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Where (or wear) next for wearable tech?

by Matt Fisher , 06.11.2014

Unlike the rapid uptake of tablets, the wearables market remains significantly untapped. Industry leaders and underdogs alike have launched products onto the market in an attempt to capture consumer imagination, but, according to our latest research, sales of wearables remain a long way from becoming mass market. In the UK, 420,000 units have been sold this year at a value of £51m* (€65m). So what do consumers really think of wearable devices and how can brands develop products that appeal to them and meet their needs?

Activity trackers with a clear sense of purpose prove most popular

While smartwatches haven’t yet really hit the mark, activity trackers, which have a clear purpose and as such are better understood, have performed well. At 39% of all wearables sold between January and August 2014 in the UK, health and fitness trackers are the biggest segment of the wearables market, followed by wrist sport computers at 26% and action cameras at 24%. Smartwatches are the smallest segment at 11%. It seems that smartwatches are still considered ‘gadgets for geeks’, partly because they are not viewed as aesthetically appealing or seen to have a particularly clear function.

While brand is some way down the list of purchasing considerations it does have a distinct bearing. Despite the fact that manufacturers from a range of sectors including sports, luxury, and fashion have migrated to the wearables market, almost half of people in the UK (47%) prefer to buy an activity tracker from a well-known technology company. This is reflected elsewhere across the globe: comparative figures are South Koreans (69%), Chinese (54%), Germans (51%) and the US (42%).

How to wear wearable tech

Wearable tech has so far been packaged as watches and glasses, but there is an appetite to wear it in other ways. In the UK, 69% of people would wear clothes or jewelry with integrated activity trackers with bracelets (33%) and shoes (26%) the most popular overall. Men are more interested in connected clothes – t-shirts, shoes and belts, while women prefer jewelry – necklaces, bracelets and rings.

While wearables are the hottest new industry sector in technology, consumers seem to have a limited understanding of the offers. And whilst there’s no question wearable activity trackers have caught on – it’s only with a small percentage of the UK population so far. Manufacturers need to think about educating consumers not only about wearables, but about their possibilities if they are to convince --them that the functionality they offer is worthy of their price.

Matt Fisher is UK Director of GfK’s technology retail sales tracking; contact him at matthew.fisher@gfk.com