Wearable technology has keyed into big data in a big way. Each device can collect a myriad of information depending on what it is, revealing new perspectives on user habits and behavior, which can do much more than simply benefit the end users. Retailers and manufacturers can use this technology to understand those behaviors and strategically connect with them.
What Wearables Tell Us
It’s important to understand that right now, the scope of data being received from wearables is limited because of their rate of adoption, which is further limited by level of awareness. Unsurprisingly, the product with the most awareness is the smartwatch (86%), likely thanks to Apple, whereas fitness trackers worn on the arm and wrist are third (55%), and headgear for virtual reality (VR) is fourth (49%). Smart footwear and textiles generate the least awareness, despite their potential. Surveys have found that fit people tend to buy fitness trackers (79% of owners exercise regularly, and half of people that already exercise regularly plan to buy one), and smartwatches are favored by men (representing 71% of owners). That’s expected to change over time as the market expands — designers like Michael Kors will help elevate the fashionable appeal and manufacturers are already committed to developing more feminine designs. This is undoubtedly an impact to watch for in smart clothing, once that sector moves beyond early adoption. VR easily has the most innovative opportunities for marketers, however, sales figures were below expectations in 2016, and forecasts still put marketers leveraging VR at scale at about 3 years away. All in all, 70% of all consumers are interested in wearables technology.
So what data does wearables have to offer? That may vary. Smartwatches started as a way to make interacting with a smartphone more intuitive, and it echoed a portion of smartphone’s functionality on the user’s wrist. Smartwatches have since adopted some of a fitness tracker’s functionality, such as step counting, distance tracking, and heart rate monitoring. AI ratchets these devices to another level by providing personal assistance a la Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant, and tapping into task lists, calendars, email, and more.
Health and fitness trackers have seen the most growth. There are medical research applications for these types of devices, like Alphabet’s Verily partnership with Duke University and Stanford Medicine called Project Baseline. These devices started largely as step monitors and have evolved to include an assortment of sensors, some with a specialty focus on something as specific as a woman’s fertility based on skin temperature and breathing rate. These sorts of applications have moved off-wrist and focused on other parts of the body, like the contact lenses that can measure glucose levels.
Those trackers also gave birth to a new type of apparel: smart clothing. Here, too, they’ve started with a focus on health and fitness. Many are developing “full body” systems; that is to say, they combine upper body (shirts), lower body (pants), and feet (sneakers) to collect a holistic set of information to provide more in depth analysis of health data. However, these too are outgrowing their original purpose and are expanding to include connectivity to the IoT to integrate personal assistant functionality (such as Sony’s Experia).
VR is often discussed on its own, but in truth, it’s also a wearable technology because it requires a headset. It also represents the most versatile wearable in terms of applications, although the most common use is entertainment, specifically gaming. Most forecasting sees mainstream consumer adoption as likely, but still a few years away. It utilizes more cognitive data and interests, and as its immersive entertainment options develop, will likely incorporate a host of psychotropic information. This is similar to the potential of AR glasses (e.g., Google Glass), despite the fact that those haven’t caught on.
What Brands Can Do
It would be a mistake to believe that only the companies directly involved with the development and sale of wearable technologies can benefit from the data processed by these gadgets. Wearables give businesses a potentially direct connection to the customer, either broadly by the amalgamation of anonymous information or granularly, presuming the customer in question opts in to share this information. It could give your business immediate and fairly specific information on the consumer experience, giving you the opportunity to improve. Plus, wearables have a back-end application to help you improve your business processes as well. Here’s an overview of how you could leverage them:
- Frictionless shopping could be achieved in combination with beacon and shelf monitoring technology, letting customers walk in and take what they need, then leave without passing through a checkout line; the wearables would create a secure connection that processed payment, just as smartwatches already act as mobile payment devices.
- The real-time marketing enabled by mobile devices would be enhanced by wearables, which could sync with in-store elements like beacons; where current beacons only have a generalized ability to identify location, wearables may have the ability to identify what exactly a customer is looking at or reaching for.
- Similar efforts can impact marketing personalization, and not just based on location or line-of-sight; assuming a customer opted in, there’s the potential that wearable technology would give you insight into the shoppers emotions in real-time.
- Virtual reality allows you to efficiently build and test layouts in a realistic space, without the time, cost, and labor of testing it in-store.
- Wearables connected to beacon technology and shelf monitoring can help store associates locate merchandise in-store or in your warehouse.
- Operational efficiency can be boosted by management having wearables that can display and update assigned tasks and their completion in real time.
- VR and AR headsets could enable remote training, step by step guidance, and remote communications with help-desks or team members in other locations.
What brands can learn from wearables right now may seem somewhat limited, but the market is continuing to ramp up as these products gain traction and new areas of usefulness. As the industry expands, new opportunities for collecting data will develop, opening new avenues into understanding customer behavior broadly and at a granular level. Even at today’s level of technology and adoption, wearables can provide extremely useful information to businesses.