The leisure sector steps up its digital game
By Steve Scales, General Manager at the UK’s leading leisure management software company Gladstone Ltd.
There is an interesting juxtaposition within the leisure industry. On one hand, we embrace modernity and take great joy in the latest machine that can newly target the exact ab we want, or measure our heart rate as we dash down the final straight of a VR cycle race. But on the other hand, until recently, there was a real reluctance to embrace modernity within the digital transformation of the sector.
In fact, according to one of ukactive’s most recently released Digital Futures reports, the overall score for the sector’s digital maturity and effectiveness was noted at 51%. The index describes this level (40-59%) as ‘Digital Experimenter’, typically meaning that operators are making great strides but missing the investment, goal alignment and rapid advances to yield a strong performance.
The findings pointed to a lack of a robust digital strategy, continual investment, and adaptability of third-party technology platforms as reasons holding operators back. You wouldn’t see that same reluctance towards the latest miracle quad toner, would you?
However, the tide is turning and it will be very interesting to see if things have improved when the next Digital Futures report comes out in just a few weeks. In particular, here at Gladstone, we are determined to pull the leisure sector forward in its journey towards embracing a digital, and data-led future.
Over the last few years, customers’ digital expectations have remained high, and therefore, it is more important than ever that leisure operators continue to invest in digital technologies to try and close the gap on other sectors. We must use technology to strive for improved efficiency, which goes hand in hand with customer accessibility, satisfaction and engagement.
A big part of achieving this is through a shift in mindset and investment across the sector. While that state-of-the-art quad toner is going to attract some new members into facilities, is this simply targeting individuals that already enjoy and actively engage in exercise, with arguably a pair of already toned quads?
On the flip side, by investing in simple, friction-free digital tools that ensure an inclusive, seamless and attractive fitness experience, you open a door to a world of new potential members. Leisure operators should be a place for all, and by advancing your digital solutions you can help achieve that utopia.
It isn’t as if leisure operators aren’t aware of this either, as recently as last year, 85% of operators surveyed by ukactive said that at least some of the systems they have in place hold them back. Luckily, there are solutions to this and tangible things operators can be doing.
For example, gone are the days of membership cards and having to physically enter a gym to become a member. We must instead invest in digital technologies to ensure a seamless customer journey, from signing up, all the way to booking that first class, feeling the burn, and exiting jelly legged.
Digital solutions must consider mobile technologies too. When you consider that consumers of all ages now check their mobiles over 100 times a day, savvy operators are already starting to take advantage of using mobile apps to connect with their customers, offering promotions and driving membership sign-ups through social media referrals. I think more can and should be done though, especially given the flexibility mobile provides, with the ability to target customers to make that first step to sign up for a class or gym membership from just about anywhere.
Then there’s the big word on the lips of all operators… data. As a leisure operator, you are given so many data points about your users, seeing what time they enjoy visiting, what classes they book, their engagement levels, etc. But making sense, and more importantly, use out of those data points can often be challenging if you don’t have the right software system in place.
Our cloud-based system, for example, provides operators with multiple data points, interpreted and displayed through a simple, user-friendly dashboard. This removes barriers for less tech-savvy employees to provide an accurate picture of customer engagement and journeys through a centre, allowing operators to get closer to their customers, and identifying trends in consumer behaviour such as the causes behind member churn. This information can then be used to refine and create, informed strategies geared towards attraction and retention.
Without these tools, operators lack the ability to bring people into a club as well as retain them, as consumers are less likely to remain engaged based on their digital experience. Amidst wider challenges, such as a lack of motivation and perceived value proposition, it could be the difference between us getting consumers engaged and moving or not.
Clearly then, there is still work for the leisure sector to do to truly become a leading digital industry, but the huge leaps being taken in the last 5-10 years show that it can be done. Other industries that are also lagging in their journey towards a digital future could look to the leisure industry, to learn from the journey we’ve already been on, and take lessons from what the future holds.