Will Corporate Wellness Save Fitbit?

Is it time to feel a bit of pity for Fitbit? For that matter, maybe the corporate wellness industry deserves some sympathy. Both of them have hit some bumps lately and some observers are suggesting they can help each other out.

The Motley Fool says corporate wellness programs “could be a game changer” for Fitbit. It says everyone would be better off if companies strapped these gizmos on all their employees.

Unfortunately, that scenario isn’t grounded in reality. Corporate wellness is unlikely to save Fitbit. And neither Fitbit – nor any other fitness tracker – is likely to help corporate wellness programs generate better health outcomes.

Fitbit’s Ongoing Slide

Two years ago, after Fitbit issued a spectacular IPO, the stock price hit its peak. Since then, the decline has been relentless. Fitbit continues to lead the market for fitness trackers, but competitors are steadily chipping at the company’s lead. First it was Apple with its smartwatch. Then Garmin took a chunk and Android devices grabbed some share. Most recently, a low-cost competitor from China – Xiaomi – has been threatening Fitbit’s #1 position in the market.

But the bigger problem is the possibility that the market for tracking devices is nearly saturated. That’s what the latest report from IDC suggests. Consumers are getting bored with fitness tracking. And it doesn’t help that studies are showing that health outcomes are not much better when people use them. A systematic review published recently in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine concluded:

Accelerometers demonstrated small positive effects on physical activity and weight loss. The small sample sizes with moderate to high heterogeneity in the current studies limit the conclusions that may be drawn.

A randomized, controlled trial recently published in JAMA had even harsher results. People who wore a fitness tracker lost less weight than people who didn’t.

No wonder people are losing interest.

Bad Press for Wellness

The wellness industry is having an especially bad time in the press right now. A bill permitting employers to penalize workers who don’t submit to genetic tests in wellness programs is drawing howls of protest from all quarters. Our friend Timothy Caulfield sums it up in beautifully in this tweet:

Though this legislation came from CEOs with a political agenda, the wellness industry’s reputation is taking a hit.

The Real Solution: Real Innovation

Fitbit can climb out of its hole only through innovation that engages consumers once again. Real innovation can keep people engaged with their brand. They have the technology and the talent to make it happen. With a little bit of luck, a hit product could turn the tide.

And likewise, the wellness industry needs to deliver genuinely better health outcomes. Gimmicks, stupid coercive schemes, and cost shifting will just keep generating bad press.

Steep Challenge, photograph © Fitbit

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March 15, 2017

4 Responses to “Will Corporate Wellness Save Fitbit?”

  1. March 15, 2017 at 7:49 am, Al Lewis said:

    Alas, the workplace wellness industry will never deliver “genuinely better health outcomes.” They’ve had 30 years to do so, no reason to think the 31st will be a charm.

    Right now it would be great if they could just stop harming employees and lying about outcomes. http://www.ethicalwellness.org has a Code of Conduct asking for that minimum commitment from vendors. Some have signed up (and it is still new, so more will sign), but many — including United Healthcare — have flat-out refused.

    • March 15, 2017 at 8:26 am, Ted said:

      Alas, Al, you may be right. I keep hoping that smart employers will stop coercing and start supporting the total well being of their employees. Maybe wiser employees will make healthier choices.

  2. March 15, 2017 at 4:39 pm, Patriot fan said:

    I share the skepticism here. Employers who care genuinely about their employees total well being are the rare exception. Similar to Al’s comment, this has always been the case so past is definitely prelude.

    Also, the wellness industry is brimming with half-baked, poorly executed, poorly planned programs that are not evidence-based. The best and brightest are most certainly NOT going into this business.

    Not to mention the historical nature of employment and employer/employee relations in America clash with the idea of a benevolent program to help employees.

    Changing culture is a high hurdle to clear!

  3. March 16, 2017 at 4:58 pm, Asheley said:

    Eh, Fitbit made their bed. That’s what happens when you consistently deliver your products too late and a technological step behind your competitors. They lost me (previously their biggest unpaid ambassador, LOL) when they were slow with the Charge HR, then the surge didn’t have a color screen. So many of these things are relatively closed systems, so once I cried and left the Fitbit ecosphere, I wasn’t coming back.

    I do think you are right that plenty of people are still looking for new technology. Heck, we all get new phones every 18 months, even with relatively minor improvements, so we are culturally accepting of the idea. But it will take something pretty impressive to win me back.

    As for corporate wellness. Well, I hope that’s not how Fitbit survives. Then they will just be playing to lowest common denominator, research be damned.