One Size Doesn’t Fit All For Health Tracking

In a new report out today, my colleague Sarah Rotman Epps writes about the emerging but limited market for fitness wearables like the Nike+ FuelBand and the Jawbone UP. The report finds that only 4% of US online adults, or about 8 million consumers, fit a target profile predictive of buying a fitness wearable. Why so few? It turns out that mainstream consumers’ attitudes are very different from the health-conscious tech optimists buying these products today.

A few months back, we set out to understand how mainstream consumers feel about these devices using our Market Research Online Community (MROC) of 1,500 general US online consumers. As I’m using a wearable health-tracking device, I was excited to learn whether these consumers saw the same value that I saw in these innovative products.

Well, they don’t. In fact, “excited” isn’t even in their vocabulary when it comes to wearable devices. “Waste of money” was more how they described them.

Consumers feel that they know what to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle and use the concept of “moderation” to monitor their health, rather than fancy devices. In general, though, they lack self-awareness of their own unhealthy habits, they don’t feel accountable for their own health, and they expect their primary care doctor to monitor their well-being over the long term. Their perception is that wearable devices are for people who are chronically ill, need help with weight loss, or have obsessive personalities.

Many of these consumers will never be in the market for a fitness or health-tracking wearable themselves, but they could be influenced by health professionals they trust if they’re shown how bad habits affect their mood and the way they feel and that wearables could possibly catch potential chronic conditions like high cholesterol before they begin. FitLinxx, which licenses its Pebble activity tracker to 100 partners in the healthcare and corporate wellness markets, has found that some consumers can be incented to wear a tracker if they’re given financial benefits, like a company match for their FSA. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for taking fitness tracking mainstream, but the more seamless and passive the data entry, the better: Mainstream consumers will never make a hobby out of quantifying themselves.

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