The Rise of the Fitness eCommerce Market

Brittany Blackman
Mar 21, 2022

Trends come and go, but the constant evolution of fitness since the days of Jane Fonda’s workout tapes is here to stay. Fitness always finds itself intertwined with whatever is happening in popular culture, and its takeover of the eCommerce space highlights this. Thinness, even as far as the “heroin chic” moment in the early 2000s, was typically the goal of most fitness fads. Now, an accessible, healthier relationship with fitness is the new wave. A more diverse clientele and innovative products have caused a boom in the fitness eCommerce market.

The State of the Industry

According to PR Newswire, the global online fitness market is projected to reach roughly $60 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 33.1% from 2020 to 2027.

North America is expected to take over the majority of the online fitness market share during the forecast period. The main innovations that have catalyzed the upswing in North America's market share are the increased emphasis on personalized treatments as well as more accessible health and wellness organizations across this region.

Specifically, the growth of online fitness market size can be attributed to the demand for specialized fitness sessions to achieve physical fitness, the interest of health insurance companies in online fitness services to minimize the cost of health insurance, increasing demand for fitness based on AR or VR, and the rising popularity of healthy food options.

It’s also no surprise that the pandemic had a massive effect on the size of the online fitness market. Mass fitness facility closures caused vendors as well as customers to innovate. This produced the rapid adoption of virtual fitness solutions as individuals have begun workouts at their homes.

Setting the Stage

In the early 2000s, workout and diet plans were not solely for the purpose of maintaining health and fitness. These plans were often used to become thin or maintain the coveted thin physique that dominated popular culture at that time.

Stacy Lee Kong of the Friday Things publication accurately describes the lasting effects of this era on Millennials and older Gen Z demographics: 

“I don’t have an eating disorder but I realized I do have a solid 20 years of accumulated ‘wisdom’ on how to restrict my diet in the hopes of controlling my body—which is, by definition, disordered eating—gleaned largely from the magazines I read (and later worked for). Closely related to the ‘you’re not actually hungry, you’re dehydrated’ idea, there was the trick of drinking water before a meal to fool your stomach into thinking you were full. And let's not forget the demonization of carbs; the rule that you shouldn’t eat ‘bad’ foods unless it’s a ‘cheat day’; the tip about not eating after 7:30 p.m. (not even a grape, according to Oprah); the idea that fruits are bad (too much sugar), but ‘calorie-negative’ foods, which supposedly require more energy to eat and digest than they actually contain.”

These “tips and tricks” remain present in society. Popular media has contributed to the perpetuation of these ideas. Monica from Friends had an entire arc dedicated to her ‘fat period’, which was the entire butt of the joke. And let’s not forget Jessica Simpson's infamous slight weight gain was on the front page of the tabloids.

Now, as inclusivity, body positivity movements, and a larger shift towards accessibility across social media platforms, this societal norm is becoming a thing of the past. The steady rise of the fitness eCommerce market underscores this.

eCommerce Gives Consumers Access

The rise of smart devices and the internet has led to the fast growth of the online fitness market size. This has resulted in high fitness app adoption across all demographics, especially since now more than ever, apps provide personalized services based on specifications and body physiology, contrary to the typical goal of strictly losing weight, no matter the physiology. 

Corporate jobs that have incorporated gyms into their infrastructure would also help boost the demand for the online fitness industry. Several fitness clubs partner with businesses to facilitate the introduction of gyms to improve employee productivity in the work environment.

This heavy demand and the simplification of eCommerce storefronts also aided the fitness industry into the accessible cash cow it is today. Start-up costs are as low as they ever have been, and operations continue to be cost-efficient without heavy financial setbacks like the management and upkeep required for brick and mortar models.

Not to mention, with lockdown restrictions, everyone was stuck inside for quite a while. Everything from gyms to local restaurants was shut down, and folks were getting bored and restless. People needed an outlet to pivot their frustrations towards, and new hobbies to take on since most people baked about a dozen loaves of bread by the third month of lockdown.

Without the geographical restrictions of a traditional store, digital companies have a diversified, worldwide set of eyes on their sites. Even the trickier parts of mastering a successful eCommerce business have been simplified, like digital payments and shipping. Shipping logistics and costs have also been greatly eased by modern technology.

Mixing the ease of eCommerce with the dire need to diversify at-home workouts to keep overall wellness in check led to the fitness eCommerce boom.

The Fitness Take

Tutorial videos on Youtube, workout apps, and home gym equipment have been around, even before lockdown restrictions. But customizable plans and interactive appliances like Peloton have digitized fitness tremendously.

According to research by Red Points, 50.65% of the participants surveyed are planning on working out from home during the foreseeable future. Consumers’ investments are then influenced by their new workout routine: the average spend of people investing in fitness products has seen an increase of $265.68 since the start of the pandemic. Some participants (5%) have even spent more than $1,001 on fitness products.

With that being said, fitness clubs ultimately paved the way for the eCommerce fitness boom when they began selling their products online. With gym attendance numbers shrinking rapidly, fitness clubs capitalized on additional revenue opportunities by offering popular products for purchase at the front desk. Seeing the success of point of sales revenue, many clubs strayed away from offering only protein shakes and healthy snacks to include versatile options.

One of the most popular boutique clubs, group workout company Orangetheory, further boosted their brand by producing trendy workout apparel and accessories on an eCommerce platform. The line features the brands’ iconic orange black and charcoal and is sturdy enough to be worn comfortably during their infamous high-energy routines.

Many of the most successful fitness companies have achieved eCommerce success by hiring influencers or ambassadors to spread their brand name to new places. Since the fitness craze and its social media subculture is dominated by younger generations, many companies focused their marketing initiatives on the Millennial or Gen Z demographics while some, like Aerie, completely rebranded. Aerie shifted from being a subsidiary of American Eagle that catered to juniors, to an active-wear, body-positive staple brand. The younger demographics continue to comprise the majority of sales for most apparel and nutrition companies.

Fitness Today

TikTok has become one of the fitness industry’s greatest assets. The reach that the platform has amassed is hard to fathom. For example, the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over five billion views globally and an endless scroll of videos showing off every possible purchase, from medicine balls to yoga mats, to a delicious fruit smoothie recipe.

TikTok’s expertly curated algorithm embarrasses every other social media platform (looking at you, Instagram). TikTok’s “For You” feed is so expertly crafted, that it’s entirely possible a commercial from the year 1972 is likely to appear on the timeline of a user from that era. Or someone who was just googling how to ease stress with a workout could come across the most perfect pilates exercise for that very purpose. It’s a never-ending content machine, and fitness is one of its most popular assets. 

A piece by lifestyle and wellness publication Stylist points out that the Gen Z and young millennial women of GymTok are encouraging a new, more accessible, less predatory environment in the gym. It also promotes an environment fueled by the need to feel good, a hard contrast from workout fads of the past. The hashtag #femalebodybuilders has racked up over 6.2 million views on the platform, while #girlsatthegym has nearly 8 million. The more general #femalefitness, a body-positive space that discusses everything from nutrition to gym etiquette, has a mammoth 94.2 million. Of course, intertwined in all of this is millions of minutes of content featuring heavily linked workout gear and workout outfits from genius D2C brands like GymShark. It all leads back to eCommerce.

From posting videos of the perfect workouts for shy girls to GymTok to promoting the perfect, sweat-proof leggings, wrapped up with a humorous spin on body acceptance, fitness found a cozy home on the short video platform, a full 180 from the less than helpful infested waters of platforms like Instagram and YouTube.

The fitness industry is changing rapidly, and showing no signs of slowing. Its quick crossover into the eCommerce space highlights the fact that the demand was there the whole time, fitness companies just needed the right social climate and technological advancements to set it off. Between the pandemic, which caused society to get innovative with how they stay fit, and the newer ease of eCommerce site building, the fitness industry is on a positive incline. 

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

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