What are Wearables in Market Research? Explaining the Pros and Cons of Wearable Technology

wearables in market research blog post

As we begin the 2020s, many of us have been reflecting on what we experienced during the previous decade.

Among all the technological innovations like virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing, I would argue one of the most intriguing inventions to rise in popularity was wearable technology.

What are Wearables?

Wearables are smart devices that people attach to themselves to typically measure or track something.

The device can then communicate with another device over the Internet to share its data (à la Internet of Things or IoT).

Wearable technology often takes the form of consumer goods such as:

  • Watches
  • Eyeglasses
  • Bracelets
  • Clothing

The more advanced wearable technology like the Apple Watch can even perform many of the same functions as a smartphone, such as managing phone calls, reading text messages, or using GPS navigation.

Although wearables are largely seen as consumer products, there is a growing potential for wearables in business. Looking specifically at market research, there are numerous applications for wearables within research methodologies

How are Wearables Used in Market Research?

One of the more obvious uses of wearables in market research is their ability to monitor health metrics like heart rate. Knowing a participant’s heart rate opens the door for an additional layer of understanding.

Using it in advertising...

For example, if an advertisement is being tested on a participant, researchers can see exactly when the heart rate increases or decreases in response to the stimuli. The content associated with the largest reactions can be probed to further understand why a participant had that response.

Using it to detect sleeping patterns...

Sleeping patterns are another passive type of data collection that can be used for research.

Many wearables detect when a person is sleeping and even what stage of sleep he or she is experiencing.

With participant permission, this data can accurately inform researchers when consumers are likely to be awake.

For example, knowing how late consumers stay up may indicate when they are still watching media or surfing the web.

Using it to for GPS tracking...

Location is a valuable form of data also collected by wearables. GPS tracking in devices can show a map of participant movements in places as small as a retail store or as large as a country.

The scale of location data used is dependent on the needs of the research. Once the data is ready for analysis, researchers look for patterns in movement across all the participants.

Including other factors like date, time, and duration of stops allows for interesting insights to be pulled.

What are New Applications for Wearables in Market Research?

A newer application of wearables is sensitivity to light and noise in an environment. These measurements provide an additional layer of data for observational research studies.

For example, a study of restaurants in which the lighting and noise level varies for different groups of participants. Data gathered by the wearable device in conjunction with active participant feedback may reveal a thing or two about restaurant experiences.

These features on wearables may also be applied to shopping environments to gain a detailed view of the customer experience.

Wearable technology can be leveraged for active data collection, as well. Many devices allow participants to capture media like photos, videos, and audio recordings as instructed for a research study.

This kind of data is key for ethnography research and makes it more mobile than ever before.

What are the Pros of Wearables in Market Research?

Knowing the many uses of wearables in market research, why should you consider them over comparable forms of data collection?

Below are several key benefits that wearable technology can offer in research studies.

1. Passive data collection through a smart device is natural for participants.

In many cases, their only responsibility is to make sure the wearable is turned on and charged.

This makes for a less taxing participant experience and encourages normal participant behavior.

2. Eliminate respondent bias.

Wearables also have an advantage when it comes to respondent bias.

Instead of asking questions about the participant’s recollection of health metrics, locations, and dates, this information is automatically collected or even synced in real-time.

Risks like recall bias or social desirability bias are eliminated by taking the participant’s memory out of the equation.

3. Automate data collection.

Automated data collection is also a positive experience for the researcher. Data transmitted through wearables means less observation or management may be required for fieldwork.

Aside from the initial setup and training, the data essentially collects itself. Depending on the software available to you, live results may also be available for early analysis.

4. More in-depth feedback.

If other data is being actively collected as a part of a study, wearables can add some depth to those results.

For example, knowing the light and noise levels during shop-along research may add valuable context to participant decision-making. This can lead to stronger insights than simply asking a participant questions as he or she shops.

What are the Cons of Wearables in Market Research?

There are also a handful of barriers to consider with wearable technology in market research.

Here are some considerations before you commit to using wearables in your next project.

1. Wearable data doesn’t tell the whole story.

For example, only knowing the heart rate or location of a participant doesn’t lend much to a thorough analysis.

If you plan to solely use information collected from the smart devices, follow-up research is likely required to draw actionable insights.

2. There still might be a slight respondent bias.

Although wearables reduce many forms of bias, participants who have had prior experience with wearable technology may be slightly biased.

If you are looking for participants to be representative of the general population, be aware these individuals may skew health-conscious or tech-savvy.

On the opposite side, you may also run into participants who struggle with technology and require extra training with the wearables.

3. Recruiting participants can be tricky.

While data collection is straightforward once the wearable is in use, initially recruiting participants can be tricky.

Many recruits may be reluctant to give permission because of the sensitive nature of the data collected for some studies.

It may take some additional time and cost to find participants comfortable with sharing personal health information or location tracking, even if it is anonymous.

Consider partnering with a third-party market research company that specializes in qualitative recruiting - like Drive Research.

4. Participants must have access to wearable technology.

Unless participants are required to own one, a given when using wearable technology in research is the need to purchase or rent the devices.

Not every researcher or client is willing to cover the expense of new equipment. This is especially true for an ad hoc study or when the participants keep the wearables as an incentive.

In Conclusion

Wearable technology will undoubtedly have a place in market research over the next decade.

These smart devices will expand every market researcher’s toolkit to collect data never previously accessible.

However, it is critical to never force their use in a research study. Wearables provide significant value but only in specific situations like healthcare research and consumer behavior research.

Contact Drive Research

Drive Research is a national market research company in Upstate New York. We work with companies across the country to assist with their market research needs including the incorporation of wearable technology.

Questions about an upcoming project? Contact us below.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at info@driveresearch.com
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here.


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