What’s holding fitness wearables back?

Brodeur survey identifies three factors outcomes, affordability and smartphones

BOSTON, Sept. 30, 2015 – There’s good news and bad news for makers of wearable fitness-tracking devices.

The good news: More than half of wearable fitness device users report “clear improvements” in their fitness. The bad news: a mere 12 percent of American adults use a wearable fitness device. Worse, another 12 percent say they’ve tried one and quit. And while there’s been tremendous growth in fitness wearables, the sector has captured only a tiny fraction of its potential market.

These findings come from the recent Brodeur Partners Health and Wellness survey of 542 adult Americans.

The data further points to three obstacles hindering fitness wearables from becoming more relevant to the mainstream consumer:

  1. Outcomes. Many Americans doubt that fitness wearables will really help them get fitter and healthier.
  1. Affordability. Despite declining prices, cost is a major reason people don’t use health-related wearable technology.
  1. Smartphones are the biggest reason people don’t buy a wearable fitness device – and the main reason people stop using wearable devices. They offer many of the same capabilities as wearables.

The category

Fitness-tracking devices such as the Fitbit and Jawbone typically report physical activity such as a user’s footsteps, calorie consumption and sleep quality. The devices are part of a growing wearable fitness device category whose shipments are projected by Gartner to hit 91.3 million in 2016, up from 73 million in 2013.

The Brodeur Partners Survey posed a variety of questions about fitness wearables and sorted respondents into three camps:

  • “Wearable warriors” – The 12 percent of respondents who currently use a wearable fitness device. A majority of wearable warriors (54 percent) use a device mainly because they believe it has led to clear improvements in their health and fitness. Of the rest, about half (24 percent) cite “fun and fashion” as the primary reason they use wearable fitness devices, and half (22 percent) cite the ability to “track and share” fitness information.
  • “Wearable dropouts” – The 12 percent of respondents who say they have used a wearable health device in the past but for some reason stopped using it. Nearly half of wearable dropouts (47 percent) said the main reason they’ve stopped using a wearable fitness device is because they think they can get the same information from their smartphone.
  • “Non-wearables” – The 75 percent of respondents who have never purchased and used a wearable device. They include:
  • Penny pinchers – The 30 percent who said the most important reason they never wore a fitness device was price.
  • Skeptics – The 28 percent who said the main reason for never using a wearable was that they doubted one would help improve their health and fitness.
  • Anonymous seekers – The 26 percent who said they were concerned about third-party access to their health and fitness data.
  • Fashionistas – The 16 percent who said the main reason they don’t wear a fitness device was that they didn’t like the way it would look on them.

“There is an opportunity for wearable fitness device makers to consider fresh, new strategies to increase wearables’ relevance with the mainstream consumer,” said Brodeur Partners CEO Andrea Coville, author of Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition. “Most Americans are already inundated and overloaded with too many devices and too much information. The challenge is to show that they work – and work affordably in a way that smartphones can’t.”

Brodeur’s research identified three marketing and communications strategies that could increase the relevance of wearable fitness devices:

  • Contrast wearable fitness devices to smartphones. A big advantage of a wearable fitness device is its compact form. Who wants to run for three miles with a phablet strapped to your arm?
  • Spotlight the value. Marketers should explore new and creative ways to show wearables as “good investments” compared to other fitness expenses, such as monthly gym memberships or athletic gear.
  • Document results. Use studies, metrics and personal testimonials to demonstrate how wearables can truly help people get fitter and healthier.

For more information, read the White Paper.


The Brodeur Partners Health and Wellness survey was conducted June 3-5 and was based on online interviews with 542 adult Americans (n=542) drawn from Toluna’s national QuickSurvey panel. Survey results were weighted based on U.S. Census data to reflect the exact demographic profile of gender, age and region of the national population.

About Brodeur Partners

Brodeur Partners is a strategic communications company that helps organizations become and remain relevant in a complicated world. Headquartered in Boston, the company has five U.S. offices and operates in 33 countries globally. It is differentiated by its focus on relevance, behavioral change and ability to bring a discipline-agnostic approach to its nonprofit, consumer and business-to-business clients. www.brodeur.com

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