The barriers to using wearables in Market Research
This year marked the ten-year anniversary of Fitbit. Though the wow-factor has faded, wearables are still a dominant force within the market. With the addition of just about every smart wearable out there, from watches that track VO2 levels, to keychains that prevent you from losing your stuff there seems to be no sign of it slowing down. According to IDC, the whole wearable market will most likely double by 2021, while smartwatches alone are expected to reach $32.9 billion USD by 2020. 
While consumer wearable devices continue to impress buyers, the most valuable part of wearables are the terabytes of data collecting cyber- cobwebs. Expanses of data sit untouched by market research. But why? What’s stopping us from a greater understanding of global health and activity?
Wearables tend to be attractive for a certain demographic: the healthy, young and affluent. While this is, of course, an interesting demographic, it’s certainly not a holistic view of the market or the focus of many health-focused companies. Some wearables have upgraded to VO2 max tracking and Apple’s pseudo-EKG to offer a greater expanse of uses, but overall the market is still mostly made up of the health-conscious and the tech-savvy.
Aggregation and abandonment rate:
A drawer exists in my house that I call the “graveyard.” It’s where old cell phones, mp3 players, and cameras have gone to collect dust. Among the random electronics are at least three separate fitness trackers that had once wowed me and then lost my interest. And I know I’m not alone. A study conducted by Gartner found that close to a third of smartwatches and fitness trackers are abandoned. With a high abandonment rate and the limitless market of wearable brands, creating a consistent data source to draw a conclusion from is close to impossible.
HIPAA and the FDA do not view the data generated from wearables as protected health information. As a result, many manufacturers such as Fitbit are selling de-identified data at a premium. While EU citizens have the right to erase their fitness tracker data (thanks GDPR) it is unclear when or if this will be available for users worldwide. If market research starts to take advantage of the terabytes of fitness tracker data, the industry needs to be prepared for the pushback. Just look at GSK recent purchase of the ancestral DNA company 23andme to see that context changes user comfort levels. Individuals felt fine sending their DNA off in a box to a company they saw on a commercial but balked at the idea a pharmaceutical company would use it to study potential disease prevalence.
Big data doesn’t mean big answers:
When it comes to tech and big data, more seems to be better. More features, more options, more trackers, more collection. But big data does not and will not answer the question “why.” Market research may one day overcome the barriers of wearables, but like any tool, it will only answer so much. But excuse me as I go play with the new Apple watch…