When the dust settled on 2020, there was a collective sigh. A feeling of relief, a shared reassurance that one of the worst years in our lifetime had now come to a close. Although it doesn't look like 2021 will be a normal year by any definition, we are moving in the direction of progress, hope and an opportunity to rebuild and continue building.
One thing is clear — we have come so far over the course of the last 10 months and we have learned a lot. In a year overshadowed by doom and gloom, when you strip back the layers, the fitness industry made groundbreaking achievements and accomplishments across both fitness types and technology. It's hard to think of a time when we didn't rely so much on technology in our industry, but alas it was just the thing to save us this past year, and for that, we won't forget. The current year means we are more prepared than we were before, and we'll face hardships and opportunities in a different way.
Here are the eight high value trends and opportunities we can expect to see in 2021.
There has never been a better time to harness apps and online offerings
The last year saw a huge jump of 67 percent of app installs resulting in 61 percent more engagement. Not only did users download the apps, they genuinely engaged. The good news for physical location operators is that this tapered off significantly showing that users are missing their in-person accountability and team spirit. The joys of community and the bond customers form not only with their coaches and trainers but with their fellow gym goers has not been lost. In fact, now gym goers crave it even more. Rather than turn to these apps to be the only solution, we are going to see a combination of both app and in-person services to meet both needs.
Consumers are desperate to get back to their social, real, lives
Online is here to stay but consumers are craving the social connection and camaraderie of face-to-face classes and sessions. More and more gym goers and fitness enthusiasts are going to rely on and base their decision to exercise in a facility on the decisions their friends make. Having people around you can trust and rely on will make going back and returning to a "normal life" that much more comfortable. And fitness providers are encouraging just that. By offering classes and memberships that you can sign up for with friends, they are cultivating a more welcoming and comfortable environment that their customers can return to.
Live-streaming can bridge the gap
Live-streaming plays a major role in bridging the gap between need and comfort. With the ability to hop on Zoom and be in a fitness class from home, people have already started to turn to this as an option, not for their safety or their wellbeing, but because of the convenience. We have already heard from several fitness providers in the U.S and the U.K., that online classes and live-streaming have been epic in being able to keep classes going when conditions do not permit in-person attendance. Customers will now have the option to attend and have that social interaction they crave, and if they can't make it, they can tune in from home. A Pilates studio operator surveyed 300 of her customers and found while about 50 percent were anxious to return to the studio, the other 50 percent were also just as happy continuing with online classes until they felt completely comfortable.
Results are paramount
In a recent study done in the U.S., of the 2,000 participants 76 percent said they gained up to 16 pounds during self-isolation. There has never been a greater and more pressing opportunity for any athletic or fitness business who can help address this health crisis. Yes, online has kept some of us going, but the majority need help. Comfort is still a key theme here and customers want to be sure that if they are coming back to the gym or studio that they are going to see the results they are promised. Fitness businesses will do well to be as honest and determined about what they are able to help someone achieve right now.
And they are being tracked
Wearables have become part of everyday life. With Google's acquisition of Fitbit, this has become a full battleground between the tech giants. This competition will be a good thing, and customers will demand ever greater compatibility between systems. That means that proprietary installed systems will need to integrate to be relevant, and recognizing that consumers want to know their stats will be essential.
Apple's stronger emergence into the fit tech world with the launch of Apple Fitness + only further encourages the dependency on a watch or piece of equipment to motivate one's fitness journey. All eyes will be on fitness providers as they start incorporating "closing rings" into the metrics they track and monitor in fitness classes.
This year is about connection and community: not the next big thing
In previous years the fitness trends have all been about which variant of fitness will see a huge boom. 2021 dispenses with frivolity and will be all about the community around classes. Who is the most welcoming? Who makes customers feel the most comfortable? Who delivers results in terms of both physical health and mental health? It's also about a commitment — both the commitment a trainer or coach makes to a customer and the commitment a customer makes to them back. We have seen many loyal customers fall off the wagon or slip away, and fitness providers are putting more focus than ever into keeping their communities engaged and connected so that that doesn't happen again.
Delivery, delivery, delivery
It's no longer only about the who, it's about how. Who can deliver the best classes, results and services to customers, and how? The playbook was thrown out the window this past year and if you can prove that not only are you able to provide high-quality, reliable fitness services, but that you can guarantee those are delivered, consistent and that when things go back to "normal" you'll still be there, you may see your customer list grow quickly.
Streaming services have made enough progress to matter
Streaming fitness providers such as Peleton will likely see many new rivals launched in 2021. Streaming will soon become a part of every household. Surprisingly this means the opposite of the demise of the gym and sports club. Survival is about adaptation and understanding, and understanding this consumer shift will define the most successful businesses. How can the most successful business owners take advantage of this? Complement, don't compete. Build that lifestyle into your programs. In the end, the results that consumers get will be attributed to you if you take the most responsibility.
Tim Green is head of marketing for TeamUp, a management system for gyms, boutique studios and class-based fitness.