It is a constant source of anxiety for gym owners and a principle that can make or break a gym: retention. In other words, making sure your members don’t cancel. Over the years, owners have come up with all manner of schemes to keep clients from running away. It’s the eternal struggle. But we think the answer could lie in gamification. It all boils down to three basic ideas which have influenced human behavior for thousands of years: progress, fun, and making friends.
Why we go to the gym
We all go to the gym for different reasons. Getting healthy, losing weight, and looking good are usually top of the pile. It’s why gyms are teeming with new members in early January. They arrive with a list of resolutions, fresh sneakers tightly laced, towel slung over one shoulder, and a steadfast promise to stick to their routine. For real, this time. But achieving these goals requires a level of commitment, and by February, a significant proportion of new members will have fallen by the wayside. Long-term goals just aren’t enough to keep us in the gym. We need to feel like we’re making progress.
Why we stay in the gym
A few years ago, The Retention People asked 10,000 members about their gym habits. Months later, they did another round of questions to track how many members had quit and why. It was the largest ever survey of member behavior in the fitness industry, and it gives us some surprising insights into what keeps gym users motivated. Turns out, it’s not all about health and beauty.
The paper identified three main motivating factors: progress, fun, and making friends. Let’s start with progress. It means different things to different people: a feeling of improved health or happiness, weight loss, etc. However you measure it, progress is important. For every factor a member reported making improvement on, the chances of cancelling in the seven months after being surveyed went down by 10%.
Enjoyment, and more specifically, the expectation of enjoyment, was also important. Members who joined a gym in order to have fun but then found they weren’t enjoying themselves were more likely to quit. A lot more likely. This group had the highest cancellation rate in the survey. And yet, fun by itself was not the most significant factor. One thing proved to be more impactful than anything, regardless of long-term goals and initial motivations for joining.
The secret to keeping members happy
Making friends. It’s that simple. The numbers on this are eye-opening. Members who made a friend in the first three months of using the gym were the least likely to cancel. A whopping 40% less likely than those who did not make a friend. Making a friend trumped every other factor on the list, including “improved appearance, having more energy and feeling happier”, which, surprisingly, didn’t seem to affect cancellation rates at all.
So, some convincing numbers. But what does any of this have to do with gamification?
Wait, what is gamification?
The concept itself is simple. It means taking things from the world of games – things like competition, rewards, progress, achievement – and applying them to real-life tasks and activities. It’s a term that has been getting a lot of buzz, and elements of gamification are being implemented for all sorts of uses, from education to tackling voter apathy. And we think it could be perfect for exercise.
Why gamification could be the answer
If we take the survey as a guideline, gamification ticks all the boxes. It’s a great way to measure physical progress, but, more importantly, it adds a level of enjoyment and sociability that’s difficult to find anywhere else. A bit of friendly competition can transform a typical gym experience into something fun and memorable. And we know, because we’ve tried it.
We recently added a game feature to our app. Nothing fancy, just a simple way for a group of indoor cyclists to race each other. In the short time we’ve been testing it out, we’ve been blown away by the results. We’ve noticed that people love to compete in a fun setting. They even exercise harder than they normally would. But the real magic comes once the race has finished. A sea of happy (albeit sweaty) faces, all talking, laughing and making jokes.
Fun, even if you hate to exercise
With such an emphasis on fun, it’s important to remember that gamification is not about eschewing fitness and health. Not at all. Gamification is just a means to get there. But what it offers is quite radical. Through fun and social interaction, exercise becomes a lot more appealing to everyone. Not everyone wants to be an athlete. Some people have been scared away from exercise, even intimidated by it. With gamification features, we could be opening fitness up to a whole new world of potential clients, while keeping the ones we already have.
High retention rates are important to gym owners. But there is a potential here for more than just business. It’s about creating an inclusive atmosphere. One where everybody, regardless of fitness level or long-term exercise goals, can go to the gym to have fun, make friends, and, along the way, get fit and stay healthy.
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