Fitbit's greatest enemy is it's own clientele

The Fitbit Flex, released in 2013, is one of the companies best sellers. Fitbit sales are currently down for 2016. (MorePix/Wikimedia Creative Commons)

The fitness and smart watch fad that stormed into the market just a few years ago has officially started its decline. Fitbit admits that sales are down in 2016—a predictable burst of this short-lived technology fad. Internal predictions for the all-important fourth quarter are bleak as growth is expected to be much less than previous years as Christmas shoppers look elsewhere for stocking stuffers. While most analyst predicted the slowdown in the market eventually, Jim Duffy from Stifel admits that “it came sooner than expected.”.

The flaw of Fitbit comes from the clientele they market to: the average American. Most people will be surprised to hear that Fitbit is not the first, nor is it the best, “smart” watch to hit the market. One of the first, and in my bias yet knowledgeable opinion the best watches are made by Garmin. Their flagship line, the Forerunner, first hit the market in 2003 and is marketed to the only buyers who will regularly buy them: endurance athletes.

Garmin, a company that specialized in navigation using the Global Positioning System (GPS), first came up with the idea to make a watch that could connect to GPS. The idea was that runners, bikers and swimmers could now know exactly how far and how fast they are moving. This changed the endurance world as athletes flocked to the watch, valuing the information it held more than the pretty penny it cost.

One of the newer models released in 2015, the Forerunner 235, their mid-price range option at $330, offers a wrist heart rate sensor, elevation and direction calculator, pedometer, internal accelerometer to track distance indoors, and smartphone connectivity in addition to giving athletes the same important distance and pacing measurements, something that bands like Fitbit do not offer.

With the difference in marketing, it is not surprising that Fitbit is dependent on quantity while Garmin is dependent on quality. With a lowest model starting at $60, Fitbit’s are designed to be replaced every one to two years. Garmin gets away to charging upwards of $600 at the high end because their watches are designed to last five plus years while also attracting repeat buyers when they eventually decide to upgrade.

By marketing to the general public, Fitbit assumes the masses care about how many steps they take a day and what their resting heart rate is while sitting in a cubicle. To most, the cost of the device, figuring out how it works, wearing it constantly and remembering to charge outweigh potential benefits. A survey conducted by Gartner Inc. found that 30 percent of people in the U.S., U.K. and Australia who have ever owned a fitness tracker no longer use it.

Fitbit has a solution to their impending doom though. As Fitbit’s Chief Executive James Park says it, their goal is to make their devices a “need-to-have rather than a nice-to-have”. One proposed solution is to turn Fitbit from a fitness tracker to a health tracker. The idea is that a device worn on the wrist would be able to monitor things like blood pressure and heart rate to alert your doctor when there is a problem.

This solution ignores the fact of how vastly inaccurate wrist monitoring systems are. Currently, the most accurate way to measure heart rate at home is, not surprisingly pioneered by Garmin, is the infamous chest strap. Unwanted by runners, convincing the populous into buying a chest strap to monitor heart rate is unrealistic, which is why companies, Garmin included, have settled with the less accurate wrist monitor.

While Fitbit’s idea of a mass fitness movement was revolutionary at the time, is was doomed to fall short of their long-term goals. It is sad but too many people value money and time over personal well-being. Most probably do not even know how to interpret the data the Fitbit tells them. This, combined with the fact that the Fitbit contains far too little data to be marketed to athletes is now driving sales down. The only way Fitbit can be saved is with a social revolution where personal well-being is finally put ahead of money.


David Csordas is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.