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Wearables

Key learnings 

  • "Wearable devices are not tomorrow’s technology – they already exist, they are being bought and used and they will be huge this Christmas. Make no mistake, wearables are hot right now”
  • Fashion will be a major driver of consumer acceptance because wearables are effectively accessories. Women should be a key target market for wearables developers, as they have a higher propensity for wearing accessories Wearables are not an alternative to smartphones, but complementary to them
  • People will use wearables in situations where they don’t want to get a smartphone out of their pockets or bags 
  • An expected 1.3 billion smartphones will be sold in 2015 – if only a small percentage of buyers also buy wearables, then that will mean a massive wearables market. Plus manufacturers are looking to bundle wearables with phones 
  • The key initial driver for consumer acceptance of wearables will be health, with devices with health and fitness applications selling well. But users will then find other things to do with them 
  • Retailers will have to adapt to service the wearables market. Shop staff will need to be trained to understand how to get the best out of wearables and explain the benefits to consumers

Summary 

Wearable devices are not tomorrow’s technology – they already exist, they are being bought and used and they will be huge this Christmas, according to Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight

Speaking at the IPM’s Digital Disruption conference in London on September 25, 2014, during a session on wearables, Wood said: “Make no mistake, wearables are hot right now.” That statement is supported by new CCS research, which shows that consumer awareness of wearable devices is “already off the scale – it’s around 50% for Google Glass, for example.”

Fashion will be a major driver of consumer acceptance because wearables are effectively accessories. Unfortunately, most wearable technology on the market up to now has been designed by males working in the technology industry or in marketing. 

Since women have a higher propensity to wearing accessories, then manufacturers should actually be prioritising the development of wearable devices that appeal to a female market, Wood observed – “the intersection of technology and fashion” is key. 

Wood stressed that wearables are not an alternative to the smartphone, but an extension of it. Wearables will not actually be a separate market which competes with smartphones, tablets and similar devices, but will be complementary to them, he said, quoting an analogy Samsung uses to talk about its wearable devices, where the smartphone is the car windscreen while wearable devices act like the rear-view mirror. 

People will continue to have smartphones, but wearables will come into their own in situations where people can’t or don’t want to go to the bother of getting out a smartphone – for example, he said, “if I’m rocking up at Westfield and want to pay for parking, I just want to hang my arm out of the window and tap my watch on the ticket machine.” 

Similarly, women may not want to rummage around in a handbag to find their mobile phone if all they want to do is check the time or get directions somewhere. They would rather use a smartwatch or something like Google Glass to do that. 

If Christmas 2014 is going to be big for wearable sales, 2015 is going to see explosive growth, Wood added. Industry estimates are that around 1.3 billion smartphones will be bought worldwide in 2015, and Wood pointed out that “if only a small percentage of the people who buy them get wearables – and I expect a number of manufacturers to start bundling them with new phones – that will be a massive market.” 

Leaving fashion aside, the CCS research, conducted in a number of countries, indicates that the key initial driver of consumer purchase of wearables is likely to be their health benefits, Wood said. “We expect people to buy wearables for health and fitness reasons – but then they will find other things to do with them.” 

There are already wearable devices which offer health-related functionalities, like Samsung’s Gear Fit:  but Wood also pointed to last month’s launch of the Jabra Sport Pulse wireless earphones, which have built-in in-ear monitors and which work with the Jabra Sport Life app to measure heart rate, oxygen consumption and warn people if they are over-training. They can also be used to listen to music. 

The huge consumer fascination with wearables will have a major impact on marketing and also on retailing. Marketers, obviously, are already exploring the opportunities that wearables offer in terms of building dialogue with consumers; but retailers are also adapting to this hugely exciting new market sector. 

Speaking alongside Ben Wood, former Phones4U global VP and marketing director Ben Padley talked through what retailers needed to do to take advantage of the new market sector, based on ideas the retail chain had been developing in the six months prior to last week’s collapse. 

Padley told the audience that Phones4U had been building a ‘one-stop shop’ retail concept for wearables over the past six months, and had identified three core propositions it named TRAIN.SMART, LIVE.SMART and PLAY.SMART. 

The investment included developing new retail designs and significant investment in staff training, because in addition to having the right core products to sell, Padley observed that “you need people who have been trained in how to use these wearables and who do actually use them, so that they can be enthusiastic and knowledgeable when they are talking to consumers.” 

Retailers will have to adapt to service the wearables market – right now, Padley said, “there is no one destination retailer where people can see the different wearables available and get advice on what they do and which ones are best for them.”