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Friend or foe? How gyms can live with the mobile phone

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Turning competition into collaboration – how gyms can live with the mobile phone
April 8, 2021 •

As a gym operator, who is your biggest competitor? If Peloton comes to mind, or Apple Fitness+, or ClassPass, think again. Because the biggest threat of course comes from the mobile phone.

That isn’t new news: the mobile phone has been disrupting entrenched business models since the launch of the iPhone in 2007. But it is nevertheless this device – owned by the majority of the population – that provides the most options, the most flexibility and the most personal relationship with fitness consumers. And it isn’t going away. 

So what’s needed is a mindset shift – one that involves gyms looking beyond the threat of the phone to identify the channels it provides to actually fight back.

This isn’t just about the veritable gold of customer data captured by phones, either, or the opportunities to hyper-personalise based on this data. Mobiles can be harnessed to facilitate gyms’ own enhanced services, and new technology will boost these opportunities still further.

The transformative power of 5G 

With speeds 100 times that of 4G and network latency faster than human visual processing, 5G is a step change in capability that will bring many benefits. 

This always on, lightning-fast internet pipe will provide the capability for perfect streaming of ultra-high-definition content in 8k without the need for buffering, cabling or routers. It will mean consumers are guaranteed a high-quality experience wherever they choose to consume it – and this presents opportunities for operators both on- and off-site. 

On-site, a seamless digital experience will be possible, thanks in particular to the higher device density 5G will allow – essential when you consider that many customers now attend the gym with two devices: phone and smartwatch.

5G will allow for consistently-delivered services to the member off-site, too, with numerous options to further enhance the experience. Operators could, for example, draw in members’ instantly-available data using AI tools, generating hyper-personalised recommendations and guidance which, harnessing 5G’s real-time capability, could be delivered instantly and without the need for any human intervention: an app notification congratulating the member on an active day, for example, or suggesting they get more sleep that night. 

Whether 500 or 500,000 members, every day the club would be engaging these individuals with valuable content, extending and deepening the customer relationship.

Then there’s the fact that, through the confidence of delivery it brings, 5G will power new products and experiences including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). 

Big brands have already begun to dip a toe in AR waters. You may have seen IKEA’s mobile solution, for example, which allows you to choose an item from its range and then, using AR, view how it would look in your home through your mobile phone. Then there was Manchester City’s AR stadium tour, which allowed visitors to ‘sit next to’ and ‘interact with’ manager Pep Guardiola at the top table of a press conference. And that’s before we even start on the numerous brands that allow you to ‘try on’ shoes and make-up through AR features in their apps.

And the momentum will gather over the coming year: Apple’s phones already feature native AR capabilities, while 5G will allow the shackles of hardware to be removed, the heavy processing to be handed off to remote high-end servers, and the service to be delivered to the customer in real-time.

AR’s double vision

Within the fitness sector specifically, AR offers an excellent example of how and where mobile phones can be leveraged to benefit the club – particularly on-site. Let’s bring these opportunities to life.

A member walks onto the gym floor, phone in hand and Spotify in ears. The phone knows the current physiological condition its owner is in: it is aware they have slept well and that they are therefore in a position to exert themselves. 

The member holds up their mobile phone and, on the screen, sees an overlay of the workout being suggested for them. They follow the arrows to the first piece of equipment and, on arrival, are given the option to watch an instructional video. They can also choose to follow suggested output and repetitions. From optimal use of time to ensuring correct equipment usage – and with it exerciser safety – this enhancement to the workout could even, for customers wearing a smartwatch, include the ability to modify, in real-time, the suggested programme based on their body’s responses.

While our member goes about their AR-assisted workout, the trainers on the floor are benefiting from new insights being presented to them by their AR glasses (these are less obvious than the first generation of Google glasses and significantly more practical than pointing a phone towards members). 

The overlay on their lenses shows them the attrition risk of each member in the gym, helping them decide who to engage with first; a quick touch to the side of the frame brings up additional information on the member, to ensure each engagement is based on current and relevant information.

Class instructors benefit from the same overlay for their sessions, allowing them to prioritise shout-outs and ensure every engagement is valuable and delivered with context. 

Back on the floor, our trainer is alerted by a red light over a piece of equipment: a potential equipment failure. On the other side of the gym, another alert suggests an intervention with a member who isn’t using the equipment correctly.

Discreet, not obstructive, the AR for team members ensures they’re always aware of who’s on the floor and how they can engage to add value rather than interrupt. Meanwhile, our member feels they’ve had an optimal workout, completed confidently and with some new experiences thrown in. Plus the whole thing has been automatically recorded for them, so they can review their progress whenever they wish.

Collaborate, don’t compete

What is clear, then, is that while the mobile phone is the nightmare competitor – enjoying a nearly unbreakable consumer relationship, constant evolution from literally thousands of collaborators, and few capital constraints or geographical limitations – it also presents gyms with huge opportunities.

The key is not to try and compete; this is an unwinnable battle. Instead, if gyms accept their role alongside mobiles in the overall wellness ecosystem, they will unleash powerful, value-adding technology that can transform the member experience.

Find out more in our white paper, The Fitness Future: Rules of Engagement.

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