As we near the end of what could go down as the most disruptive year in modern times, most industries would have already begun to take stock of the momentous changes witnessed in just a span of a few months. For consumers, life changed almost overnight. And for businesses, it was a defining moment of being able to pivot or perish.
However, as we look back, we’re faced with the realization that while this year may have been challenging, it’s also been a harbinger for change. At the epicentre of that change are technology and its core proposition of connectivity.
Whether it’s person-to-person or just being able to bridge a gaping hole in the demand and supply ecosystem, tech and innovation have been the saving grace for the year that was 2020. And this couldn’t be more evident than it was for the fitness industry.
The dawn of the virtual experience
While the initial days of lockdown impositions and work-from-home realities created an immense opportunity for the fitness space, the traditional ecosystem was faced with an almost paradoxical dilemma. People were actively seeking ways to stay healthy, but gyms and brick-and-mortar establishments could no longer function to meet this demand. Whether it was the everyday gym buff or the new-age clientele who suddenly had the time to invest in their fitness – the boom in demand was unequivocal. Enter the digital age of fitness.
Resilience has always been a staple for this sector, and almost overnight independent and multi-national establishments quickly made a move to go digital. Platforms like Zoom and Google Meet were no longer just for the ‘9 to 5’ but were now being used for early morning Yoga sessions and late-night HIIT workouts. Social media portals like Instagram, YouTube, and even TikTok gave people access to celebrity trainers, fitness influencers, and those ‘Goal-worthy’ workouts. Now that accessibility was taken care of, and people had gotten a taste of what the virtual experience could be like, engagement was the next move.
Apps and the Rules of Engagement
With access to literally what the world of fitness could offer, the key ingredient of motivation and engagement that in-person training offered needed to be addressed. However, it wasn’t long before apps came along to elevate the entire experience. From tracking apps to app-enabled work-out sessions, these pocket-friendly virtual companions weren’t just restricted to high-intensity workouts but also, basic physical activities like walking and running. At their core, the capability to set individual goals, track progress on those goals, and in some cases (like StepSetGo) reward every accomplishment added personal touch. While to the untrained eye, these additions to the virtual workout experience may have seemed minor, but in reality, it had a tremendous impact on the future of the ecosystem.
Now, users have the option of anywhere-anytime fitness and had a companion who showed a vested interest in their progress and could help them achieve their goals.
Looking to 2021
As restrictions ease and traditional establishments begin to open up, the virtual fitness experience will not just slip into the background. In fact, it will play a leading role alongside the traditional infrastructure in the years to come. The convenience and accessibility of this new concept introduced is its ace in the hole and will play an integral part in the future of fitness. Because of the dynamic evolution that has been witnessed in 2020, more radical concepts like augmented reality and immersive experiences within the ecosystem have become a possibility. Although, maybe not in the immediate future.
We will see hybrid models where traditional and digital join forces provide a holistic fitness experience. This experience will give the end-user a plethora of options to choose from, i.e. in-gym, outdoors, at home, etc. while enabling tracking and gratification of goals and achievements through virtual assistants. These alliances will not only establish an invested interest in the end user’s fitness journey. Still, they will also prove beneficial in terms of engagement and acquisition at both sides of the collaboration.
On the topic of engagement and acquisition, the fitness space will always be plagued by its first and foremost challenge, which is keeping people committed to their fitness journey. In that regard, while this year saw a few players dabble in gamification and social interaction-based motivation, 2021 is the year the industry will take this up a notch. Each platform and outlet will do everything they can to keep current customers and incentivise potential ones.
2021 will be yet another defining moment for the fitness ecosystem. It will be the true test of the sustainability of the demand seen in 2020 and the potential cohesive partnership with new and old players within the landscape. Either way, our users and customers will be the deciding factor to propel the industry forward and scale it to new heights.
-- Shivjeet Ghatge is the CEO and Co-founder at StepSetGo. The views expressed are personal.