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Fitbit Buys Its Way Into Wearable Payments

By Chris Neiger - May 21, 2016 at 10:40AM

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The wearable tech leader's purchase of Coin is a strategic move.

Wearable technology leader Fitbit (FIT) announced this week that it's purchased a wearable payments platform from Coin. You may remember that Coin made the smart cards that allowed users to load multiple debit and credit accounts onto one card (sadly, Coin says it won't continue selling those cards now).

Fitbit says it's also bringing key personnel over from Coin and that the purchase will "accelerate" its ability to add near field communication (NFC) enabled payments to its devices, though it noted it won't happen anytime this year. 

This is a big move for Fitbit as the company's increasingly being squeezed by Apple (AAPL 2.45%) at the higher-end of the wearable tech spectrum, and cheaper vendors at the lower end. 

Why wearable payments matter 

Buying Coin's wearable payments platform should bring two major benefits for Fitbit:  

The first is that Fitbit will now join other technology companies that are betting on the multi-billion dollar wearable payments market. Nearly $500 billion worth of NFC wearable payments will be made in 2020, according to Tractica. 

Fitbit is wisely jumping into this market soon (hopefully, next year) and its wearable device sales could benefit as users become more used to making payments with smartwatches and wristbands. 

Secondly, moving into wearable payments allows Fitbit to differentiate itself from the cheaper wearable devices on the market. 

Recently released data from IDC shows that the "other" vendors category made up 37% of all wearable device shipments in the first quarter of this year, while Fitbit took just under 25%. Fitbit's lead as the No. 1 vendor could eventually be challenged as companies from China release good-enough fitness trackers that undercut Fitbit's prices. 

But adding wearable payments could help Fitbit keep other devices at bay, because NFC chips add additional costs to the device and need to be paired with an established wearable payment system. 

What investors need to see now

I think investors should be looking for two things from Fitbit following this news: A quick release of an NFC-enabled device and a price point for the device that is priced significantly lower than the Apple Watch's $300 introductory price tag. 

Fitbit shouldn't wait too long to update one, or a few, of its products with wearable payments so that it doesn't miss the window when its lower-priced competitors don't have this technology. If it can get ahead of the "other" vendors category with wearable payments then I think it could help drive sales by offering a feature that other devices (besides more expensive ones) don't offer. 

Which leads to why Fitbit needs to price its wearable payment device right. The company's Blaze smartwatch sells for $200, while the Apple Watch (with its recent price drop) starts at $300. Fitbit would be wise to add wearable payments to the Blaze and keep the price tag the same. Otherwise it would be encroaching on Apple's territory, and the Blaze -- even with built-in wearable payments -- can't match Apple's software, third-party app integration, etc. 

Aside from Apple, Samsung and Google already have their own versions of wearable payment systems, so buying up Coin's wearable payments platform isn't a sure win for Fitbit. The company is still fighting against the biggest tech players in the market, but adding payments is a great step in keeping the company's products innovative -- and that may be more than enough to keep the company moving forward at this point.

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