Digital technology, wearables & the sporting goods industry


One of the next big opportunities and challenges for the sporting goods industry is to harness the potential of digital technology. Mobile technology and wearables are transforming sport and the sports business at a rapid pace. WFSGI interviewed wearable technology expert Christian Stammel, CEO of Wearable Technologies AG...

Christian, what should we understand by the term “wearable technologies” (WT) and how would you describe this phenomenon – what many refer to as the “digital revolution”?

We define wearable technologies as electronic devices worn close to the body, on the body or even in the body. Also in wearables, we see a trend in storing more and more data digitally and with a stronger focus on the software side rather than on the hardware only. This is a smart move as it means that less memory space is required on a wearable, which in turn means that devices can be smaller and lighter and will require less energy. Also, the ability of wearable devices to interact with their smart surroundings will increase the value of the device for the user.

What does the market look like? Can you give an estimation of the WT sports sector?

In the market for wearable technologies, we have seen a healthy growth over the past few years. For the sports sector, we are looking at a market size of a minimum of $5.4 billion by 2019 for fitness trackers only.

What implications does this have for the industry? Wearables are not a classical sporting goods product: will it lead to a further diversification of the sporting goods industry?

The early sports wearables were targeted only at semi-professional and professional athletes. Today, a much wider group of people is interested in using wearables to keep fit. A challenging factor for the retail of these products is that they need some more explanation at the POS and it might also be difficult to find the right space within a retail space. As for the running wearables, it is clear they should be with the running gear. But where do you position the generic fitness tracker that may even look like jewelry. Best Buy is already doing a great job here and is a good example of how to do this right – even though it is not a sports retailer, retailers can learn a lot from it when it comes to selling wearables. However, the great thing is that wearables will drive new customer groups into the stores, as they have become a lifestyle accessory for a wide group of people today.

How can retail prepare for the digital shift?

POS teaching is key, as well as great after-sales service. For the latter, we see a lot of great potential in apps. But we will also see the actual retail business becoming more and more digitalised. All the big sporting goods companies are in preparation for this shift, as you can see from adidas’ recent acquisition of Runtastic and Under Armour’s take over of MapMyFitness.

How does WT alter the sport experience?

You actually know what you have done with less technology and fewer devices. Cheating becomes extremely difficult; even if you are training only for yourself, you get an idea of what you really have achieved. Today, devices can give guidance like a digital trainer and help people to reach their goals quicker and more effectively. Ideally, they don’t alter the actual experience, but just enhance your overall experience. For example, when taking environmental data into account, your wearable could tell you that the city smog is too high for running outside and recommend that you run inside on that specific day. This is just one example, but the power of contextual can be huge for the user and a really positive and helpful experience.

Do you have any data in how far WT effects the engagement in physical activity?

The social impact of fitness wearables is enormous and can achieve real lifestyle changes, especially for the non-professional sports person. However, studies have shown that people tend to wear their wearable only for three months and then they never put it back on again. That’s why contextual intelligence of the device is so important to keep the user interested. Several health insurance take a bet on fitness trackers now and while we are not sure if this is the right way to go for them, for the individual it can be a great personal gain to use such a product. However, as with everything in sports, the tracker will not do the hard work for you, like eating right and regular exercise… But it will definitely keep you more motivated.

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