Fitness fuels US consumer desire for wearable tech with sales increasing 186% in 2015

January 25, 2016

While Wall Street investors may be skeptical of the desirability of wearable technology from leading brands due to falling share prices, these worries may be overblown: new research from Mintel reveals that the US wearable technology market is experiencing unprecedented growth, with estimated sales increasing 186 percent from 2014-2015, reaching $7 billion in 2015. What’s more, despite just one in 10 consumers owning a fitness tracker (12 percent) or smartwatch (7 percent), one in six consumers say they planned to purchase a fitness tracker (16 percent) or smartwatch (16 percent) in the final three months of 2015*.

As wearables grow in popularity, Mintel research reveals that consumers are turning to these devices – instead of smartphones – when exercising. With 39 percent of consumers trying to lose weight by exercising, nearly one in five (18 percent) report that smartphones are too bulky for use during a workout. Some 59 percent of consumers report that they play sports regularly (multiple times per month), including aerobic exercises, with over half reporting that they do not currently own wearable technology (55 percent), representing a sizable target audience for the wearables market.

Mintel research indicates consumers are also eager to own wearable technology that goes beyond fitness tracking, as one in five report interest in smartwatch features (19 percent), including 10 percent who agree it would be convenient to use a watch as a credit card and another 10 percent who like the idea of using a watch as a remote control. This suggests that smartwatches will appeal to consumers beyond use as a second screen for their smartphones.

19% of Americans say they are likely to buy the latest technology, including 28% of those age 18-34

While a sizable minority of consumers report that they will never buy a smartwatch (25 percent), ownership is poised for growth. One in five Americans report that they are likely to buy the latest technology (19 percent), peaking among consumers age 18-34 (28 percent). What’s more, one quarter of 18-34 year olds say that they planned to purchase a smartwatch within the final three months of 2015* (25 percent), well above the overall average (16 percent).

“Wearable tech appeals to a variety of Americans, including athletes, those with health concerns and tech enthusiasts who want to own the latest gadgets. Our research indicates that consumers are more interested in using a smartwatch for mobile payments and remote control capabilities than they are in using the device to receive notifications from their smartphones,” said Billy Hulkower, Senior Analyst, Technology and Media at Mintel. “This indicates that consumers are willing to incorporate smartwatches in their everyday lives and utilize them as much more than just an addition to their smartphone or as a fitness tracking device. As the market’s rapid growth in 2015 suggests increased future adoption of wearable tech, marketers have a unique opportunity to target audiences on the basis of needs when promoting products, as the many uses of wearables appeal to a wider variety of consumer segments than have previously been expected.”

When it comes to fitness tracker ownership, women are ahead of men, with 14 percent ownership (vs 10 percent of men). The disparity is wider still for fitness bands (eg Fitbit, Jawbone and Misfit):12 percent of women own a fitness band, as compared to 7 percent of men. In line with higher ownership, women have greater interest in the features associated with fitness trackers, as three in four display positive attitudes relevant to fitness tracking products (75 percent). In particular, Mintel research shows that 43 percent of women are trying to lose or maintain weight by being physically active compared to just one third of men (34 percent). Overall, women are more likely to want to know as much about their health as possible (38 percent of women vs 34 percent of men), indicating the potential for increased ownership in the future.

“Brands should continue to focus on high-style clips and wrist bands targeted toward women as they showcase a greater interest in style and appearance compared to men. Increased tracking of their overall health suggests women are more likely to wear a fitness band consistently to monitor health and wellness through the day, including tracking the number of steps taken and monitoring heart rate. This should lead to increased ownership moving forward as marketers properly communicate the benefit of fitness trackers and invest more in fashion and personalization,” continued Hulkower.

Despite consumers age 65 and older being less likely to own a fitness tracker or smartwatch (9 percent), adoption of wearable technology is on the increase. Mintel research reveals that 13 percent of Americans age 65 or older say they planned to purchase a fitness tracker or smartwatch by the end of 2015*. This is aided by their increased interest in knowing as much about their health as possible (51 percent vs 36 percent of consumers overall).

“Seniors may not immediately show interest in wearable tech, but considering their heightened interest in health and wellness, brands should be optimistic about this demographic. Additionally, we may see wearable sales for seniors be motivated by medical practitioners, who could use wearable devices to remotely track patients with heart disease or other illnesses where early intervention could mean the difference between life and death,” concluded Hulkower.

*Survey conducted in September 2015

Press copies of the Wearable Technology US 2015 report and interviews with Billy Hulkower, Senior Analyst, Technology and Media, are available on request from the press office.

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