Disconnects between interest and adoption may be emerging in newer wearable technology products. According to Mintel’s upcoming Digital Trends: Fall US 2017 report, a third of consumers own or expect to own smart ear buds, smart glasses and virtual reality (VR) headsets, but fewer than 10% have actually purchased them. Similarly, a quarter of consumers said they planned to purchase a smart watch in 2016 (Mintel’s Wearable Technology US 2016 report), but Mintel’s Digital Trends: Spring US 2017 report showed penetration at just 11%, suggesting that first-time buyers are waiting on the sidelines.

First-time buyers are holding out

Continuing sales in categories where little to no increases in penetration is being seen (eg fitness trackers, smartwatches) indicates that in spite of being relatively young technology categories, most purchases are now upgrades. In categories where current ownership is much lower than overall interest levels (eg smart glasses: 5% of adults; smart ear buds: 7% of adults; VR headsets: 9% of adults), it appears that potential buyers are waiting for some type of change to occur to products before buying in.

For smart glasses, that change is likely to be price points. Even low-end smart glasses tend to run at least $500, mid-tier products over $1,000 and marquee products higher still. Smart ear buds are also pricey, but are much closer to being affordable for many consumers, with prices typically running from $150-$500. However, these price points still require some substantial marketing clout considering that most smartphone purchases arrive with a free pair of standard earbuds. Some wearable products, like untethered VR headsets and fitness trackers, are also quite inexpensive and stalled or limited penetration must be attributed to another factor, such as limited knowledge regarding the product’s “killer” features.

What we think

Wearable products from titans of tech, including Apple, Sony and Samsung, may not be receiving a sufficient budget for marketing their wearable gear. Smaller wearable brands, especially those specializing in smart earbuds or smart glasses, who cannot afford traditional media or high profile digital buys should be sending out emissaries to relevant niche target audiences to offer them first-hand experiences and demonstrations with new products. For example, there are hundreds of running clubs in the US with weekly meet-ups at bars and restaurants following group runs; these group events present an ideal opportunity for marketing smart earbuds.

Similarly, cycling clubs across the country present the ideal audience for smart glasses. In fact, some smart glasses are already designed with cyclists in mind, and price points for them may not appear quite as jaw-dropping to those already spending $2K or more on their bikes. Even among brands that can afford wide ad buys for their smart wearables, on-the-ground marketing may turn out to be a superior means of generating interest among early adopters.

Billy Hulkower is a Senior Analyst, Technology and Media, at Mintel. His area of expertise includes consumer electronics, digital entertainment, social networking, digital marketing, pay TV services and online video, with a particular emphasis on cellular services, and mobile hardware and software.

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