The term “wearable” is as popular now as any buzzword, and was certainly big news at CES, Mobile World Congress and SXSW. From wristbands, to high-tech time-telling gadgets, to digital gear and glasses, wearable is predicted to become a must-have for people over the next several years, with 2015 as the tipping point for more practical devices — in light of the heavily publicized Apple Watch debut.
But what’s real versus hype? And what are brands and retailers doing to tap these devices as a mobile communication tool with shoppers?
Here’s a look at three of the most buzzed-about wearables; and my take on which are important now versus in the future, with a perspective on how they might impact retail.
NOW: ACTIVITY-TRACKING BANDS
- What it is: Activity-tracking wristbands like FitBit, Jawbone, and Nike Fuel Band are bands you wear on your wrist, tracking movement/fitness activity relative to how many steps you took, miles you ran, calories you burned, etc. By far the most popular wearable at the moment, they’re the most practical, affordable.
- Why it’s important: These products have mostly catered to an audience interested in health and exercise, but have also become a popular trendy fashion item. Because of their popularity and that they are priced to be impulse items, they’ve created a new revenue stream in the consumer electronics category at retail. Retailers like Best Buy are starting to dedicate more floor space to these items. Some brands, like Microsoft, are using them as triggers to drive appeal for their ecosystem of tech products, and other brands are using the devices to deliver health product messaging to users.
- What to expect: For activity-tracker wearables to become a permanent fixture, the devices must become “need-to-have” not “nice-to-have,” which begs the need for manufacturers to evolve the offering to include broader functionality. Maybe it’s gathering more in-depth information about what’s around users (GPS tracking), or integrating more deeply with total health and medical information. The most likely bet? Health and fitness will become one feature of many within a more comprehensive wearable type device.
NEW: SMART WATCHES
- What it is: Essentially a mini computer on your wrist that perform basic tasks similar to a smartphone; think reminders, texts, email notifications. These are probably the second most popular type of wearable device, and while they still haven’t gone as mainstream as fitness trackers, this will likely change with the release of Apple’s smart Watch. Android Wear, Samsung Gear, Pebble Watch are other players are making debuts.
- Why it’s important: The primary benefit of this device is its ability to act as a natural, bite-sized extension of the online experience. While many use cases don’t exist yet beyond entertaining and engaging (and offering a “cool” factor), retailers will likely be able leverage the device to deliver enhanced customer experiences – whether it’s delivering an alert when an online order is delivered to your home, or timely, location-based offers when you are near a store. It may also connect to new payment methods.
- What to expect: For smart watch adoption to happen, they’ll need to evolve to become more like stand-alone computing devices with more robust functionality. Ultimately, a watch is a fashion accessory, so function and usefulness will ultimately need to mimic design for people to adopt it in the masses. A successful future for this device will be around using data to predict shopper behavior – triggering more personalized connections with people based on who they are, what they need and when they need it.
NEXT: SMART EYEWEAR
- What it is: Wearable eyeglass technology offers an optical head-mounted display, projecting digital information into the wearer’s field of vision in a smartphone-like hands-free format. Probably the most recognized example is Google Glass, which made quite a splash in the news during its beta phase, but was never actually sold to the public.
- Why it’s important: So far, when it comes to smart eyewear, applications for this tech are mostly found in niche areas. Surgeons and other health care providers are finding a use for the technology, like recording and archiving medical procedures, providing education for specific procedures, etc. Athletes, who have already eagerly adopted new technologies to help them improve performance, have been natural early adopters of this technology as well.
- What to expect: There is no denying that Google Glass has helped to spawn a whole new category of wearable eyewear technology, and we can expect to see the growth of new prototype devices in the future (Sony SmartEyeglass and Toshiba Glass, for example). Over the next 10 years, we’ll see more streamlined consumer Glass offerings and more integration from wireless providers. More choice will equate to even more retail focus, and more opportunities for brand/product integration.
Soon, wearables will be leveraged big-time by brands and retailers—but for now, they remain much more promise than delivery.
What’s for certain? The future of wearables needs to be streamlined, multi-functional and unobtrusive. As with any technology, it should integrate seamlessly with someone’s life, rather than awkwardly interrupt it. Given that wearables are by definition personal, the benefits must be personal, too.
Mary Kotyuk is a Director of Marketing Activation based out of Momentum Chicago