An Asian View — how will the current changes in customer behaviour create opportunities in the Health and Wellness Industry

This is the first of 3 articles in our series which will examine the digital transformation in the health and wellness sector particularly gyms, fitness centres and personal training from the impact and changes brought on by Covid-19, and what comes next.

The emergence of Covid-19 is altering the lifestyles and economies of countries all around the world. Already more than one-third of the global population, 3 billion people, are under lockdown of some form as cases continue to surge daily. Companies are facing a turbulent time as Covid-19 has decimated some industries and tested the resolve of others. We are experiencing a cultural change that requires businesses to continually innovate, particularly with technology, and pivot to stay engaged with their customers.

According to the McKinsey Global Survey on consumer behaviour changes amid COVID-19 — online fitness, digital exercise machines and wellness apps have seen their adoption rates growing significantly especially for online fitness with more than 50% of new users in some markets.

  1. From Nice-to-Have to Mandatory: Integration of Digital Fitness

Digital transformation has been a buzzword in business for the past several years and relates to the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business. Fundamentally, it changes how a business operates and delivers value to their customers. According to Forbes, during the last few months, digital transformation has allowed people to work remotely; saved millions of jobs, helped slow the spread of the virus, and allowed some businesses to maintain a level of normalcy amidst the current pandemic.

To businesses in the health and wellness sector, particularly gyms, fitness centres and personal training, Covid-19 has exponentially accelerated their digital transition. The millions around the world staying at home are looking at creative ways to stay healthy, active, and fit. An overwhelming number of people have resorted to purchasing at home gym equipment in record numbers with retailers noting a rise in sales of at home fitness products of up to 50%. However, technology has been key and it is completely transforming how people workout — from workout apps to live-streamed fitness classes and many more.

The pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to the health and wellness industry. With social distancing and government-imposed closure of brick-and-mortar locations, gyms and fitness centers are struggling and the priority during the current crisis has been to retain memberships and revenues. According to data from Qichacha, a Chinese database, China’s ballooning fitness industry got hit so hard by the coronavirus that 6,969 businesses in the field, with more than 200 concentrated in Beijing, dissolved or suspended operations the first quarter this year — far more than the 4,632 in the entirety of 2015. Gyms and fitness centres had to quickly gain the know-how to move their traditionally offline services online quickly and investigate online revenue options.



  1. Monetization Strategies: Measuring the Impact of Live Streaming

Live streaming has been in Asia for several years, and especially in China where it has helped propel the rapid growth in e-commerce since 2014. By comparison, Amazon just started live streaming in the US in 2019. Live streaming is fuelling Chinese e-commerce: The live streaming e-commerce market was worth ¥440 billion (around US$63 billion) in 2019, according to Chinese financial services firm Everbright Securities. That equates to almost 9% of total e-commerce sales in China in 2019 ($723 billion as estimated by Statista) or roughly 1% of total retail sales of consumer goods, based on data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China.

With this vast experience, it is not surprising that live streaming quickly became the biggest trend to hit the exercise sector in Asia in recent months. Gyms, fitness centres, and personal trainers all turned to live online classes to reach their clients and members at their homes — kicking off online workouts with sessions on Zoom in China and Instagram Live and Facebook Live in other Asian markets, or using other supporting platforms and/or applications in their efforts to stay afloat.

In China, the gym chain Super Monkey has offered multiple series of 14-day training camps online. Keep, a platform for instructional videos and customised workouts with and has 200 million users and 3 million paying members, climbed from third place to the top of Apple’s app store in the fitness category in December. A series of live classes on its app posted at the end of January garnered close to 56.5 million viewers by early February. Nike Training Club workouts in China also saw an extraordinary rise in sign-ups and engagement, with weekly active users for all Nike activity apps up 80% by the end of February. Outside of China, Pure Fitness in Hong Kong and Singapore have moved to an online schedule with sessions on Instagram live and offer online private yoga classes and online personal training. F45 studios all around Asia have also brought their training sessions online.

With everything that is being offered, people have a vast amount of options for fitness to stay active at home or exercise in different locations. However, will the currently offered online options and flexibility be a permanent feature of gym memberships?

Can these online alternatives meet the community, interactive, and personalized approach to fitness many seek? Has Covid-19 diluted the brick and mortar fitness industry model or has this created new revenue streams and will online now become the new norm for the fitness industry? We will explore more in our next article “An Asian View — Transforming Engagement in the Health and Wellness Industry.


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