Research Insight | How Are Health-Conscious Consumers Using Wearable Tech?
Smart wearable technologies such as smart watches, sleep monitors, and activity trackers provide users with large amounts of data on their personal physiological and cognitive attributes, such as heart rate, physical activity, sleep habits, weight, and stress—but how does all this data help users improve their lives?
This study views smart wearable technologies as resources for agency (i.e., the ability of an individual to reflect on their circumstances, affect change, and act independently toward their own goals). In turn, agency forms a means for improving well-being. The study finds that consumers use smart wearable technologies in four different ways:
- Self-improvement: Consumers use data from these devices to better understand their body and mind in order work on themselves. They can engage in self-optimization, or simply seek to lead a better life.
- Justification: Consumers use data, for example on poor sleep or other health issues, to engage medical professionals or seek support from family members.
- Adaptation: Consumers use data from wearables to compare themselves with others or to cope with situational circumstances.
- Activism: Consumers can use knowledge gained from wearables to change circumstances that have an effect on their well-being. Instead of simply working on themselves, consumers can also affect change in their surrounding contexts.
For managers and developers of smart wearable technologies, it is important to understand that these devices are used in various ways and to help users engage in all of these, depending on which type of well-being challenge they are facing.
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What You Need to Know
- Marketers should understand smart wearable technologies as resources that enable greater consumer agency.
- Consumer agency not only relates to individuals improving their physiological or cognitive attributes but also to engaging with their social and situational contexts.
Consumers are increasingly expected to be active in managing their personal well-being. Agency, meaning individuals’ ability to reflect on their circumstances, effect change, and act independently, constitutes an important means for consumer well-being. To a growing extent, consumers are using smart technologies, such as wearable devices and applications, to better manage their well-being. However, how interactions with wearables improve and affect consumer agency for well-being is underexamined. The aim of this study is to explore how consumers use smart wearable technologies as resources for agency in managing their well-being. Drawing on psychological and sociological literature on agency as well as qualitative data from users of various wearable devices, the authors distinguish individual and contextual levels of agency, in which knowing and acting constitute two types of smart wearable technology use. From these dimensions, they conceptualize a framework with four types of technology use for well-being: (1) self-improvement, (2) justification, (3) adaptation, and (4) activism. The authors discuss the theoretical and managerial implications of this framework with the aim of improving consumer agency for well-being through smart technology.
Hannu Tikkanen, Kristina Heinonen, and Annika Ravald (2023), “Smart Wearable Technologies as Resources for Consumer Agency in Well-Being,” Journal of Interactive Marketing, 58 (2/3), 136–50.