In a world that can still cope with that Covid-19 pandemicSocial media weekend feeds from parties and restaurants are no longer on the agenda. Instead, consumers of all ages are putting on leggings, pounding on the sidewalks, doing burpees in their living spaces, and posting their progress on platforms like Strava, Nike Running Club, or Fiit.
Online fitness communities have risen sharply in the past 12 months due to gym closings and the restriction of viewers at sporting events. For many, outdoor activities help overcome boredom and give meaning to the boredom of everyday life during a pandemic.
Now, premium and mass-market sportswear brands are leveraging this fitness community to reach a highly engaged audience as luxury brands explore the potential of technical sportswear. The power of digital community networking was recognized long before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Likewise, growing consumer interest in health and wellness is a long-term trend, says Sarah Willersdorf, global luxury director at Boston Consulting Group. The difference is that these two trends have converged and accelerated, creating networks of consumers willing to invest in fitness apps, devices and clothing.
Fitness networks promote the feeling of belonging among their participants, says Karina van den Oever, partner and retail expert at the consulting firm Elixirr. With the strengthening of the networks, the participants are of course ready to increase their spending on products with higher performance quality. “Sport is one of the few resilient categories during the pandemic. However, as the lockdown progresses, consumers are moving away from the fast fashion sport and want to invest in longer-lasting performance clothing, ”says van den Oever.
Hyper-engaged online fitness communities
More than 74 million athletes worldwide use Strava, an app that enables users to track routes and metrics for outdoor activities such as running and cycling. But it’s the social aspect that attracts 2 million newcomers to the platform every month, says international marketing director Simon Klima. Users like to follow their friends and use their home feeds to add praise or comments.
Strava reports a significant increase in the activity of sportswear brands on the platform, typically involving club formation or challenges, says Klima. Branded running clubs can be formed for free. “Being active right now is the best part of many people’s day,” says Klima. “If you can connect with this moment as a brand, it’s really powerful.”
The premium sportswear brand Lululemon has one of the largest clubs on Strava with over 100,000 members. In the Move and Stay Connected Challenge, more than 300,000 people in a Strava community worked together to train, says Nikki Neuburger, Chief Brand Officer of Lululemon. “The world yearns for new ways to connect with the things that have always been important to them – their colleagues, their workouts, their communities,” she says. “This has further increased the desire of consumers to have digital access to both products and content in a simple and intuitive way.”
What makes fitness communities special is their long-term, high-quality commitment, says Klima. “When you challenge Strava, that’s not a first impression and that’s it. It could be a challenge for a month where a goal is really difficult to achieve. And it’s a really satisfying feeling that the user associates with the brand in the end. “These types of high engagement challenges can generate 10x return on investment, according to Klima. He adds that cycling brand Le Col reported 10 times more engagement in a Strava post than in an Instagram post.
As the pandemic continues, BCG’s Sarah Willersdorf sees a decline in trust in institutions, the media and government. Instead, consumers are looking for communities and networks online, she says. “They are looking for a connection or trustworthy communities to look for information in,” she says. The result: a very dedicated network of fitness consumers.
Technical sportswear could be the new luxury
Nike launched the first iteration of its running club in 2010. It has had 100 million runs over the past 12 months, with weekly active users, new users and retained users continuing to grow strongly in the second quarter year over year, according to Nike. The app connects seamlessly with in-app purchases and offers exclusive drops and discounts on Nike goods.
Nike is an example of a brand that has built exclusivity when it comes to fitness networks. “For younger consumers in particular, Nike is just as much a luxury brand in certain categories as many of the real luxury brands,” says Willersdorf. “When you think of the principles of luxury – like high quality craftsmanship, timelessness – a lot of performance brands fit in. It’s just a different kind of luxury. “
The On CloudX shoe was ranked number 9 on the Lyst Q4 2020 index of hottest items for men.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, the CloudX trainer from the Swiss brand On Running was ranked 9th in the index of the hottest men’s items on the Lyst fashion search engine, the first time that a technical running shoe was included in the ranking. The top ten are typically dominated by luxury and streetwear brands (other high-profile items include the Moncler Sassiere down jacket and a Balmain logo sweater), but Lyst sees a shift as consumers invest in technical sportswear. Search numbers for outdoor and technical brands like On (+546 percent) have increased significantly, while running shoe brand Hoka One saw Lyst page views increase 202 percent year over year.
On has always been a technical brand for runners, says co-founder Caspar Coppetti. However, over the past year it has reached a wider, non-specialized audience as more consumers start running. The first iteration of On’s now regular Run Your Local Mountain Challenge had 140,000 registrations with Strava. “For our existing fans, it’s more about community building, but new viewers may see that a friend took part in the On: Run Your Local Mountain Challenge and asks what’s On.” says Coppetti. “It creates brand awareness.”
Luxury brands are more likely to avoid technical sportswear, but there are signs that they are ready to move into this product category more from Fall / Winter 2021.
Do you have the expertise? Brands looking to keep fit could use the expertise of these names to get it right already. “Sportswear and sports shoes are highly technical today,” says Willersdorf. “If you are a luxury brand that wants to get into really technical clothing or technical footwear, it is very difficult to do so without a partner.”
Designer Victoria Beckham started an ongoing collaboration with Reebok in 2019. Drop Four was released in December 2020. “Balancing the rigorous technical requirements to withstand training with a feminine and flattering silhouette was a real concern for us,” says Beckham. “Every item has to work hard for different aspects of a woman’s life.”
Marie Leblanc de Reynies, CEO of Victoria Beckham, notes an increased demand: “The pandemic has increased the appetite for sportswear and we continue to see growing demand for these products,” she says. “Our goal is to combine performance with enhanced aesthetics and we have always received great feedback from our dedicated VB x Reebok community.”
Integration of sportswear brands into classes
Home Fitness Platform Fiit’s subscriber base grew 700 percent over the past year. Fiit organizes virtual fitness courses via an app for smartphones, computers and SkyQ. Access via wearable tech allows heart rate monitoring and allows users to compete with friends and take classes.
Victoria Beckham started an ongoing partnership with Reebok in 2019.
© Victoria Beckham x Reebok
According to Daniel Shellard, co-founder and CEO of Fiit, apparel is a great opportunity in the online fitness space. “We collect feedback after every single class. And people often ask what [trainer] Gede wears or what Adrianne wears, ”he says. “We are looking for clothing ranges for our trainers so that users can shop for the look in the app.” Fiit is being discussed with a number of brands after doing exploratory little activations with the likes of Asos and Sweaty Betty.
It remains to be seen whether luxury brands will explore further. However, there are many high-income consumers in these new fitness communities. Peloton, the exercise equipment and media brand that went public in 2019, is already serving these consumers. “Let’s be clear, Peloton is a luxury brand. It is integrated vertically. It has a high price premium, ”says Willersdorf.
The fundamental attraction for luxury brands, according to van de Oever, is highly committed consumer communities with perseverance. “You can see it at Peloton with the Nike Running app. It’s this sense of competition, passion, adrenaline, and gamification that brings people together. I think it will stay even if we are no longer locked. “
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