Not That You Asked: My Thoughts on The ClassPass Price Increase

This picture makes me lol. [Source]

This picture makes me lol. [Source]

Just about everyone has something to say about #ClassPassmagedon, aka the increase in the price of ClassPass membership (HuffingtonPost, KaylaEvannTwitter, I’ve even seen references on Instagram to a petition). Having never been a ClassPass member, the price increase doesn’t affect me, but I do have some thoughts on it, starting with my surprise that this didn’t happen sooner. I realize that to an extent it did, with ClassPass raising prices from $99/month to $125/month over the summer, but how the company was able to go even that long and exist at that price point for several months still puzzles me.

There were times when I felt like a sucker for paying full price for classes while hundred of people were able to get access to classes at a fraction of the price. Ultimately, my decision to forgo the nearly bygone all-you-can-eat buffet (the price hike goes into effect for customer’s next billing cycle so many still have about a month left at the $125/month rate), was based on several factors, chief among them, the way that ClassPass treated half of their customer base, i.e. the studios, and the frequent recounting of abysmal customer service that users experienced.

ClassPass definitely made an impact on the fitness scene, though it was by no means novel. When it began as Classtivity, now-defunct, in terms of being a booking platform, FITiST was already in existence. What ClassPass did offer however was lower prices and ultimately access to a broader network of studios. Early on in ClassPass’s life, I met with a very senior member of the team and came away trying to work out how they could be sustainable and generate any sort of profit; the model didn’t add up and something felt very off. Shortly thereafter, the Unlimited membership was introduced and suddenly ClassPassers were everywhere (and I was even less sure what was going on to make this financially viable). As the number of users surged, I began witnessing rather hideous displays of ClassPass members being verbally abusive to studio employees when their frustrations were with ClassPass, having no regard for studio etiquette/rules, and hearing that studio owners/employees were equally frustrated with their contacts at ClassPass.

On the one hand, I can’t blame the users. For better or worse as the saying goes, people think with their wallets. If an Unlimited member took a class every day for a month he/she would be paying less than $4 per class, that’s basically a Starbucks drink. If you spill your drink from Starbucks or it gets cold before you finish, it’s annoying but you don’t really mind because it’s just a tiny fraction of your day and earnings. Same thing with the classes. Price-wise, ClassPass made a valuable product into a standing in line impulse buy. Nevertheless, I am of the school that no matter what the situation, manners and good behavior are always to be used and there is no excuse for treating people as anything less than how you would want to be treated. What began to develop was a very “us vs. them” situation, with full-paying clients having disdain for the bargain shoppers, so to speak. In many classes, who was signed up through ClassPass was readily apparent as they were often not respecting studio regulations like cell phone usage. Additionally, I was watching studios being hurt by ClassPass. While for some studios, the partnership allowed them to get people in the door and fill unused seats, it ultimately left them losing money. The overwhelming majority of customers didn’t convert to full-paying customers, choosing instead to stay with ClassPass and be limited in their number of visits per month. It seemed as if ClassPass simply ignored the fact that they had two customer bases with very different needs, and instead decided to privilege users over the studios.    

I don’t have a solution for what can be done nor am I convinced that there is a way for boutique fitness to be more accessible. While the prices are high, the studios have many expenses (rent, insurance, instructor/staff/employee salaries, etc.) and they really can’t afford to cut prices, at least not in a city as costly as New York. (This isn’t to say that I don’t wish everyone who wanted to take these classes was able to, but rather that as is true in every industry, be it food service, travel, or retail, there will always be items/places/experiences that are financially out of reach for many.) What I do know is that I am very curious to see how the dynamic shifts over the next month as ClassPass users migrate from the service (at least that’s what many have said they will do), and the way that the industry will react. Will more people join gyms? Will people increasingly turn to the plethora of online and app-based workout programs? Something else?

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments!