Wearables have a dirty little secret: 50% of users lose interest

There's a little-known fact about wearables that manufacturers don't advertise to consumers: Most people lose interest within a few months.

nike fuelband se.jpg
Nike Fuelband SE
Photo: Nike
Tech wearables, particularly those for health and fitness, fail to keep the interest of users for more than a few months. A survey of 6,223 US adults revealed that one in ten consumers age 18 and over owns a modern activity tracker such as Jawbone, Fitbit, Nike+ Fuelband or Misfit Wearables. Yet, more than half of the survey's respondents said that they no longer use their activity tracker, and a third of those stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.

The survey was conducted by Endeavour Partners and the results were published last month in a white paper, "Inside Wearables: How the Science of Human Behavior Change Offers the Secret to Long-Term Engagement." The goal of the paper is to help the manufacturers of wearables learn how to make their products more enticing, and therefore, more successful.

Dan Ledger, principal at Endeavour Partners, said the fast-growing popularity of wearables was evident at this year's CES, with more than 10 new wearable devices introduced from manufacturers such as Sony, Pebble, Meta, LG, Garmin and Razer. About 90 percent of these new wearables were activity trackers designed to be worn on the user's wrist, showing the strength of that particular segment of the wearables market.

"The wearables that are very successful are the ones that are designed to solve a very specific problem for someone that a smartphone isn't doing," Ledger said.

Don't make an ugly wearable

Having the right design ethic is crucial. Bill Geiser, CEO of Metawatch, spent 20 years designing health and fitness wearables for Fossil. Geiser said that it comes down to one fact as to whether someone continues to use a wearable – the design aesthetics.  Geiser said, "If nobody wants to wear it, is it really wearable?"

Nike+ Fuelband SE
Photo: Nike
 Ledger said about Geiser, "Bill's whole thesis is that you can have the greatest product in the world but if it doesn't have the right design aesthetic, no one is going to wear it more than a week."

The white paper addresses the challenges that wearables companies are dealing with, including the need for products to fit well, be comfortable, and compatible with lifestyle. This can be as simple as a product being waterproof, since it's essential to be able to shower with a wearable if it requires being worn 24/7 for accurate data.

The psychology of wearing wearables

Behavioral psychology also plays a strong role in long-term adoption of wearables by the consumer. "They're not factors that are necessarily intuitive to your average product designer," Ledger said.

"Given my own experiences with these devices, and conversations I've had with others, I have found that a surprising percentage of devices in the market first fail to achieve even short term engagement for many users because they suffer from one or more fatal user experience flaws," he said.

These flaws are:

  • They are easy to lose
  • They break
  • They're not waterproof
  • They're a pain to sync with your smartphone
  • The battery doesn't last long enough
  • They're ugly
  • They're uncomfortable to wear
  • They provide no material benefit

"Any one of these flaws is enough to turn off a user — more than one often lands these devices in a desk drawer, or even worse, the trash," Ledger said.

Ensuring long-term engagement

If a device makes it through without any fatal flaws, then it next needs to give users a compelling reason to continue using them. There are three main factors for long-term engagement: Habit formation, social motivation and goal reinforcement, Ledger said.

According to the white paper, "Wearable devices can help make the process of habit formation more effective and efficient than ever before. The best engagement strategies for wearables will move beyond presenting data (steps, calories, stairs) and directly address the elements of the habit loop (cue, behavior, reward) and trigger the sequences that lead to the establishment of new, positive habits."

If users are effectively motivated, then they will continue to wear a device. Social connections help with this, such as when users share their goals with a group. This makes them more committed to achieving their goals. It also helps to communicate goals on Facebook or other social networks. Two examples of wearables that establish motivation by effectively leveraging social connections are Polar Loop's Flow Web service and the Nike Fuelband SE/Nike+ service, according to the white paper.

Goal reinforcement, the third factor, occurs when a user feels progress toward defined goals. Wearables are persistent in that they're always on, always worn, and that helps a user remain connected to their goals and see their progress, according to the white paper.

Ledger said, "Some companies are already beginning to embrace the complex science of behavior change; however, there remains a great deal of potential for advancements in this area. A greater understanding of habit formation, social motivation and goal reinforcement will allow companies involved with wearables to create ever more effective and successful devices and services to promote health and wellness."

To learn more about the criteria for long-term engagement and the future of wearables, download Endeavour's white paper: "Inside Wearables: How the Science of Human Behavior Change Offers the Secret to Long-Term Engagement."


Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. With a background in fashion writing at People and W magazines and WWD, she ties together the style and substance of tech.

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