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By Dave Gerrish, Strategic Lead – Digital, ukactive

With its latest paper, Rising to consumer demand for the connected digital experience, launched today (5 October), the ukactive Digital Futures Group gives you the next steps to creating a connected digital experience utilising existing data pools.

Many fitness and leisure operators acknowledge digital services are essential for future growth, considering the rising tide of consumers’ digital expectations. This was one of the findings of the 2022 Digital Maturity and Effectiveness consultation recently conducted by ukactive. However, in order to successfully deliver a transformation programme, we need to come from a point of collective definition and thinking.

The second paper by ukactive’s Digital Futures Group aims to explore and reframe the definition of ‘connected fitness’ and how it should complement your core leisure strategy, particularly against a backdrop of immense challenges such as inflationary growth and the cost of living crisis in the UK.

Let’s start with this definition as the commonly held view on what ‘connected fitness’ is:

“Connected fitness refers to the set of tools, whether apps or equipment, which bring together one’s fitness and one’s digital life, allowing fitness enthusiasts the near experience of working out in the gym from the safe and comfortable environment of their home.”

However, looking through the lens of digital transformation and connected digital experiences, another definition could be:

“Connected fitness is the symbiotic alignment of front and back-end systems using data to inform business decisions that meet commercial objectives and consumer expectations while improving wellbeing.”

ukactive and the Digital Futures Group believe this is a more accurate representation.

The value of reframing this term in this way is for organisations to understand that each function within your business plays a critical, interconnected role in providing insight on the current consumer behaviours compared to your desired model.

Based on our experiences with other, more digitally mature, sectors, it’s fair to say that we now expect interactions to be seamless, intuitive, and simple by design. We expect ease of booking and payment, swift resolution of enquiries and a degree of personalisation. Indeed, as the retail sector knows, having all these elements in place is critical to brand loyalty.

In the recent Retail Week survey, of 50 large UK retailers, 60% of the businesses surveyed reported they have increased their technology budget between 20% and 50% during the past two years. And 18% have seen the size of their technology teams increase by 50% or more over the past two years, in order to continually provide rich digital experiences to consumers.

But what if you don’t have an abundance (if any) investment capital to take a risk in funding a full transformation programme? Another theme emerging from our consultation is an acknowledgement that getting the basic digital best practices in place is critical to survival, as well as a realisation that most organisations are already sitting on a vast data pool to help inform their strategy. The question is, how do we connect and build on what we have in a cost-effective manner?

Retail Week’s Digital Spend Report 2022 cited that:

“Retailers’ investment in technology over the next 18 months will largely be driven by the need to respond more quickly to consumer demand (23 retailers) and to deliver a more frictionless customer experience across all channels (20). These rank as far more important drivers than the desire to create a more unified back-end business (four) or to deliver cost and efficiency savings (three).”

In another stark similarity to the fitness sector, the Retail Week report states that digital largely sits as a distinct function within an organisation – with just three businesses saying it pervades all aspects of the organisation. This is largely true of what we have seen within leisure, despite the fact that those organisations that have built a digital strategy connecting and drawing data and insights across the organisation can provide the richest experiences.

The leisure sector has worked tirelessly to provide online payment and self-serve options, as well as booking functionality, but plenty of work has still to be done to form effective, connected digital fitness strategies. In fact, it is an ever-evolving piece of work. ukactive’s Digital Futures Group is working to support organisations across the sector to take the next steps in their digital journey, regardless of their digital maturity.

Most organisations have vast separate data pools to work with to help build your brand experiences and commercial value. However, working in silos creates disjointed and inefficient experiences. The next step is to connect the pools of data from every corner of your business via streams, forming a vast data reservoir for all departments to fish from. This single source of truth about your consumers can then aid efficiency, reduce friction, and improve customer experience.

Then, audit the data capabilities of your current tools by asking, “Do they integrate and inform your business?” If not, ask if they have an application programming interface (API) to unlock and share the data to provide a connected experience. This organisation-wide approach, supported with traditional consumer engagement strategies, will help you develop rich, connected, experiences built for growth.

In this paper we share more steps that you can take to develop a connected digital framework that will protect and propel your services into the future.

To read our new paper, click here