India, which has traditionally been more enthusiastic about food than fitness, is slowly but increasingly adopting wearable fitness bands to stay in shape. What is the potential for this market?
From hailing a cab to finding domestic help, almost everything today has become tech-enabled and more track-able. It is no surprise then, that the fitness industry in India has undergone an overhaul in the last few years, owing to the proliferation of various devices and tracker apps. One can now track their stress and sleep levels, monitor heart rate, measure activities and calories burnt, anytime, anywhere.
‘How many steps?’ seems to be the new clarion call these days. As more people take charge of their lifestyle to make it healthier, wearables/fitness tech has become more than just a fad. In the past couple of years, watches have been replaced with wearable devices and smartphones. As per the India Wearable Devices Market 2018-2023 report by Research and Markets, wearable devices recorded humongous growth, clocking a CAGR of over 140% during 2013-2017.
And the stats help. India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35, according to the 2017 revision of the World Population Prospects. As disposable income increases, the young, fitness-conscious working class population is a hot target for wearables/fitness gadget brands. Last year also saw plenty of new smartbands and fitness tracker launches in the country. For instance, Garmin launched Garmin Vivosmart 3 Smartband while Huawei launched its fitness tracker for the market.
“Fitness is becoming a significant gene among consumers in India,” says Silvia Tallon, senior marketing director, Reebok India. The recently conducted Reebok Fit India survey, which mapped the fitness journey of consumers across eight cities in India, gave insights into the FitGen behaviour and trends such as running becoming the most popular fitness form followed by yoga, crossfit and mixed martial arts, among others.
Gunning for differentiation
As per reports, the total retail market for fitness as a category is valued at Rs 4,579 crore and is growing at 16-18% annually in India. From straps to clips to apps, one can buy or download to initiate improvement in their lives. Says Manu Jain, VP — Xiaomi and MD — Xiaomi India, “As young India became more fitness conscious, the Indian fitness wearables market grew exponentially in the past few years and close to three million units are sold in India each year on an average.”
Companies investing in this technology highlight some of the key factors that have contributed to the overall growth of the wearables industry: rising fitness trends, increasing self consciousness, desire to live a healthier life, modernisation and technological advancements, increasing internet penetration and growth of smartphones in the country.
Having said that, the task for these brands at hand is to stand out from the clutter as most devices offer the same features. Brands are now taking cognisance of this situation and offering distinguished features in their products. Fitbit, for instance, will soon introduce female health tracking to help women understand how their menstrual cycle connects to their overall health. Similarly, apps like HealthifyMe stand for the belief that growth of artificial intelligence technologies, from both homegrown and global players, is resulting in great products/ mobile apps being built.
“We bank on our ability to offer bespoke health and fitness services through a combination of human empathy and artificial intelligence-powered technology,” states Tushar Vashist co-founder and CEO, Healthifyme.
Apart from specifications, competitive pricing from Chinese vendors too has to be kept in mind.
As per IDC (Q1 2017), entry-level products and basic fitness wearables lead the market with almost 90% market share and 80% of products are priced at less than $50 (Rs 3,000-4,000) per unit. The sub-$50 category is growing further and is expected to dominate the market in the coming years.
According to the Research and Market report, as far as competitive landscape is concerned, Fitbit and Samsung are both well-established as smart wearable companies, and enjoy strong brand recognition and credibility among the young generation.
“We offer users an unmatched breadth of devices spanning styles and form factors,” says Alok Shankar, country GM — India, Fitbit Inc while adding, “what sets Fitbit apart is that it is a fun and accessible brand, and is compatible with most phones, across platforms.”
Crossing the hurdles
Though urban areas contribute most to the sales, companies are witnessing an increasing interest from smaller and fragmented markets in tier I where there are early adopters of fitness. While many brands are available in offline stores in various cities — from retail chains for consumer electronics and durables to branded stores — digital still seems to be the main platform that contributes most to the sales. Being available across Amazon, Flipkart as well as their own websites, helps brands to reach customers who are fitness enthusiasts but reside in tier II or III cities. The online shipment of wearables was at 63.1% in CY Q4 2016 (source: IDC).
Having said that, India is still at a nascent stage especially for fitness wearables. Many still see the segment as niche, which faces challenges like consumer inertia and initial scepticism on the power of the offering or adoption rate of this technology, as many are not comfortable using it.
Therefore, for most brands, direct engagement with consumers and building communities is one of their top priorities — something which calls for a huge investment.
“Xiaomi relies heavily on word-of-mouth feedback, driven mainly through communities and social network,” highlights Jain, as the company believes in a lean distribution system and eliminates middlemen as much as possible.
For others players, creating smart partnerships is the key. Fitbit, for instance, made cricketers and footballers from certain teams playing at Indian Premier League (IPL) and Indian Super League (ISL) wear the device, hoping it would influence fans. “We think it is an effective way to communicate with our TG,” says Shankar.
Brands also need to keep up with the times. As technology advances, the fitness tracker can be replaced by a more sophisticated device like, say, a chip in a piece of clothing. Reebok, which launched a fitness monitor watch in 2008 and hasn’t lined up any launches in terms of wearable technology, recently tried a new technology for one of its shoe lines. It enabled the user to custom-fit the shoe, using technology to get a better grip of their foot, thereby helping in higher response and cushioning.
Therefore, going forward, brands need to constantly update and offer customers more than just biometric data. The premium look of these devices will also play a key role in attracting consumers who usually opt for high-end and modern watches.