to them for in-person workouts 1 day a week and digital content for their remaining workouts. 
  3. Fully digital: Some power users may make a full transition to at-home digital fitness.

Consumer behavior completely adapted during the global pandemic. For many, this has been an introduction to the fact that working out at home may be as  effective and provides them access to online gyms and fitness programs geographically far away from them. Jeana expects some claw-back as studios and gyms reopen, but never a full return to the numbers from before. This is especially evident in consumer spending. In early 2020, aSweatLife found that the average monthly consumer fitness spend was $100.34, but amidst the pandemic, 39% of respondents were doing all of their fitness for free, and another 20% were spending $0-25 monthly. 

These spending changes will clearly have an impact on firms like ClassPass, which depends on an active network of gym-goers to generate revenue. ASwealife data shows most members have frozen or canceled their ClassPass memberships and plan to support small businesses if they go back. 

Consumers aren’t always the best predictors of their own future behavior – but if they do what they think they’re going to do, the fitness industry will have new leaders.

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