Wearables: After High Interest, High Abandonment

There's a strong belief among tech insiders that "wearables" are an emerging hardware category that's here to stay and perhaps even a new marketing channel in the making. Nielsen consumer research asserts that 70% of US consumers are aware of “wearables" and roughly 15% currently own some form of the technology: 

  • Fitness wristbands -- 61%
  • Smartwatches -- 45%
  • Health tracking devices -- 17%

Nielsen also found that roughly half of its survey respondents were interested in the category: "Nearly half of Americans surveyed expressed their interest in purchasing wearable tech in the near future." Our survey data similarly found a fairly high level of interest: roughly 40% of smartphone owners said they were interested in smartwatches (generally of the same brand as their smartphones). 

A report by Endeavor Partners, published in January (based on Q3 survey data), throws some cold water on all the excitement. The firm says that an online survey of "thousands of Americans" found that 10% of US adults owned or had used an "activity tracker" (e.g., Fitbit, Fuel Band). It didn't address smartwatches as a stand-alone category. 

 

The study also reported high abandonment rates of activity trackers/fitness wristbands. Roughly a third of owners stopped using them within six months of initial ownership and half were no longer using them: 

Endeavour Partners’ research reveals that more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it. A third of U.S. consumers who have owned one stopped using the device within six months of receiving it. 

This first Samsung smartwatch reportedly experienced 30% return rates. But that's probably a function of the poor design and usability of that device rather than a broad statement about the prospects for the smartwatch category. The Pebble smartwatch is apparently selling well. 

It's still early in the development of wearables and there will be a range of new products of increasing quality and refinement. Hopefully we'll see some "next generation" watches coming out of the Android Wear effort. Apple is also expected to introduce its rumored "iWatch" at some point.  

Yet the Endeavor data offer a sobering counterpoint to all the hype about the category and widespread perception that wearables are an inevitable boom in waiting.