Who is actually buying wearable tech?


100 million sales this year – but to who?
Tuesday October 18, 2016

By Sophie Charara


October 18, 2016

By Sophie Charara

As part of our series on what the stats of wearable tech tell us, we’ve turned our attentions to the figures behind wearable tech sales and the most popular VR apps and games. Now we’re taking a look at the surveys, estimates and analyst data around who is buying wearable tech.

Estimates for wearable tech sales in 2016 are around 102 million. That will include some buyers of multiple devices, we are moving into an era of ambient computing and personal networks of gadgets after all. But that’s still a lot of people buying their first, second or umpteenth wearable.

Who are they? How old/fit/tech-inclined are they? How much money do they have? Here’s our survey of surveys, our thoughts on what various evidence and educated guesses tell us about who is actually buying the stuff we write about day in, day out.

Fit people buy fitness trackers

Well, this one makes sense. 79% of people who own a fitness tracker exercise regularly versus the slightly lower 66% of smartwatch users. Plus of the people who exercise regularly without tech, 47% are planning to buy a tracker.

Still, these stats come from a NPD Group report from May 2016, before the Apple Watch Series 2 and Samsung Gear S3 both added GPS and more fitness features. And the numbers are almost identical for runners – 22% of smartwatch users and 21% of tracker owners run regularly.

That suggests that Fitbit CEO James Park was right to predict that going after the less fit amongst us as potential tracker buyers is where the smart money is.

Men are buying smartwatches (so far)

There’s a few pieces of data that suggest this has been the case. So in 2015, NPD’s Consumers and Wearables Report found that 71% of smartwatch owners were male, 29% female – a sizeable gap.

Read this: The best smartwatches for women

But, again, this could be shifting with the likes of the Michael Kors Access Bradshaw, Pebble Time Round, Moto 360 2 and other smartwatches tailored, sensibly, to women. In fitness trackers, NPD found that 54% of buyers were women and we could see this 50/50 split in smartwatches soon too.

Young Ones

More so with smartwatches than trackers, it’s young people – millennials or whatever you want to call them – buying wearable tech. So 69% of smartwatch owners in NPD’s 2015 study were 18 to 34 years old.

In Britain in early 2016, Mintel also found that people aged 16 to 34 were three times more likely to own a fitness tracker than people aged 35+ and six times more likely to own a smartwatch.

US & China heart wearables

As with everything, it’s all about the US and China when it comes to big, big sales. That’s why both homegrown and American companies are trying to muscle in on the health and fitness tech boom in China.

CCS Insight reckons the fitness band market in China will be twice the size of the US and 2.5 times bigger than Western Europe by 2018. By contrast at the start of 2016, only 14% of British people owned any wearable tech (3% smartwatch owners). Admittedly, that’s up from 6% total in the UK in 2014.

People are still biding their time

Prices are coming down for trackers, smartwatches and VR headsets. But in many cases, they’re still too high.

So it’s no surprise that in September First Insight found that 51% of people surveyed were “waiting for prices to come down” before they buy a smartwatch.

And in NPD’s big survey of who is buying wearables, it found that a huge 41% of fitness tracker owners in 2015 had an average income over £82,000. That said, oddly 48% of smartwatch buyers earn less than £36,000

One thing is for sure, though, Apple’s experiment with a luxury £10,000 gold-plated Edition was quietly canned so there’s clearly no market.