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Joining the Digital Health Revolution

April 2013 By Bob Ankosko

A revolution in digital health and wellness products is emerging as Americans debate the escalating cost of health insurance, and as healthcare providers seek ways to encourage people to take a more active role in their health.

From connected scales that track weight, heart rate and air quality to app-driven wristbands that monitor activity, blood-pressure and sleep patterns, dozens of new digital health and wellness products are coming to market in 2013, opening the door to a retail opportunity that is most notably being embraced by CE heavyweight Best Buy, as well as smaller chains and independents. But it’s still early days for a category that has far more tire kickers than takers.

“We’re not carrying any health products yet but it is definitely something we will carry in the future,” said Scott Pflanz of Pflanz Electronics in Sioux City, Iowa. “We’re not really sure what, but it’s an area we need to pay more attention to because the margin on TVs is so low.”

h.h.gregg started selling digital heart-rate monitors last year, a category that customers see as a good fit for the store, said Jeff Pearson, senior vice president of marketing. “We view the category as one with good potential, as more and more people become conscious of their overall health.”

There are several reasons for the wave of health-related products hitting the market.
“Smartphone penetration is so high that more consumers are seeing the value in connecting devices. Data isn’t just lost in the device—they can now track and share information,” said Jennifer Kent, a research analyst at Dallas-based Parks Associates, adding that the ability to connect devices to the cloud or an app removes some of the human error in tracking things like glucose levels or blood pressure.

Add to that a generally health-conscious population of baby boomers that is turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day, and you have a market with excellent potential. Boomers also have money and will control 70 percent of U.S. disposable income in the next five years.

“Digital health is one of the fastest growing and highest margin categories that exists in the market today,” said Philippe Schwartz, senior vice president and general manager of Withings U.S., a newly established division of Paris-based Withings, which has been selling digital health and fitness products since 2008. Parks Associates forecasts that 4.3 million consumers will use Internet-connected vital-sign monitoring devices by 2016, for projected revenues of $1.5 billion.


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