When the UK gym sector reopened in April 2021 many venues requested that customers pre-book their sessions. Although originally introduced as an operational measure to manage site visits post-lockdown, some operators have continued to require customers to plan and book their gym visits in advance.
As gyms have successfully re-opened, vaccination rates across the UK have increased, and consumer confidence is beginning to return there is one key question on operator’s minds…
What is the commercial impact of insisting on customers pre-booking their gym sessions?
- The Side Hussle has analysed the performance of thousands of gyms across the Hussle marketplace across 2021
- Two segments were compared – venues that require customers to pre-book gym sessions versus those that do not
- Gyms that do not require pre-booking convert customers 30.4% better on average
- Gyms that do not require pre-booking have an average order value which is 11.7% higher on average
- The net impact is a potential 14.4% reduction in gross profit for gyms that continue to require pre-booking
The Side Hussle has taken marketplace data from the thousands of gyms listed on the Hussle platform to assess the impact of pre-booking requirements, and then assessed what this means for operators in terms of their customer acquisition costs, the speed at which they can acquire new customers, and offer a high level perspective on gross profit.
How many gyms currently require pre-booking?
Within the Hussle marketplace 34% of gyms have opted to retain some form of pre-booking system. The proportion of gyms requiring pre-booking is reasonably evenly spread by gym type with public sector operators more likely to mandate this (42%) than their private sector counterparts (31%).
The pre-booking process typically varies from phoning or emailing the gym in advance of a visit which suggests there is no consensus on the ‘right’ way to facilitate gym access post-Covid.
Pre-booking requirements are displayed on the Hussle website before a customer can make a purchase, but these requirements are not shown in the initial search results that are displayed when a customer is looking for a gym. This means that the overall number of page views an individual gym listing receives from customers within the Hussle marketplace is unaffected by pre-booking requirements.
Customers are first informed about the need to pre-book a gym session when they select a gym and are taken to the specific venue information page. This is where the impact of pre-booking can be seen.
The percentage of customers that visit a gym information page and go on to make a purchase can be measured as the ‘conversion rate’ and this is tracked as a percentage. For example, if 100 customers view a gym listing and 20 of them make a purchase the checkout conversion rate would be 20%.
When comparing venues that require pre-booking versus those that do not, the data shows that the venues with no pre-booking requirement have a far higher conversion rate.
In fact, venues with no pre-booking requirement convert customers 30.4% better than venues asking customer to pre-book.
As well as a worse conversion rate, it also appears that customer spend less at venues that require pre-booking compared to those that do not.
To analyse this, The Side Hussle investigated customer average order values (AOV). As an example, if 10 customers were to collectively spend £500 at a gym then the ‘AOV’ would be £50 per customer.
Gym that did not require customers to pre-book came out on top with an AOV which is 11.7% higher than venues that still require pre-booking.
The impact on your key CAC / LTV marketing ratio
If you review these factors from a marketing perspective using the CAC to LTV ratio, (customer acquisition cost vs lifetime value) then pre-booking requirements create a ‘double whammy’ effect.
As the conversion rate of a new customer is 30.4% higher where pre-booking is required it means the CAC increases. Put simply, if your conversion rate is worse it means you have to spend more money on marketing to get the same number of customers. If you don’t have more money to spend on marketing to offset this cost you will have to accept that you will acquire new customers at a slower rate.
In addition, if the average order value is 11.7% higher at venues that do not require pre-booking, then the lifetime value of the customers at venues that do require pre-booking will also decrease (assuming the same tenure). This means you get less return on investment for the increased marketing costs you incur, with the knock-on effect being you have less future marketing budget to accelerate growth.
Gyms requiring pre-booking are losing value
As an example, let’s say a new customer originally cost you £50 to acquire through your marketing spend, and that customer went on to spend £50 per month for a tenure of 10 months.
In this scenario you spend £50 on your marketing, and you recover £500 over the lifetime of that customer, giving you a gross profit of £450.
By adding the friction that pre-booking requires, that same customer no longer costs £50 to acquire. The reduced conversion rate means you need to spend more money to get the same number of customers but they now cost £65.20 to acquire.
Because these customers are spending less money, the value you get in return is no longer £500. The original £500 lifetime value is based on an average order value which is 11.7% higher than at a venue requiring pre-booking. The lifetime value of customers that need to pre-book is therefore only £447.63, giving you a gross profit of £385.13.
That’s a value swing of £64.87 per customer by adding pre-booking in this example, equivalent to a reduction in gross profit of 14.4%.
If you typically add 80 – 120 new members a month then the cost to your business is between £5.2k – £7.8k of lost customer value per club per month, or £62.3k – £93.4k per club over a 12-month cohort. If you operate 10 clubs that is almost £1m in lost customer value over a 12-month cohort.
There are lots of different reasons a gym may wish to operate a pre-booking system, and there may be cost savings elsewhere to offset the apparent marketing inefficiency such as resource allocation. There may also be benefits in member retention if customers prefer to exercise in a capacity-controlled environment or if pre-booking increases overall customer confidence in using the gym.
However, if you are looking to optimise your sales and marketing, grow your membership base and boost your margins it may be worth reviewing the cost/benefit of maintaining a pre-booking system in your gym – especially if your competitors have already removed theirs.