The Subscription Economy is being driven by the ever-changing needs and preferences of modern consumers who expect more. Consumers expect an excellent service that is intuitive and convenient. They are rejecting the traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach, and are instead embracing services that offer them personalization and freedom — services that treat them as the unique individuals that they are.
In the modern fitness industry, we are seeing these changing consumer demands transform the landscape in big ways.
Simply put, consumers are looking for the freedom to experience fitness on their own terms, with flexible and customized offerings. The disruptive rise of alternative fitness experiences demonstrates this shift — from boutique gyms like SoulCycle to at-home workout streaming and exercise services like Peloton to no-commitment necessary services like Class Pass that give fitness buffs the chance to take a wide variety of classes at different gyms.
This shift holds significant implications for traditional players within the fitness industry. Fitness businesses need to adapt quickly to meet new demands, or risk failure.
However adapting your business, requires a foundational and operational change. From acquisition to renewals and upsells, everything must be centered around your subscribers. Hyperfocus on subscriber relationships and the strategies to develop, monetize, and maintain these relationships is critical to achieving and maintaining success in the modern fitness industry.
Based on our experiences of working with leading fitness companies, we’ve identified the top four imperatives for fitness and membership success in the Subscription Economy, particularly around the areas of subscriber acquisition, retention, and growth.
Specifically, leaders within the fitness market excel with the following four strategies:
RAPIDLY EXPERIMENT AND ITERATE WITH PRICING AND PACKAGING
According to a Mindbody report, nearly 50% of Americans identify money constraints as the top obstacle to living a healthier life. In a world filled with more and more fitness alternatives — online and offline — customers don’t think twice about trying a new service or switching over to other, more affordable, services.
To win new subscribers and retain existing ones, your membership pricing, offers, and promotions must align with the needs and preferences of the modern fitness consumer. Their consumption patterns will determine how much they value your service which in turn drives how much and how they prefer to pay you.
The best way to cater to their pricing preferences is by giving them the freedom to pick the offer that best suits their needs. It’s a very different approach from the “one product — one price” practice dictated by the traditional business model (or the one plan — one price common within many fitness businesses).
Successful fitness subscriptions are often those that are highly customizable by customers to suit their needs. So, instead of offering your service at one fixed price to all subscribers everywhere, consider offering pricing based on geography, number of users, access tiers, or usage. For example, SoulCycle gives customers flexibility by pricing per individual class and offering multi-class packages.
Now let’s talk pricing flexibility. You want to be able to test out different pricing and packaging strategies to iterate and see what’s going to be the easiest, least confusing, and most attractive to customers — and brings you the most revenue. This is especially true if you are looking to launch new digital initiatives (streaming services, a personal training app, etc.).
At the same time, you want your launch pricing and packaging strategy to set you up for future growth as well. In other words, while a low price point might initially help you grab new subscribers, it probably won’t scale. Simply put, pricing isn’t a one-and-done exercise. The key to successful pricing is the ability to iterate (and iterate again!) to experiment with pricing, to launch new packages, and more.
Flexible pricing and packaging strategies play a key role in driving subscriber acquisition and retention and offer a competitive advantage for fitness businesses. Such pricing strategies and systems will allow you to not only strike when an opportunity presents itself, like a certain time of year, but also engage with your subscribers on an ongoing basis (think cross-sells and upsells, and seasonal surges in demand). For example, this year Crunch Fitness launched a 30% off dues promotionthrough January 13 to promote new customer retention past the new year boom.
Make sure you have the systems to support the rapid launch of new pricing models and the ability to iterate on them.
INCREASE ENGAGEMENT AND RETENTION
Within fitness, personalizing one’s individual journey is more important than ever. Especially with the growth of digital fitness platforms, consumers are seeking providers who understand their exercise journey and their fitness goals, and personalize recommendations and offerings to cater to their specific needs — from suggested exercises for “leg day” to a complementary discount meal plan offering.
A failure to provide a personalized and modern fitness experience spells doom for your business and will most likely result in low acquisition rates and high churn rates. For, while easy sign-ups drive acquisition, many fitness companies also suffer from the other side of the same coin — easy cancellations.
The secret to increased customer engagement and retention? Data-driven personalization.
Data must underpin your entire service and play a key role in your subscription sales and retention strategies. In the digital world, most fitness companies are drowning in customer data from various sources — behavioral data, financial data, demographic data, and more. What’s key is having it all come together in one place in an actionable way.
You need one system that can gather all relevant data and analyze usage patterns, subscriber preferences, and financial metrics and provide you with actionable insights. These insights will help you proactively engage, upsell, cross-sell, and retain customers. For example, 24 Hour Fitness’s recent partnership with Microsoft and Adobe to provide members with more personalized and custom experiences is a good display of a data-driven response to changing consumer expectations.
ACCEPT MULTIPLE CURRENCIES AND PAYMENT METHODS AND OPTIMIZE COLLECTIONS
In the realm of fitness, payment capabilities are nothing short of critical. Industry players need to target payment runs down to the hour, or risk increasing chances of payment rejections. Missing even a single day of payments may require short-term solutions like bridge loans, given that margins on gym memberships are often low and most cash is reinvested into real estate.
At the same time, today’s fitness subscribers want the freedom to pay using any method of their choice and expect you to accept a wide range of payment methods and dominant currencies. Failure to offer this flexibility can cause abandonment during sign-ups or customer churn later on. It’s estimated that 20 percent of churn can be attributed to involuntary churn, i.e churn due to operational causes such as credit card and account information issues.
Your systems must also be able to manage complex payment failures, proactively prevent future failure, and recover lost revenue — and do all this with high-volumes of largely digital payments. While fitness companies understand the impact of pricing, customer success, and engagement to reduce churn rate, they often neglect a few core, operational measures around payments that could have a significant impact on acquisition and churn.
Accepting payments in popular local currencies, methods, and gateways should be the standard goal. If you are operating or expanding internationally, using a payments solution with multiple, pre-integrated gateways that enable you to use the appropriate gateway for that region will allow you to effectively operate locally, especially if you are a business like Peloton which operates in the US, the UK, and Canada and is expanding into Germany.
Moreover, automatic account updaters, automated payment runs, dunning workflows, and intelligent retry schedules, especially when handling large volumes of credit/debit card payments, will help maximize collection opportunities and reduce payment risk.
All those measures greatly reduce involuntary churn, which is critical to subscriber growth and extending that customer lifetime. For all of the above to work well for both your customers and your business, you will need an agile system that understands subscriptions and works well within your ecosystem, while handling payment failures and minimizing revenue leakage.
AUTOMATE BACK-END SYSTEMS
Operating a successful and growing fitness business requires you to be ready to scale quickly without compromising the subscriber experience. As a fitness company, you are familiar with all the downstream impact scaling your business can have on your systems for billing, payments, and finance, especially with exception processes. However, with the ever-changing demands of consumers in the Subscription Economy, you need to reevaluate how you operate and determine if you truly are employing the most efficient processes to grow.
Ideally, you want a subscription management system that grows with you and gives you the freedom to scale. As fitness subscription businesses know, you cannot look at Sales, Billing and Finance functions in silos. Consider the complexities of collection, revenue, and finance that come with subscription amendments, growth surges, multiple currencies, etc. And then, consider their implications on each other. These departments should be very tightly integrated and your operations must be structured as a unified, end-to-end, quote-to-cash process.
For example, in the fitness landscape where peak periods can cause a sudden surge in sign-ups, your subscription management system must be able to handle a massive increase in numbers. Not having a solid subscription management system in today’s competitive fitness landscape means risking customer dissatisfaction and churn.
Without an investment in automation and a disciplined process, it’s hard to scale operations to meet the needs of your growing business. Since subscription businesses are focused on developing and maintaining customer relationships, you must be able to easily handle the different processes across the various stages of the subscription lifecycle — and empower your customers via self-service to self-manage their account preferences. And no matter how many subscribers you add at once or over a period of time, your back-end subscription management system should be able to scale easily.
It’s also important that your subscription management system works well with your other systems across the board — CRM, marketing automation, advertising, identity management, content management, usage analytics, and ERP. It should not only integrate well but should also allow data to flow back and forth. A comprehensive order-to-cash system will be the one in which data is integrated from diverse sources, generates actionable insights, and moves your business forward.
With masses of fitness consumers turning away from the standard and towards more accessible, community-oriented, personalized, and fun alternatives, industry players have to adapt. To win the largest market share in an extremely competitive and dynamic sector, fitness companies must go all out to capture the attention and loyalty of their customers, over and over again.
What separates the winners from the also-rans is their ability to quickly execute these four imperatives — pricing experimentation, seamless management of global payments, data-driven acquisition and retention strategies, and the ability to scale for growth.