Wearable Market Observations From the Masses

on May 9, 2016

A little over a week ago, I attended the Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Thousands of people showed up from all over the country to eat great food and listen to great music. Being an overly observant student of humanity, I took particular interest in observing how many people I saw with a wearable tech product of some kind and, when possible, started a friendly conversation to see how they liked their chosen piece of wearable technology and what motivated them to purchase it. After all, crowds, and lines in particular, always present a great research opportunity. Here are a few observations.

Wearables are certainly showing up in more places. Jazz Fest presented a unique and diverse opportunity and spotting either a Fitbit, an Apple Watch, or a Garmin was not an uncommon sight. Our latest consumer smart survey on the wearable market yielded a 23% ownership of some wearable tech product. Fitbit remains the most owned wearable tech brand in our consumer panel and my observations from the crowd came to the same conclusion. Our data also suggests Fitbit ownership skews more towards women than men and that was the observations in the crowds. Beyond who owned which device, I found great value in something our consumer research panel could not yield. A chance to see these people in person. There was a distinct set of profiles I observed.

The core driving factor for ownership of a wearable is still health and fitness. This is why most people buy one and is the hook to drive wearable ownership for at least the time being. However, there were two types of health profiles I observed and learned from conversations. I break wearable ownership into two categories because of this. Those who are already fit and regularly engage in some fitness activity like running, training, etc., and those who are not fit but are trying to be. A third category was slightly less common than the other two — people with an existing health condition using a piece of wearable tech (generally recommended by their doctor) to monitor their activity level and maintain specific health goals.

Within the general crowd, Fitbit is winning the fitness angle with those looking to maintain and those looking to get more fit. Garmin on the other hand, has a clear lock on the hardcore fitness crowd. This group consists of serious long distance runners, cyclists, and people in dedicated athletic training. While Fitbit is the market share winner and the brand of choice by general fitness consumers and those wanting to be fit, Garmin was one the serious fitness fanatics prefer.

When it came to those consumers were wanted the fitness angle but also had a clear bend toward fashion (I could tell this by their choice of clothing and other accessories) Apple has this group locked up. From my conversations with Apple Watch owners, we have learned the Apple Watch skews toward those where fitness and fashion were priorities. A third priority was also found, but in much lower quantities than the previous two — those who had an affinity for technology also found that a driving motivator for buying an Apple Watch.

Fitness, fashion, and tech seemed to the common angles for Apple Watch owners as a combination more so than any other wearable.

Combining these findings, along with our primary research on the wearable category, it is clear the biggest single driver is health and fitness. That is the reason most people put something on their wrist when before there was nothing in most cases. People want to stay healthy and larger portions of consumers are looking to get healthy. This segment I think presents one of the biggest upsides for the category. As wearable tech helps us to become smarter about our own bodies, to understand what is good and not good for us and, most importantly, to develop healthy and life changing habits, then I think this category begins to ramp to new levels.

So where do we go from here? The technology still has a way to go but this is still the fastest growing category in consumer tech. Making it the one real bright spot, from a hardware standpoint, of the consumer electronics industry. I expect everyone in the market today is playing the long game and at Google’s developer conference in a few weeks, and Apple’s next month, I expect this to be a key topic area.

Most consumers (69% from our research) still have no plans to buy a wearable this year. However, what has changed is almost 20% of the market said they are more interested in a wearable than they were six months ago and nearly 30% of non-wearable owning consumers today say they could see themselves owning one some day. So consumer sentiment is positive, despite the negative narrative most try to project onto this category.

I’m still bullish but I’ve said from the start this adoption cycle will be much slower and more gradual than other products of the past few years. I stand by both convictions.