Can wearable tech boost retail? - PC Retail

Can wearable tech boost retail?

PCR explores whether the new breed of technology will lift retail or if it’s just a fad
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It may be taking all the online headlines at the moment, but an important question remains over Google Glass: how will it fare at retail?

Google is aiming to launch its computerised glasses, which can record videos, take pictures and send messages, in 2014, and they have generated a lot of buzz already. A recent survey by Venda shows that one third of 2,000 UK shoppers would happily use Glass in retail stores to search for available stock and product ideas.

But Glass – in fact the wearable tech sector as a whole – is still largely unproven with consumers. Sure, products like wearable head cameras and the Nike+ Fuelband wrist device (which tracks a runner’s pace and calories burnt) have been around for a while, and it’s fair to say they haven’t quite set the world alight like the iPad.

However, an imminent onslaught of smartwatches from the likes of Sony, along with Google Glass, aims to change all that. Sony says 41 million smartwatches will be sold by 2016, according to analyst research.

Market tracker Context’s co-founder and CEO Jeremy Davies told PCR: “If smartwatches provide additional functionality or convenience [over health/sport wrist devices], catch the public attention and become a must-have gadget, [the wearable tech sector] could be huge."

“There’s no guarantee it will take off in the first place. It may explode like tablets, and if it does, it will be difficult to see how it would replace any existing products. Wearable tech will be an intensely personal choice.”

RETAIL RALLY

Sales tracker GfK believes wearable tech has “huge potential” in homes, in terms of health diagnostics and products that can control appliances, as well as mobile computing. Retailers are interested and it hopes to be tracking sales soon.

Carl West, GfK’s Business Group Director for IT, Office & Stationery, said: “The first accessory the consumer buys when purchasing a smartphone or tablet, is a case, to make it personal and to protect it. Wearable technology has the potential to offer a personal fashion statement from its wearer but also, with good application, build aspiration and productivity. For the brands, consumer profile tracking is already big business – imagine the output of an always-on life tracker. Retailers are already asking about this product area and we will be tracking it very soon.”

While smartwatches present ample opportunity to retailers and resellers, some experts have aired their concerns around the growing sector.

Industry veteran and Channel Media Europe director Bob Snyder added: “I am convinced smartwatches will be a hit, but where people like myself have a tablet and a PC, I doubt whether people will wear two watches. It’s more like a transition from analog to digital, like GPS replacing maps."

“We tend to overhype the future. When iPad launched, the initial reaction of the industry was actually negative. Why? Because Microsoft and Intel had touted tablets almost a decade earlier and failed. It took an overwhelming public response to turn around the channel and the industry.”

Whether the same can be said for wearable tech, time will tell.

WATCHING THE COMPETITION

The Sony SmartWatch 2 (pictured right) arrived in the UK this month and promises to be the world’s first Android-compatible water-resistant SmartWatch, with one-touch NFC (near field communication). It acts as a second screen for an Android phone and can take calls, play music, take photos, display emails and more. Sony launched its first Bluetooth watch in 2007. 

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It’s rumoured that Apple is also producing its own iWatch for 2014, which can communicate with other iOS devices, while Microsoft is said to be making a Surface smart watch in a variety of colours with removable wristbands.

Additionally, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch was announced recently at IFA in Berlin. Plus, several other watches have secured funding via Kickstarter such as the Pebble and Hot Watch.

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