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Reportedly, when the producers of the Sex in the City reboot And Just Like That… approached Peloton, to request the right to use its exercise bike in the show, they did not explain the role it would play (do we still need to issue a spoiler alert?)—that is, a role as the apparent cause of the heart attack and death of the character Mr. Big. Had the company known, it might have refused permission: Following the airing of the first episode, in which the untimely death occurs, its stock immediately fell by 11 points.

As influential as Carrie Bradshaw and her adventures might be in pop culture though, it is difficult to pin all of Peloton’s troubles on the show. Just like Mr. Big and his underlying heart condition, some underlying issues and diagnoses have set the scene for the company’s risky health.

Those issues largely revolve around consumers’ and service providers’ behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. When gyms around the world closed to patrons, there were a lot of people who sought out and purchased at-home exercise equipment. Peloton benefitted substantially from this trend, and the company sought to build on it by introducing expanded options and additional features. For example, a more expensive model of the traditional bike, with a rotating screen, allowed subscribers to its service to engage in yoga and strength training, along with the regular spin classes that the base model provided. In addition to expanded exercise class options, Peloton introduced its own line of stationary bike shoes, ear buds, heart monitors, and weights, along with a treadmill.

During 2020 and early 2021, many users snapped up these machines and related gadgets happily, convinced that they would continue relying on the technologically advanced machines for years. But similar to many other exercise trends before it (e.g., NordicTrack, the Ab Roller), the Peloton seemingly has become a glorified clothes hanger in many homes. On online marketplaces, it is easy to find sellers hoping that others will want their “barely used” equipment. The consistency of the claims that the machines have rarely been used signals people’s actual behaviors: They firmly believed they would work out at home, and they invested in tools to enable them to do so. But then their motivation waned, and today, the bikes mostly just take up space in their homes.

By late 2021, consumer purchases from Peloton fell 17 percent. If people really wanted a bike, they could get a much less expensive, lightly used version from neighbors. In response, Peloton cut its own retail prices drastically, by around 20 percent. But market analysts appear to sense that its peak popularity has passed. More and more gyms are open, and consumers appear more comfortable visiting them. They also have learned that, even if the machines are cool, it’s hard to stay motivated to work out at home. For most consumers, even if the machines are not painful reminders of their late spouses—the role the Peloton ultimately adopted in Sex in the City—they offer an unpleasant reminder of people’s good intentions to work out and failure to follow through on those goals.

Discussion Questions:

1.    Why might people invest in expensive exercise equipment and never use it? Is there anything that companies that sell such equipment do to avoid that seemingly all-too-human tendency?

2.    Should brands demand information about how their products will be used, before agreeing to product placements in entertainment content?

Source: Steven Kurutz, “‘Sex in the City’ Reboot Is Not the Only Problem for Peloton,” The New York Times, December 15, 2021; Lauren Thomas, “Peloton Is Slashing the Price of its Bike by Hundreds of Dollars to $1,495,” CNBC, August 26, 2021