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Wearable Devices: Research Boon or Bust?

As a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes I fully embrace any advancement in the wearable technologies market. Thanks to advances in recent years, I am able to track my daughter’s blood glucose levels remotely and receive alarms and warnings when her levels are dangerously low or high.

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A Wearable Bloog Glucose Level Tracker

Wearables Devices in Consumer Markets

I am also in the midst of an explosion of wearable fitness trackers within my family and close friends, almost all of them now wear some kind of wearable fitness tracker to monitor the number of steps they take and calories burnt each day, and it’s becoming competitive! By syncing apps they are able to see who can be the most active.

Wearable Devices in Business

So far so good, but can wearable technologies be utilised in the commercial world? Such technologies, especially those utilising GPRS systems are already well entrenched in many commercial entities. The question is how can they be applied to increase business output?

Wearable Devices in Market Research

Wearables devices in market research can be split into two categories, wearables designed with the express purpose of use in research studies, i.e. eye tracking wearables, and wearables designed for the consumer market, i.e. fitness trackers, smart watches.

Sample Bias

Whilst the concept of passive data collection via consumer wearables is exciting, it is important to consider the population sample providing the data here. Passive data gleaned from Fitbit wearers for example, is likely to be skewed towards the health conscious. We must bear this in mind when selecting a sample for dedicated market research studies also. If wearable devise owners alone are recruited, can we truly say they are target market representative? For some clients and study objectives perhaps, but certainly not for all. Providing participants with the relevant wearable technology alleviates this problem, but in doing so we open the door to the same artificial influence risks present in any active research study; risks which must be acknowledged and managed.

Technical Limitations

As with every technology, there are limitations to the information wearables provide. For example, a friend was showing me her smart watch the other day and it said she had climbed 146 flights of stairs, that’s a lot of stairs! In actual fact she had been hiking that day but the gadget had no way to separate the activities. The limitations of the wearable in question must be understood in order to avoid misinterpretation of the data.

The ‘Why’ behind the ‘What’

Whilst wearable technology can tell you what your respondents are doing, it will never be able to tell you why… Why did I know my friend was demotivated when she was clocking in and out? Because she told me! In order to get the most out of wearable quant, I would suggest a complementary qual element in any research methodology.

Wearable Devices and The Future

Despite the limitations, wherever there is a wearable I believe there is an opportunity for properly managed market research and passive data collection. A report from IDTechEx estimated that the global wearable technology was worth over $30 billion in 2016 and is expected to accelerate over the next 10 years to $150+ billion by 2026. The answer to my blog title then is clear — it’s Boon Boon Boon for wearable devices in the insight industry… as long as we remember that we are human and not robots!

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