Fitness Trackers Contribute Big Time to Doubling of Wearables Spending

Even with the 2015 release of the Apple Watch, spending in the fitness tracker segment of the U.S. wearables market increased last year compared with 2014 sales.

wearables, fitness trackers, health trackers, Fitbit, Apple Watch, NPD Group, smartwatch sales, fitness tracker sales

Consumers spent twice as much money buying wearables, including fitness trackers, in 2015 compared to the prior year, demonstrating the growing popularity of wearables in the United States.

That’s the conclusion of a new analysis by Ben Arnold, an analyst with The NPD Group research firm, which shows that sales of wearables grew 110 percent in dollar value from 2014 to 2015, while the number of units sold grew 85 percent in that time span. The increased sales came even as the average selling prices (ASPs) of wearables increased from $96 to $109.

"The increase in ASPs speaks to these devices becoming more sophisticated, and that consumers are looking for better-quality devices, not just entry-level products," said Arnold. "This, combined with unit growth, shows that prices aren't falling to drive demand; demand is increasing along with rising prices."

Arnold told eWEEK that his observations on the sales of fitness trackers and other wearables were culled from NPD's recent research, which also found that Fitbit remains the leading brand in connected activity trackers as of 2015, accounting for 79 percent of the total sales.

One surprise that came out of the research is that sales of the Apple Watch (pictured), which debuted in 2015, didn't apparently eat into the sales of dedicated fitness trackers as many analysts thought would happen, said Arnold.

"We continued to see strong growth throughout 2015 for fitness trackers," he said. "When a feature like fitness tracking gets converged into a new product [like the Apple Watch], it typically does not do well in stand-alone devices after that convergence."

But that didn't happen in 2015, which could be because of many buyers who remain on the sidelines after the release of the first Apple Watch, he added. For some Apple Watch watchers, they are waiting for the next version of the device because it is expected to have a wealth of improvements from the first iteration of the smartwatches.

"Looking around the corner, there are features like a camera that people are waiting for" in the next Apple Watch, he said. "Like after the first version of the iPad, people could be waiting. It could be that the challenge posed by the App Watch hasn’t really been felt yet, but could happen with the next version."

So far, several factors have contributed to the growth of connected fitness trackers, according to Arnold, including the release of new colors and designs that have made trackers more appealing, as well as the expansion of places where they can be seen and purchased.

So far, smartwatch sales and growth have continued to trail the more mainstream fitness tracker category, said Arnold. NPD's latest data shows fitness tracker ownership in the U.S. market standing at nearly 33 million devices at the end of the fourth quarter of 2015, while smartwatch ownership—including more traditional watches with smartphone notification capabilities—stood at almost 13 million.

Awareness of the smartwatch device category, at 83 percent, is higher than for fitness trackers, at 75 percent, "which bodes well for future growth once newer second-generation smartwatches with dedicated cellular connectivity and a larger number of traditional watches with notification capabilities are released during 2016," the company reported. "NPD predicts a significant ramp-up in smartwatch ownership growth starting in the second half of 2016, with an expected overall ownership number of just over 30 million devices by the end of 2017."