Wearables Part 1: Switching Costs

A few weeks ago, I posted about one of the hottest topics in retail and mobile, the Internet of Things (IoT). While my focus was on Smart Homes, because I have firsthand experience there, the conclusion is pretty much the same across focus areas: Smart retailers will learn to serve customers before and even after the sale.

This week, I'll provide another IoT example in another hot area of mobile and retail. WEARABLES.

Wearables are more than just fitness tracking watches, they also include devices such as:

    • Augmented Reality Headsets
    • Google Glass

  • Smartwatches
  • Wearable cameras (police/military)
  • Man-down device
  • Fashion: Earrings/Jackets/Dresses

At first glance, wearables may seem like a relatively new area, but GPS vendors have been making wearables for over a decade now. It started as a spinoff from their in-car dashboard GPS system; if they could make a GPS device that verbally reads map directions to a driver, why not make a watch version that records where you've been on a map? Garmin had the first mover advantage on this one with their Forerunner 305 in 2005. (there was actually a Garmin Forerunner 205 launched in 2004, but the 305 was the first real main-stream GPS watch.) As I said, over a decade ago.

In 2011, I received the Garmin FR60, an off-shoot of the above mentioned Forerunner 305, as a gift. This wearable recorded workout time, heart rate and distance. I could glance down at my watch during a workout to view my heart rate and how long I had been exercising, or during a run, view my time, pace, and distance. After the workout, my watch automatically uploaded the stats of each workout to my account on Garmin's website. By recording each workout, I could track my progress, be proud of my improvement.

I viewed my workouts on a calendar; it was almost the equivalent of getting a star for chores completed when I was a kid. The magic of this wearable was that I was untethered to my smartphone. It recorded my workout offline and then uploaded the workouts after the fact to my Garmin account.

By 2013, my fitness level had improved to the point where I decided to train for a half marathon. I needed a GPS watch wearable for running so that I could track my routes on a map; that would provide more specific stats about my runs.

I'll stop here and acknowledge that in 2013 there were a myriad of phone apps to record GPS data. These apps work well for the occasional runner, but aren't as accurate. Additionally, it isn't always feasible to carry your smartphone on every run due to rain or the opportunity to drop the phone into a puddle or smash your screen into concrete. I've done both.

I needed a wearable that was waterproof, untethered, long battery life, in addition to recording GPS data, heart rate, cadence, distance, pace, etc.

Bottom line, I needed a wearable specific to running so that I could train for a half marathon (13.1 miles) and subsequently a full marathon (26.2 miles) and at that point, it was a no-brainer. I couldn’t even consider competitor products to Garmin because I had already logged literally hundreds of workouts on my Garmin Connect account. I was heavily invested in Garmin and the switching cost would be too much.

Garmin got my business but just look at what they gave me back!

[If you are interested, I wrote about my full marathon experience here. To sum it up, it took me 4 hours, 33 minutes and 36 seconds to finish the 26.2 mile course; the battery on my smartphone would not have been able to record GPS data continuously for that amount of time.]

Here's the screenshot of my marathon journey from my Garmin account.

As of the writing of this blog post, I have 1,477 activities saved on my Garmin account.

If we zoom in on total # of activities.

Garmin also pulls in weather data so that runners can analyze how weather affects performance. Gone are the days where runners assess their performance on subjective memory, "I ran 10 miles in 10 minutes." This wearable is an objective 3rd party record keeper.

And the story continues:

Moving on to November 2014, I decide that I want a Fitbit to record my daily steps, but I don't buy a Fitbit, I get a Garmin Vivofit, instead. Why, you ask? Because I didn't want to create an account on Fitbit's website and track my daily steps separately from my workouts on Garmin. Garmin offered an integrated one-login platform where I could track my daily steps and my workouts. Another no-brainer.

Another year goes by, and Garmin launches an integrated step counter, GPS running wearable, weather, calendar, and push notification device. Essentially a device that combines a smartwatch, step counter, and GPS running watch. Not only is the online account dashboard integrated, now the device is an integrated multi-purpose device.

They keep serving and I keep buying. But does it end there? No! Although Garmin was gaining a larger percent of my wallet, would they, had the products and quality not continued to be superior? No, so don’t think for a second that the switching costs for the services they provide are all that counts.

Stay tuned for my next post in this series where we will discuss the evolution of the IoT in wearables.