More than 2 million smartwatches, rigged to send and receive email and tweets, get the weather and run select apps, were sold worldwide in 2013. Android, GoPro and Google Glass are advancing that ball in the wearable device category, and Apple just recently introduced its first smartwatch. The iWatch, which will be available in early 2015 in three customizable versions, is equipped with health and fitness capabilities and smartphone features such as maps, messaging and music.

A growing trend

From a loyalty perspective, we are fast approaching a tipping point. We already know that loyalty initiatives should be optimized for mobile devices, but we’re at the exciting early stage of learning how loyalty can intersect with mobile as it branches out beyond the rectangular phone. My prediction is that wearables will take over helping consumers shop, purchase, share and more, and so loyalty must embrace them sooner or later. 

"We already know that loyalty initiatives should be optimized for mobile devices, but we’re at the exciting early stage of learning how loyalty can intersect with mobile as it branches out beyond the rectangular phone."

Fitness trackers are leading the way. Industries such as sport and wellness already have a critical mass of customers using simple wearables that monitor a user’s vitals and overall activity. The U.S. digital fitness category, with tech product leaders such as Fitbits and the Jawbone Up, was worth $330 million in 2013. 

Activity tracking is proving to be a rich incentives area for customers. Walgreens Steps, on the market for just about a year, has more than 1.3 million active program members tracking their physical activities and earning points for their healthy choices in the drugstore chain's Balance Rewards program. Members earn extra points when they connect an app or device to the program. Alfa Bank, a leading privately owned bank in Russia, is rewarding its loyal savings customers who exercise with premium interest rates — customers can literally build their finances through sweat equity. 

An optimized experience

Omnichannel loyalty programs have a leg up. Brands with more progressive, tech-savvy customers know it won’t be long before more customers will want to make purchases with their watches or glasses. That will demand responsive web sites that are optimized for all types of mobile devices, including wearables. Loyalty programs that already reward for purchases and activity from mobile devices — and that collect data to understand those customers who use mobile better — will find it easier to integrate activity from wearables. 

The earlier that brands experiment with serving up information on wearables and rewarding activity on them, the more they’ll learn in a lower-stakes beta environment. That means they’ll be better prepared to support the next wave of customers — who will be less forgiving and expect a seamless experience.