Has consumer behaviour in the $4.5T global fitness and wellness industry moved digital?

Over a month ago, the government released guidelines for gyms and fitness centres to reopen. However, after eight months of online workout, will the consumer behaviour shift online completely?

The coronavirus pandemic transformed the $4.5 trillion global fitness and wellness industry. In March, gyms and yoga centres in India shut shop overnight and were replaced with home workouts and late night or early morning walks.  

Owing to the pandemic, fitness platforms like Cure.fit moved to a digital model. Since its physical fitness platform Cult.fit had to down the shutters, the startup had to let go of many employees and trainers in Tier-II markets in India, and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

In an earlier conversation with YourStory, Cure.fit Co-founder Ankit Nagori had said, “Close to 60 percent of our overall revenue was contributed by Cult, which dropped with the lockdown. With Cult, we see a V curve recovery with the opening of gyms, according to when the government mandates it.”

Not just Cult.fit. Fitness startup Fitternity also built solutions for small gyms to help them with online classes, while Sequoia-backed Fittr offered online fitness coaching classes. 

According to Ankit, Cure.fit expects to reach its pre-COVID numbers as early as 2021. He said, “With this range of digital business, we see a 20 to 25 percent additional revenue. In the next five years, the startup is likely to see the offline and online business contribute 50 percent each.” 

Meanwhile, with the government allowing gyms to reopen in August with strict protocols in place as part of the Unlock 4.0, gyms and fitness startups are now looking at both offline and online model. 

But will the consumer behaviour change back to the offline world of fitness or will it continue to be restricted to online considering the pandemic is still raging?

Home Gym

On-ground reality

A month after the government released its guidelines, in September 2020, Cult.fit started operations in 25 centres (gyms and yoga centres) in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai. 

Ahead of opening other centres across India, the startup built a CARES safety protocol for its staff and customers. It stands for C (controlled access), A (allotted workstations with sanitised equipment), R (replacing common touch-points with touchless set-ups), E (extensive sanitisation), and S (social distancing at all times). 

Naresh Krishnaswamy, Growth and Marketing Head, Cure.Fit, says, “We have launched the CULT Cares protocol, and have tested this across 25 centres. Having received a positive response, we are going ahead and opening more centres according to the guidelines laid out by the government. We expect to be at 50 percent of pre-COVID revenue levels by January end.” 

The startup is in the process of reopening its centres across 12 cities, including Gurugram, Vizag, Ahmedabad, Mangalore, Jaipur, Coimbatore, Indore, Chandigarh, Jammu, Mysore, Ludhiana, and Amritsar. 

But are these precautions enough?

According to a report by Fitternity, in September 2020, close to 80 percent of the approved capacity mandated by the government is being achieved in partner gyms. As per government SOPs, gyms, and fitness centres can function on a 25-33 percent capacity

In fact, gyms are required to keep four-sq metres distance from each person, while the gym equipment needs to be kept six-feet apart with no physical contact during the workout sessions. Members are also asked to wear visors while working out, and temperature and oxygen-level checks have become the norm. 

Reports from RedSeer, FICCI, EY, IHRSA, Fitternity, and the Global Wellness Institute add that at present, there are over six million active users that spend $350 to $400 annually on fitness services. Thus, making the sector a $2.6 billion market in India. 

In fact, despite the pandemic, the industry will grow at an annual rate of 27 percent, touching $32 billion by 2022, with fitness centres believed to be contributing over $6.6 billion. 

Image credit: FitsApp

The flexibility of offline and online model

Jitendra Chouksey, Founder of Fittr, an online fitness and nutrition community, says,

“There are rules and norms in place. But to follow them consistently by every single gym will be time-consuming. Also, today people are wary and fearful. Up until there is a vaccine, not many will want to venture out that often. However, people seem to have taken to online classes. There will be a small shift of some going offline, but the majority will continue online classes.” 

This reverberates among many customers, who have taken a liking to online fitness classes, as the home workout videos, live online sessions, fitness regimes, and online coaching gives them flexibility.  

When the lockdown was announced, Cure.fit pivoted to an online model. By the end of June, it was looking to generate $1 million in revenue. In August, Cure.fit claims to have fulfilled over 900 online bookings across four cities.

A 28-year old marketing executive for a large corporate, Anamika. A (name changed), says though the move to a digital workout session gave her the much-needed break from a monotonous life, now she doesn’t mind going to the gym once in a while.

“Working out at home doesn’t bring in the same results. Also, the chances of making mistakes are more. Having said that, I want to go to any workout session only when all safety and security norms are followed, and if I can be extremely sure that the best practices are followed,” she shares. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

What does the consumer behaviour shift say? 

Jitendra says that India isn’t purely a gym-going nation. The number of people voluntarily going to a gym to workout in India is low compared to the US or Europe. Most Indians prefer to attend a yoga class or a Zumba session. He adds that these centres also need to have a strict protocol in place, as he believes these classes will have a better upward tick than traditional gyms. 

“The point of these classes is the community-building aspect as well. There is limited physical contact in a Zumba or a yoga centre. Also, it brings in the much-needed break,” adds Jitendra. 

In fact, more than half of the members, who do take up a gym membership, are not regular gym-goers. For such members, online classes give a lower cost option for fitness and are time-saving.

“Schedules are changing, the way people spend time working and managing a household can be challenging. But with online recorded classes, I have the flexibility to work out when I feel like. One of my biggest problems is that I enrol for several memberships, but I can hardly keep up,” explains a 40-year old working mother. 

A study conducted in Sydney suggested that people who go to the gym are significantly higher risk-takers in life. Backing this claim, Texas Medical Association added that people who work out at the gym, fall in the higher risk-taking bracket as compared to those who prefer to take a walk in the park or swim. 

Many analysts believe that after the reopening of gyms, people are likely to visit the gym once or maybe twice in a week. Until a vaccine is introduced, the chances of 100 percent resumption are doubtful. One analyst says that people will look at gyms and fitness centres as a break from the routine, and as something they can step out for once in a week. 

“There has been a good utilisation of services and good ratings for the sessions. Safety has been the utmost priority of our team and the customers, and we are seeing an overall positive response. Customers will take their own decision depending on how comfortable they are in going to the physical fitness centres. We are ensuring all protocols and measures are being taken for everyone’s safety.

"Our focus is first to get back all our centres up and running, and we will take a call on any growth/additions to be done after that,” explains Naresh.

“The $4.5 trillion fitness and wellness industry is definitely here to stay. But, we believe 80 percent will be focussed on online classes, while 20 percent will account for physical centres,” Jitendra concludes. 
Edited by Suman Singh


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