Money or loyalty points are not enough for people to use fitness trackers

The activity tracking market has been a challenging one. Jawbone, one of the leading fitness device manufacturers, has recently announced that 15% of their staff would be laid off. Fitbit is the leader in this market. Its share prices have dropped to almost 50% from their peak only four months ago.

All these companies have faced the challenge of how quickly customers stop using the fitness devices they buy. Fitbit’s “abandonment” rate is around 50 percent. The abandonment rate is lower if the users are linked to others via an app. Recent research conducted at UWA found that those who participate in “activity challenges” (where staff are encouraged to walk 10,000 steps per day for four months) are more likely to stick with it if they work as a team. In a short-term and organized activity, almost 30% of those who signed up quit before the challenge ended and stopped using their Fitbits.

Inactivity challenge: Attrition amongst teams and individuals. Author

Wearable devices are not the best way to encourage people to maintain increased activity. The wearer may lose motivation because the device is not working or needs charging. It could also be that it gets lost or stops working. Motivation is the key. A theory called ” self-determination” explains why few people use wearable devices. It also explains what can be done to motivate others.

The self-determination theory divides motivation into two types. The first type, “intrinsic” motivation, is when we do something because it makes us happy. This motivation comes from within. Extrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is based on external factors. Motivation is more likely to influence behavior if either it is intrinsic or the outside factors are fully integrated by the individual.

A shared network will be a major factor in integrating external factors. Jawbone’s research and our own at UWA have shown that people who are in groups are less likely to abandon wearing wearable devices than those who are alone. In addition to “relatedness,” or social interaction as a driver of motivation, we are more motivated when we improve our self-control and skill in carrying out a behavior.

Knowing how motivation works, we can only increase public adoption of fitness trackers if it increases the motivation factor. Qantas, the Australian airline, announced a plan to launch a private insurance plan named Assure that will reward members with frequent flyer miles for not only paying their premiums but also wearing a fitness tracking device and recording their activities. This approach will have the problem of not motivating people to maintain a behavior like tracking fitness. It is particularly important to protect personal information when it is sent to a company involved in deciding whether or not health-related payments will be made in the future. Qantas and other companies that offer similar schemes will have to focus on the social aspects of engagement if they want their customers to be more active. It is important to do this if you want your members to continue tracking their activities for more than a few weeks.

In a second attempt to tie walking with rewards, a start-up is providing cryptocurrency rewards that are connected to the number of steps a user takes. This scheme pays 1 Bitwalking Dollar for every 10,000 steps that are tracked by the app on a user’s smartphone. The Bitwalking dollar can be exchanged for cash or used to purchase goods online. The first challenge that Bitwalking Dollar developers will face is getting enough businesses to accept the currency. As with Qantas’ challenge, the biggest challenge will be to keep motivation high and, through that, maintain participation.

Both the Qantas Health Insurance idea and Bitwalking Dollars are loyalty reward schemes. These schemes are generally very difficult for businesses to function. A loyalty program that rewards a customer for shopping in a particular store or using their service is unlikely to work. Making the member do additional activities to earn benefits will make it even more difficult.

It is possible to increase the motivation of people to wear fitness trackers. We don’t know yet what will make customers of Fitbit and Jawbone continue to use these devices.

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