Outside the food and entertainment businesses, the pandemic spelt doom for many in the fitness industry as well, particularly indie studios and standalone gyms. Even as many restaurants and shops in malls get back on their feet during Covid-19, fitness chains and studios are still awaiting the go-ahead for resumption. With no immediate scope of reopening, the fitness industry has seen a transition towards online or virtual fitness and this is where the industry’s long-held notions are being tested.
Like most education, fitness too has moved online and that’s at a time when the demand for health and wellness products is high due to the coronavirus fear. If the rising awareness among Indian consumers had already brought prominence to preventive healthcare solutions such as fitness and wellness apps, then the Covid-19 pandemic has only served to reinforce this idea.
According to the recent release by DataLabs by Inc42+, “India’s Healthtech Landscape In a Post Covid-19 World”, within the preventive healthcare market, the contribution of fitness and wellness companies is around 58% in 2019.
Transition From Traditional To Virtual Fitness
The Covid-induced shift in the consumption pattern for fitness products and services in India meant that not just fitness platforms but individuals also looked at online classes to fill the gap. If home gyms and online fitness classes were popular earlier, they became the norm in the lockdown. Sessions per week as well as session times went up by 20%, growing the organic revenue by 40%, claimed Bengaluru-based fitness and nutrition platform HealthifyMe.
Fitness apps have not only been an attraction for Indian consumers but also investors. According to DataLabs by Inc42+, fitness and wellness apps have been the second most preferred segment in terms of the funding raised by healthtech startups.
Bengaluru-based Curefit has led the healthtech funding charts with $297.7 Mn secured since 2014-2019. The company raised $110 Mn in funding led by Singapore-based Temasek on March 21, just three days before the lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020. Curefit soon shifted to virtual fitness classes under the brand name Cult.live. It allowed members to not only get access to their daily workouts on mobile, PC or even the TV, but also compete with others to stay motivated throughout the lockdown.
Curefit claims to have witnessed a 3X increase in the amount of time spent by its users on its live fitness classes, Cult Live. The traction in the live classes was said to be higher than the Cultfit centres, its physical fitness studios. Curefit claimed that as many as 2 Lakh people attend its live classes every day on the app.
Others are limiting class size to bring in greater engagement. Health and nutrition platform HealthifyMe announced the launch of Healthifyme Studio in June 2020 to offer live and interactive workouts conducted by national and international trainers. Each session is limited to a maximum of 30 participants in order to ensure meaningful interaction between the coach and all the participants.
Healthifyme turned profitable at operational level due to a 30% surge in the traffic and 40% surge in revenue in April, as a consequence of the Covid-19 lockdown
Pune-based online fitness startup Fittr raised $2 Mn from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge accelerator programme during the lockdown. It reported around 15% spike in terms of social media engagement, with 4 Mn views a week on the live sessions on Facebook page.The also claimed to have crossed the 100 Cr revenue mark in FY20. The startup has raised 35 Lakh to combat the Covid-19 crisis through the support of its volunteer group BETTR in order to support the medical fraternity across the country.
Traditional fitness giants such as Gold’s Gym also moved to online fitness classes, but due to the lack of any digital infrastructure, it is offering these classes on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Speaking to Inc42, Shraddha Sheth, VP of marketing, sales and operations, said that Gold’s Gym has continued to connect with its members through social media. “These videos are helping our users to continue with their fitness journey in the safety of their home,” she added.
This is where fitness apps have an upper hand, since the traditional fitness companies have not focussed on virtual fitness at all so far, and the technology-centric nature of fitness startups gives them an edge in the fight for the online market.
Instagram Influencers, Celebrities Join The Pack
Online fitness classes have not only become the primary model for fitness apps, but have also gained massive popularity among solo entrepreneurs and trainers as well as Instagram influencers and celebrities. Instagram influencer and online coach, Puneet Rao (@_puneetrao_) has a massive following of around 41.9K followers. He initially started with free demo sessions and then trained the people through Instagram Live Sessions with his 21 days, 30 days, 45 days and 60 days challenge. Each of these challenges saw at least 1000 participants. The fees for these challenges was around INR 2000 each.
Another online yoga instructor Preeti Kalia (@yogbela) with a following of 14.9K has been attracting her fanbase to do yoga online through her paid zoom sessions. Celebrities, too, joined the online fitness bandwagon. Bollywood actor and performer Shilpa Shetty aso launched a yoga programme on her app Simple Soulful for those over the age 50 years. Also, earlier in March, the government’s flagship fitness movement, Fit India, had partnered with Shetty to make her 21-day weight loss programme available free to the masses on her app.
Will Virtual Fitness Take Over Post Covid-19?
With the announcement of Unlock 3.0 rules for businesses, gyms are expected to reopen from August 5, 2020. Despite of the reopening of gyms, people will still be reluctant to go back to gyms and workout due to their safety and hygiene concerns
The impact of Covid-19 has changed the fitness industry forever. The rapid changes underway in the overall healthcare and fitness industry will trigger a paradigm shift, leading to more people getting accustomed to home based fitness routines. It is anticipated that even after the reopening of gyms, online fitness will continue to be in the lives of people trying to achieve different fitness goals.
However, virtual fitness will continue to enjoy prominence as long as the impact of Covid-19 is there in the market. In the longer run, once the fear of Covid- 19 subsides from the minds of people, there will be a blend of both offline as well as online fitness. Gyms and studios are expected to provide fitness classes available for both in physical presence and reserve few slots for virtual attendees. This is a total disruption of the unit economics of a gym or a fitness studio and is likely to cause much upheaval in the industry.
Fitness apps have been seeing a wide adoption due to the technology used by them. According to DataLabs analysis of the consumer mindset in the fitness and wellness apps category, app performance is the biggest factor in adoption of apps, followed by quality of trainers and meditation sessions.
With a complete tech focus, fitness apps have looked to ensure that their mobile applications have all the latest UI/UX standards as well as robust features to keep the audience glued. Secondly, the onboarding of trainers will be a crucial aspect in the growth prospects of these brands. Curefit, which emerged as the most preferred brand in the overall fitness and wellness category in the survey done by Clootrack and DataLabs, is looking to cash in on the trend.
With the success of the free virtual classes, Curefit is looking to expand it into its primary revenue source. The company has recently launched one-on-one personal training classes with third-party trainers, who will be working on a commission model. It has also started a group fitness product which is paid.
India’s virtual fitness market is having its golden moment, but the future will depend on how well these apps and platforms tap into the ‘Bharat’ opportunity and attract audiences from Tier 3 and beyond, which is the major effort in most consumer services and products categories. The massive market presents plenty of possibilities for virtual fitness apps, as highlighted in the latest DataLabs by Inc42+ report.