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INTERVIEW Fitness First shows how mobile can be used to drive retention, loyalty and footfall

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This week international gym chain Fitness First rolled out a new app that ‘mobilises’ its brand. In this day and age this is something increasingly important to all retailers and there is much that the retail world can learn from what Fitness First is attempting to do.

Internet Retailing talks to David Langridge, MD Connected Fitness Labs (DL) at developer DMI who worked embedded in Fitness First for six months to create and deliver the project as to why this is such a significant mobile play.

Internet Retailing: How important is the User experience and having an app with all the trimmings to getting people to sign up to Fitness first as their gym?

David Langridge: There is an expectation now from gym members that their gym experience is a connected one. That is, connecting the members activity outside of the gym and the activity they complete inside the gym. The key is to then connect this activity to the gym brand itself where members can consume content to aid support and inspiration from experts they trust – bridging the gap between the users digital and physical experience with the brand.

This is why CustomFit is not just an app, it also has a staff portal to help develop positive interactions between members and personal trainers on the gym floor and complex CRM and analytics system behind it. In simple terms, a personal trainer can develop a workout programme with a member and through the staff portal, drop it into the members app. We can then track and analyse members progress and provide them with feedback via the CRM system.

Increasing gym subscriptions was not the main reason we developed CustomFit, it is clear that potential new members are now being influenced to choose more connected gym brands over others who are not as it provides additional value.

IR: How important is having such a great app to retention of gym users?

DL: Retention is every gyms main challenge. Developing a habit is not easy to do and to maintain even harder. A driving force behind the development of this app was to help the development of a theory called ‘self determination’.

Following three rounds of global research which included ethnographic, qualitative and quantitive studies, we worked with a number of behaviour psychologist, customer experience experts and our own fitness professionals to design an experience that supported the development of ones self-determination. The results from members using the app are now quiet exciting. Members who use the app vs members who don’t are showing a 12% improvement in retention over a 12 month period which is extremely positive.

You could say that members who use the app are more engaged and motivated anyway, this has some truth in it of course. So when you compare two users visitation patterns, length of membership, product type, demographics etc ; the user not using the app vs the user that is, then we see a 1% improvement in retention. This may not sound significant but in a subscription model business, 1% for a mid-size gym group can be worth more than a million a year in revenue.

Going back to the 12% improvement, this also tells us that we have developed a product for the most valuable member, the longstanding members. These are the customers you do not want to lose to your competitors and keeping them can help reduce acquisition costs of new members moving forward.

IR: Any other ways that it increases/could increase Average Customer Value?

DL: This is just the start, the more connected the members become the easier it is to understand who they are through behavioural patterns. This information is only used to improve the way we behave and service them in the hope we can influence their self-determination a little so they stay healthier for longer. Understanding members behaviour and having connected members helps keep costs down and in turn, reduces the price of membership as it becomes easier and cheaper for us to add value to the experience.

There are exciting times ahead, we have partnered with Wexer Virtual to offer its members group exercise services on-demand, meaning they have a choice of hundreds of exercise classes to do at home, on holiday or even in a studio in the gym. We know this service will further support the development of self-determination by making exercise as accessible as possible. As well as this, we are planning on developing live streaming of classes from members favourite instructors. This is a trend that is expected to really take hold in the fitness industry over the next few years.

IR: Is Fitness first looking at the mobile channel to increase marketing? If so how? When?

DL: It’s happening now, there’s been a considerable change in how the gym industry spend the marketing dollar to move towards mobile channels.

IR: Is the connected fitness industry going to generate extra revenue for the Gym industry and if so how?

DL: In essence, the emergence of a Connected Fitness market will drive the gym industry to break down the four walls of clubs and force them to collaborate with the fitness and wellness sectors. Why shouldn’t gym’s work with digital health innovators for the NHS, or insurance companies, fitness apparel, online nutrition companies, wearables, the emerging augmented reality gaming world and so on to offer the integrated fitness package? But to be in the wider connected game, we have to be digitally fitness connected today.

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