2020 wasn’t exactly the year anyone predicted. While every industry experienced challenges, the fitness industry was particularly hard hit with widespread, long-term gym closures across the world. So, the question on everyone’s minds now turns to the future. What will 2021 look like for the industry? To answer that question, we spoke to Laura Hill, Senior Editor at Welltodo, about Welltodo’s 2021 Consumer Wellness Trends Report. This report explores eight key consumer trends predicted to impact the trajectory of the global wellness industry in the coming year. We spoke to Laura about:
- The most surprising findings from the report
- How operators need to react to consumer’s increased sensitivity to health and safety
- The key trends operators need to know for the year ahead
Was there anything that surprised you about the 2021 report?
What I think many people may find surprising is how resilient the fitness industry has been over the last year. Despite unprecedented circumstances and challenges, the report showed there was a lot of growth throughout 2020 and the wellness industry is predicted to grow even further in 2021.
2020 was an undeniably hard year for so many operators, but what this report demonstrates is just how agile, savvy, and resilient the wellness industry can be. There are eight trends identified in the report and all of them highlight how so many consumer behaviours that already existed just accelerated in 2020. Some that were bubbling under the surface were driven way further up the agenda. While there were areas hit harder, what the report shows is that generally, there are huge opportunities across the industry. Investors continue to pour capital into the industry and consumer engagement is becoming more intense. The pandemic has put health and wellness at the forefront more than ever before.
Mental wellness has been a trend in your reports for a few years. How has the pandemic impacted this trend this year?
Mental wellness was a trend that was already building a lot of momentum in recent years. The pandemic has pushed it to the forefront of mainstream consciousness.
COVID has had an impact on everyone’s mental health. It is an issue that impacts everybody and that’s clearer than ever right now. While people may have been aware of mental health issues, it was not relevant in many people’s lives. Now, people intimately understand the everyday impact that mental health can have on overall wellbeing.
The global wellness industry has now defined mental wellness as a category in its own right. It’s a huge market. The pandemic has helped to highlight different types of mental health concerns and this, in turn, has pushed brands to create mental wellness solutions that address more relevant, real-time issues. For example, we saw meditation apps launch meditations specifically for dealing with stress related to COVID or the uncertainty surrounding the US election. Brands also launched mental health therapies designed to deal with “millennial issues” like imposter syndrome and digital dating. Last year, we saw the industry taking more of a worldview to mental wellness, making it more relevant and approachable.
One of the trends in the report is “Everything Health,” and it talks about the convergence of health and wellness and how this took on new relevancy in 2020 amidst the pandemic. What’s most important for operators to know about consumer’s heightened sensitivity to health as a result of the pandemic?
In terms of physical spaces, it’s about finding a sweet spot between new practices while maintaining a positive consumer journey. As much as possible, robust hygiene practices and social distancing measures need to be done in a way that doesn’t overshadow the experience itself. This is a considerable challenge, so operators need to get creative. It could be changes to the general design and space or the layout of your studio. Ideally, it needs to be done in a way that makes it clear that health and safety is the priority but that any changes also elevate and add value to the experience. For example, can you move your group exercise classes outdoors or to rooftops? SoulCycle and Equinox in the US have done this really effectively and instead of feeling like a compromised experience, members feel they are getting something special. It actually makes people want to go because it is something new and different.
Also, as an operator, be careful you’re not pushing back the health and safety responsibility to the member. It shouldn’t be all about the member making compromises. Take a step back and look at what you need to do but turn it on its head. Try to give the consumer something more.
Fuelled by a year of widespread social unrest, your report identifies a clear shift in consumer attitude to a more inclusive approach to wellness. What is the opportunity here for operators in 2021?
Most operators have teams in place responsible for marketing or social responsibility. What will change in 2021 is that businesses will need to integrate this same type of internal approach towards diversity and inclusivity. This is a non-negotiable now. Marketing campaigns that lack diversity or appear tone deaf will not be quickly forgiven or forgotten. 2020 drew a line in the sand.
There’s an enormous opportunity here for operators. There are many demographics that are still not properly catered for. If you can understand and cater to these groups, the opportunity for engagement is significant. But this isn’t a box-ticking exercise anymore. Your brand must live it. Make sure there are a variety of voices involved in marketing decisions. Don’t assume. Make sure those voices are a part of the process and use different people’s expertise, values and experience to inform your business strategy.
People are fed up with the old rhetoric of wellness only existing for a certain type of person. COVID has highlighted this even more. This virus doesn’t discriminate. Preventative health and wellness measures can be the difference between life and death and everyone needs access. COVID has amplified this fact and made it real for people.
Of all the trends identified, what do you think is the one studio owners and gym operators should pay the most attention to?
It has long been at the forefront of conversation, but the one trend that can’t be ignored is digital. Having a digital presence and a hybrid/omnichannel approach to fitness is more important than ever before. This is not new news, but it is the trend that will continue to change the way the fitness landscape looks forever.
If you’re an operator, think about what a hybrid model looks like to you. Digital may not be the “be all, end all,” but 2020 proved that you definitely need a more flexible model. We don’t know how or if people will go back to pre-COVID habits. Some studies in other markets have shown a promising number of people returning to their old routines. However, even if your model predominantly revolves around in-person fitness, you still need some sort of digital offering as part of your membership value. It won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Operators will need to figure out what works best for them.
For more details on the trends set to shape the industry in the year ahead, download the full Welltodo 2021 Consumer Wellness Trends Report here.