Gap’s Athleta announced Wednesday that it is launching AthletaWell, a digital platform that provides workout content and guided spaces for women to chat on topics ranging from mental health to body positivity.
The service, which will benefit from its loyalty program, will allow Athleta to leverage the power of the endorsement deals it has signed with big names like Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Allyson Felix, while building a deeper relationship with its customers. . Both women will appear on AthletaWell at some point, the company said.
AthletaWell’s debut comes as the athleisure market is experiencing explosive growth. As consumers increasingly embrace comfort, the category grew to 33% of clothing sales last year, according to Maria Rugolo, an analyst with market researcher NPD Group. In 2019, activewear sales accounted for 27% of total clothing sales, according to NPD.
Its growth has attracted new players, making it more competitive than ever. In addition to giants like Nike, Adidas and Under Armor, smaller labels like Vuori, Outdoor Voices, Alo Yoga and Nobull have joined the fray. Other big-box chains don’t want to miss the action either. From Kohl’s to Dick’s Sporting Goods to Target, activewear is a priority.
For Athleta, the hope is that AthletaWell will enable the retailer to maintain its grip on existing customers while enticing more people to join its loyalty program.
Gap last week laid out a plan to make it easier for shoppers to collect points for its four brands, including Old Navy, Banana Republic and its namesake Gap. The merchant’s credit card holders are automatically added to the program, while others can sign up for free.
More than 50% of Athleta’s revenue today comes from loyalty members, the company said, and a loyalty member spends on average twice as much as a regular customer. Loyalty programs also provide retailers with important insights into customer habits, which can help with future product development.
“This is really about deepening our engagement with existing customers, and we know there’s value in building brand loyalty,” Chief Digital Officer Kim Waldmann said in an interview at Athleta’s flagship location in New York City. “And loyal customers drive word of mouth. … We think we can bring a larger community of people to the brand.”
AthletaWell has been in the works for years and has been in limited beta testing with select buyers for about a month, according to Waldmann.
Athleta will partner with Obe Fitness to offer workout content each week. The company recently participated in Obe’s $15 million Series A financing round. Both companies will work together long-term to design clothing lines and plan events for loyalty members, Waldmann said.
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Another benefit of AthletaWell is the chance to talk to top female influencers, including trained therapists, yoga practitioners and nutritionists, who will lead conversations about women’s health and fitness via a digital bulletin board. Users can also attend influencers’ virtual office hours to get personalized advice.
“This is a digital experience that helps women navigate the complexities of modern femininity,” Waldmann said. “They want to be able to ask honest questions that are sometimes even a bit taboo.”
The company plans to host face-to-face meetings so members can get together and train together. At the flagship in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood, Athleta has a fitness studio on the lower level where several events are already planned.
White Athleta has been driving growth at Gap, it needs to find ways to continue the momentum. It recently launched in Canada and is a competitor to Lululemon’s home base. It also has its endorsement agreements with gymnast Biles and track star Felix. Waldmann said both women will be appearing on AthletaWell in the future, but has not disclosed further details.
Athleta’s customers may recognize the challenges they have faced. In a shocking development, Biles dropped out of the women’s team finals in Tokyo on Tuesday, saying she needed to focus on mental health. Athleta issued a statement of support: “Being the best also means knowing how to take care of yourself.”
And with Felix, a working mom, Athleta emphasizes her support for moms who also make time for fitness and sports. Felix and Athleta recently launched a grant program that allocated $200,000 to help fund childcare costs for mothers who are also athletes, when they have to travel to competitions.
Athleta aims to achieve annual net sales of $2 billion by 2023. The brand passed the $1 billion mark last year, with sales up 16% from 2019 levels. Gap’s total sales for 2020 were $ 13.8 billion.
Some of the retailer’s rivals, meanwhile, have already tried to engage their customers with some sort of fitness offering. Last year, Lululemon acquired the home fitness platform Mirror for $500 million. And Nike has a range of workout apps, including one for running, that offer classes taught by Nike athletes who always wear the brand’s latest styles.
Athleta thinks the community component will set AthletaWell apart.
“Women today don’t have a safe space to ask certain questions or engage with certain topics for fear of stigma or shame or because they don’t want to look different from everyone else,” Waldmann said. “We heard this time and again from our customers.”
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics holds the U.S. broadcasting rights to all summer and winter games through 2032.