Trends & Features

Flex and strengthen payment systems to meet customers’ needs during the cost-of-living crisis

But the fitness industry, like many others, has been hit by soaring inflation, which is still stubbornly at just under 8%. As well as seeing running costs rise, many customers will be experiencing serious financial pressures, and their gym membership could be the first thing they cut back on (if they’ve not cancelled it already).

A glimmer of hope

At the start of 2023, a survey by IWG found that 36% of people had cancelled their gym memberships due to cost of living concerns. Half of these were 25 to 34 year olds, and this rose to 56% for their 18 to 24 year old counterparts. Yet a similar YouGov survey across people on various income levels just a few months prior revealed that only 4% had made cutbacks out of willingness and 8% out of necessity.

Clearly, attitudes can change quickly as the realities of each individual’s financial situation emerges – and the picture is different across public and private gyms too. But just as fallout from the pandemic may have caused a slow return to normal visitor levels, with fears of overcrowding or cleanliness remaining strong, the renewed interest in health and wellbeing offers a glimmer of hope for gym owners across the country. Indeed – data from 2022 found that 16% of people who weren’t currently a gym member would consider joining one in the next three months.

Making costs more manageable

Of those who are on the verge of getting a gym membership, cost is a key factor (66%), followed by location (62%) and equipment (55%), with women taking cost into account 10% more than men. Though the figures were different for people who are already members, the ratio of priorities remained the same. Yet with rising overheads such as energy costs and increasing rental costs, it might not be viable for owners to reduce prices and many have already had to bump up their fees.

There’s an appetite for keeping fit, but how can gyms tempt people to their studios at a time when personal finances are tight?

The pandemic spearheaded another cultural switch that could hold the key, as flexible payments – made possible by simple and secure digital payment technology – accelerated the shift to a near-cashless society.

It’s something that experts from other industries highlighted in our report, ‘Navigating the Future of Payments’. Insurance firm Ripe Thinking adapted to offer payment holidays to customers during the pandemic, while hospitality experts shared ways to digitise ‘dead’ moments of a customer journey, ranging from booking a table to waiting for the bill. Retail businesses have naturally been at the forefront of digital payments technologies and many stores understand the value their customers place in being offered ways to spread or delay the cost of high-priced items. However, there is scope for flexible payments to be rolled out more widely in other industries too, including health and fitness.

Staying in control

The benefits of making it as easy as possible to pay go far beyond facilitating a great customer experience and maintaining membership numbers. Just as the public is affected by rising costs, gym owners also need to get a grasp of their projected income to remain in control of budgets.

Most clubs now use a platform to manage regular direct debit payments, and both the customer and the gym enjoy the stability and predictability this offers.
To make the most of this technology, it pays off to look for a system that can do far more than just take payments, and instead become a hard-working member of your team.

For example, a payments system with simple-to-use reporting over the long and short-term could have an impact on marketing departments. With access to your financial performance, it’s easy to spot regular ‘dips’ and plan communication schedules around audience trends to help maintain healthy membership levels.

Anyone using digital payments processing will know how much admin workload is reduced for office staff because they don’t have to process every payment manually. Imagine, then, how a system that integrates seamlessly with existing accounting or payroll software packages could streamline the business even further.

With all this in place, it is far easier to improve choice and flexibility for customers and their direct debit payments too. Updating and pricing plans, membership upgrades and more can be done in a few simple clicks, meaning you can easily adapt to each customers’ needs, fully understanding the impact any changes will have on your business. When using a trusted direct debit payments provider, there’ll never be any data security issues to overcome, since GDPR compliance is built in.

Many gym goers’ personal circumstances have meant that flexible and reliable payments are vital in ensuring they can maintain their memberships. With this in mind, gym owners must make sure that their payment options and systems are customer-focused, streamlined and easy-to-use to meet the changing needs of customers today. Let’s face it – many people find it difficult enough to motivate themselves to get to the gym. Once they’ve made the decision to go, the last thing they need is for poor payment processes to create a barrier.

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Author note: Andrea Dunlop, product manager at Access Paysuite.

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