Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Garmin’s plans to stay put in a Xiaomi-Apple led smartwatch market

Garmin has been promoting the benefits of monitoring health indicators and has recently appointed Mandira Bedi as brand ambasador.

Smartwatches are in demand, more than ever before, in the Indian market. This heightened interest in them is being driven by the increased focus on health due to COVID.

This bit of wearable tech comes with a major healthcare proposition. It reminds the users of their daily workout goals, helps maintain sleep routine, checks the heart rate, is an extension of the smartphone, and also keeps an eye on blood oxygen levels.

An IDC report suggests that smartwatches and fitness bands witnessed their highest annual shipments in 2020, growing by over 198 per cent year-on-year. The market is dominated by players like Xiaomi, realme and Amazfit, in terms of volume. Apple and Samsung dominate, in value terms.

However, it wasn’t always like that. The segment that currently has over a dozen significant brands, was originally initiated by American tech company Garmin back in 2014. Garmin’s launch was followed by Fitbit, Apple, Samsung, among others.

Garmin’s plans to stay put in a Xiaomi-Apple led smartwatch market

The trend was quickly picked up by smartphone brand Xiaomi, which launched more low-cost alternatives and backed them up with active marketing.

Garmin, despite being the frontrunner in the early days, now has a muted presence, as compared to its much younger and louder rivals.

The brand recently appointed actress and fitness influencer Mandira Bedi as an endorser. Bedi joins Rannvijay Singha, of ‘Roadies’ fame, as a brand ambassador.

Garmin’s plans to stay put in a Xiaomi-Apple led smartwatch market

Apart from the difference in the marketing approach, Garmin’s products also command a premium price. While Xiaomi’s entry-level product is priced at about Rs 3,000, Garmin’s costs around Rs 8,000.

In conversation with Ali Rizvi, director, Garmin India, we explore the brand’s presence, and its plans to rival other brands and stand out in the burgeoning ‘wristables’ market. Rizvi recently completed a decade at Garmin India. He joined the company from Hindustan Times in 2011.

Rizvi says that the company’s interests in aviation, marine and automotive technology, coupled with its engineering focus, grants it an upper hand in terms of product standards and development. The brand’s presence in the wearables space since 2002 also gives it a better understanding of customer needs.

Ali Rizvi
Ali Rizvi

“We understand these things very well and it has evolved over time. It is a combination of the software and the hardware experience. That is the differentiation between Garmin and the others.”

The evolution of features in the smart band segment started with the basic pedometers (step counter). “Even then, we were exclusive, since we launched a product that didn’t require charging. We still have that product only, the generation and form factor has changed. It still does not require charging.”

The pedometer was soon followed by features like a heart rate monitor, sleep/stress monitoring and smartphone notifications.

Another important shift was from a smart ‘band’ to a smart ‘watch’. This led to the clubbing of the watch and the band. The hybrid made way for more features and also offered more screen space.

"At some point, users were wearing both, a smart band and a watch."

“This happened because the customer’s requirement was evolving. At some point, users were wearing both, a smart band and a watch.”

This was then followed by the inclusion of more sensors, like SpO2 (blood oxygen level monitor), respiratory rate monitor, etc.

Rizvi says that unlike most other brands that included the SpO2 sensor after the pandemic, Garmin’s devices had them much before. He explains that Garmin’s own manufacturing also ensured that it did not have to rely on Chinese imports for its devices.

"Pre-COVID, people thought it wasn’t meant for them."

“We had the sensors even before the pandemic, since it is important to keep track of oxygen levels during activities like climbing, swimming, cycling, trekking, etc. Pre-COVID, people thought it wasn’t meant for them. Also, we don’t outsource and that is why we have a very low global fault ratio of 0.02 (percentage of products that fail).”

"No other player in India can offer what we are offering."

Rizvi says that most new players, who also happen to be Garmin’s competitors, need to evolve. “Our software has been evolving since 2002. We are known for our quality and our users too realised this over time. No other player in India can offer what we are offering.”

“There are players that claim to offer every feature. But is it approved and vetted? The reading is of no use if it’s inaccurate,” Rizvi adds.

He explains that with a wide product range, the Garmin portfolio today caters to most consumer groups. Its wearables start at around Rs 8,000, and climb up to a few lakh rupees.

The Garmin Junior line, which has partnered with Marvel’s Avengers, caters to kids. Similarly, its various product lines, in a way, rival individual brands like Fossil, Casio, Fitbit, Rado, Amazfit, Apple, etc., which cater to various consumer sub-segments.

The Forerunner series (like Fitbit) is for the cycling, swimming and running communities. Lily and Vivomove (like Fossil) cater to women and fashion-oriented TG. Instinct, which is more on the rugged side (like Casio), is for young adults. Venu competes with Apple watch. Fenix, which has a solar charging, caters to outdoor activities like trekking, etc. ‘Functional luxury’ series MARQ (like Rado) starts at Rs 1.5 lakh. Vivofit (like Amazfit) caters to older adults (and does not require charging).

Garmin’s plans to stay put in a Xiaomi-Apple led smartwatch market

Speaking on the low profile marketing, Rizvi says, “We can build upwards, but the foundation should be strong. Getting the brand to the next level is not a problem, but it has to be sustainable.”

"Getting the brand to the next level is not a problem, but it has to be sustainable."

Garmin has been trying to expand its offline retail presence, while also setting up service centres. Like most premium brands, the location of choice is the high-street mall, instead of the regular Croma or Reliance Digital outlets.

The brand’s COVID era campaign ‘5 key health parameters’ promotes the monitoring of health indicators like heart rate, SpO2 levels, sleep, respiratory rate and stress.

While Rizvi won’t reveal the exact numbers, he does say that the pandemic has caused a “considerable increase” in sales. “We have seen good response from not only e-commerce players, but also offline channels.”

Apart from driving its consumer facing wearables business, it is also looking at enhancing its corporate partnerships. Garmin’s Health API service allows companies to track the health parameters of their employees, ranging from 200-50,000 via a dashboard, even while working from home.