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What Are The Top Challenges Facing Health & Fitness Apps In 2021?

In The Digital Marketing Blog by ChloeLeave a Comment

When welcoming in the New Year (and, let’s be honest, frantically waving goodbye to 2020), were you one of those people who made a vow to yourself to start looking after yourself – both mentally and physically?

Y’ know, that whole ‘New Year, New Me’ jazz?

I’ll hold my hands up, I make (and break) the same pledge every single year!

But this past year, in particular, has sobered up even the most reluctant fitness fans to the importance of good health. We’ve spent heaps more time at home and a lot less of it commuting, opening up our schedule to really knuckle down on our health and fitness goals.

With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that downloads of health & fitness apps rocketed by 65% in the UK during the first lockdown in March 2020.

But can health & fitness apps continue riding this wave of success forever? Or will it be short-lived? Join us as we investigate the 3 top challenges health & fitness apps can expect to face in the coming year, and some of the tactics we recommend they employ to overcome this.

What are we waiting for? Let’s dive in!

The Re-Opening Of Gyms Post Covid

The health and fitness industry has experienced polar extremes throughout the Pandemic.

On the one hand, gyms have been struggling due to forced closure and have had to innovate with online classes, while home workout equipment and health & fitness apps have surged in popularity.
However, we’re finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel! With the government releasing their spring lockdown road map, restrictions are expected to start easing up in mid-April – but what will this mean for health & fitness apps?

Will users abandon their apps and flock back to physical, brick and mortar locations for their workouts – or has the public psyche about enclosed spaces and crowds changed irreversibly? For now, that’s something that remains to be seen.

Row of weights at a gym with woman in the background, working out.

Allow us to play devil’s advocate for a minute, though!

Should it transpire that health & fitness apps start to majorly plummet in popularity with the re-opening of gyms, what tactics could they utilise to tackle this? Well, we reckon the way to go is to overemphasise the social features of health & fitness apps. After all, people who frequently visit the gym, and are desperate to get back, tend to do so because they enjoy the social element of it.

But apps can still be social too AND they’re convenient at the same time, allowing you to work out wherever and whenever you want!

Headspace, a guided meditation and mindfulness app, is a prime example of a health & fitness app that uses various ‘social’ elements impressively. For instance, it’s possible to see your friend’s meditation stats and ‘nudge’ them to meditate more, not too dissimilar to an old school Facebook poke (remember when that was once a thing?).

You can also join meditation ‘groups’. A bit like when people recommend you take up exercise with a friend, as you’re more likely to stick it out, this feature works in the same way.

Finally, their ‘buddies’ feature enables the user to include friends in their meditation journey, allowing you to connect with them and share your progress.

If health and fitness apps were to use these same ‘gamification’ tactics, not only would it encourage shareability of the app but it may also appeal to those who aren’t quite ready to go back to a gym but crave and miss the social element.

For any health & fitness apps who see a decline in users post-lockdown, and as the gyms reopen, gamification is one route to try and win back those who already have the app, as well as encourage new sign-ups too.

Person holding phone with Headspace app open.

A Saturated Apps Market & Diminishing Human Attention Span

Something that always seems to seep back into the news agenda at one point or another is a concern about the attention span of the human race.

We live in a fast-paced world of mobile phones, Facebook feeds, Twitter and TikTok, where people want their online content quick, fast and easily digestible.

Indeed, we are in the age of what’s known as ‘attention economy’ – where attention is one of the most valuable resources of the digital age. A study conducted by Microsoft Corp suggests that people are now generally starting to lose concentration after just 8 seconds while on social platforms.

Wowza, that’s an all-time low!

While that stat applies specifically to social media, no doubt it has implications for the app market too. With so many health & fitness apps now available, and new ones cropping up every day, our time and ability to process all of these different apps haven’t changed – in fact, it remains the same! So not only do health & fitness apps need to differentiate themselves from competitors by ensuring they have strong USPs, but they also need to employ creative tactics which encourage users to sign up and remain engaged.

If you’re still with us and haven’t been distracted by something shiny and new, here’s just a few tactics you might consider:

  • Allow users to ‘try before they buy’. Letting users explore your health & fitness app as much as possible, without needing to sign up or login, demonstrates the value of your app before a user has to commit to it.
  • Make the speed and reliability of your app a primary concern. As we discussed previously, society is more demanding than ever and attention span is declining globally. Don’t give your app users any ammunition to feel frustrated otherwise they’ll easily abandon you or defect to a competitor.
  • Utilise push notifications. Push notifications will often draw users back to an app they haven’t engaged with recently. For example, if you’re a fitness app, why not send out a push notification ranking the top 10 most popular workouts on your app this week? This involves pulling on their FOMO heartstrings and invoking curiosity about what others are doing to help lure them back in!

White phone surrounded by notification symbols.

Data Privacy & Trust

Now, data privacy and trust is hardly a new concern for 2021, neither is it exclusive to health & fitness apps. Nonetheless, it is an ongoing issue that remains relevant.

A study by the Manifest, for example, discovered that some people fear apps that track and collect location data. For health & fitness apps, which commonly use this feature, this could prove a major barrier to enticing new users. Indeed, among those in the study who were not comfortable with location-tracking apps, 15% cited lack of privacy as their top concern whilst not feeling safe was cited as a reason by 52%.

And understandably so. Breach of location data has incredibly serious consequences. If a hacker can access maps of a user’s fitness regime, they could know precisely when and where a person is – potentially opening them up to becoming a victim of crime.

In 2018, the fitness app Strava experienced issues relating to data privacy when it released an interactive heat map of user’s activity. It brought together one billion activities and 13 trillion GPS data points, enabling anyone and everyone to explore exercise routes across the globe.

On the face of it, this was an incredibly impressive feature. Hundreds of thousands of Strava users could use it to plan where they ride, run and swim. However, crisis soon struck when an Australian university student noticed the map showed locations and routines of military personnel at bases in the Middle East and other conflict zones. They were forced to quickly wipe sensitive data from the publicly available heat map.

To overcome this obstacle, health & fitness apps need to demonstrate they are truly trustworthy from the get-go. Here are just a few tactics we recommend:

  • When it comes to your in-app permissions, transparency is key. If, like apps such as Strava, Fitbit or Zwift, you prompt your users to turn on their location services, most users will want reassurance on the 5 w’s – who, what, where’s, when, why (and how). So, tell them! In a straightforward, honest and uncomplicated manner, explain every inch of your data collection process. By being upfront immediately, the user has more reason to trust your app.
  • Give users complete control with regards to social sharing. Many health & fitness apps are designed so that when a user accomplishes a goal or performs any kind of in-app action – this is then posted to social media. As much as the brand awareness benefits of this activity can be great, you must strike a careful balance between this and respecting your user’s privacy. Not being transparent about this feature could lead to bad reviews, ratings and ultimately uninstallation of your app!

Person holding a phone with various apps on the screen including Instagram and Whatsapp.


Ultimately, there are various challenges facing health & fitness apps and we’ve covered just a few of them in this post but to recap, here are the top three challenges facing health and fitness apps in 2021:

  • The Re-Opening Of Gyms Post Covid
  • A Saturated Apps Market & Diminishing Human Attention Span
  • Data Privacy & Trust

To overcome these challenges, we recommend health & fitness apps consider utilising some of the following tactics:

  • Emphasise the ‘social’ features of your health & fitness app to make it an equally enjoyable and social experience as going to a physical gym.
  • Have strong, clearly defined USPs which separate you from competitors.
  • Offer free trials and design your app so they require minimal commitment (i.e. no login).
  • Make the speed of your app a high priority. In a busy market, users need few reasons to stop using your app and opt for a competitor.
  • Use push notifications and FOMO to encourage users back to your app after periods of stagnation.
  • Avoid mistrust about privacy and data by being utterly transparent and honest about which in-app permissions you require and why.
  • Respect user’s privacy by allowing them to control their social sharing settings.

So, there you have it! What do you think?

We’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on the key challenges ahead for health & fitness apps and even some of your solutions. Please leave us a comment below or contact us with your thoughts and we’ll get them added to the post!

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