The India wearable market had a strong 2022 as shipments reached 100 million units, according to the research firm IDC. While wrist bands, smartwatches, earwear and basic affordable smartwatches make up for most of the segment, the 151.3% year-on-year growth of smartwatch sales highlight the emergence of smartwatches as the fastest-growing wearable category in India.
Garmin wants a share of that pie. Founded in 1989, Garmin is an American technology company, incorporated in Switzerland, that specializes in GPS (Global Positioning System) technology applications for automotive, aviation, and marine use cases. It has also been at the forefront of the development of connected smartwatches focused on sports and outdoors.
Per Garmin’s own claims citing data sourced from its Garmin Connect app too, the company recorded a 32% year-on-year growth in India last year. Now, the company wants to expand deeper into the Indian market and is trying to launch more and more products in the market and expanding its sales and marketing network while working with sports enthusiasts and runners to build running clubs.
Earlier this year, I travelled to Taipei to attend the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Garmin Forerunner series, a selection of sports watches targeted at runners and triathletes. In 2003, Garmin introduced Forerunner 101, the first wrist-top device with GPS technology and pitched it as a self-contained personal training system.
On the sidelines of the event, I met Scoppen Lin, the Assistant General Manager at Garmin Asia. After joining the company in 2000 as a young software engineer, Lin has climbed up the ladder with extensive engineering, marketing, and sales experience over the last two decades. Now he leads marketing, sales, and customer service development at Garmin for the Asia market. Lin said that India is one the most important growth markets for the company, considering the large population and the growth of the wearable market over the last couple of years. In fact, the company expects India to be among the top three markets in the APAC region in the next five years.
Garmin recently expanded its Forerunner series in India with the launch of the new Forerunner 265 and Forerunner 965. The latest Forerunner smartwatches sport crisp AMOLED touchscreens instead of the dimmer memory-in-pixel displays found on the predecessor. With such upgrades, Garmin’s portfolio is not just becoming more appealing to sportspersons and runners but also mainstream smartwatch users who are fitness enthusiasts or like the outdoorsy life.
Lin said that Garmin is working on developing “health-related features aimed at everyone.” And while the company is constantly working on improving the user experience and lifestyle-related features (like tap-to-pay and music integration), it does have its unique strengths. “No one can compete on this kind of battery life,” he added.
The company might be trying to appeal to a wider base, but Garmin smartwatches are quite expensive – they start at ₹27,990 for the Garmin Venu Sq 2 in India and go over an eye-watering two lakh rupees for the mouth-watering Garmin MARQ series.
Of course, it’s a function of many things: the use of premium materials, industry leading sensors and tracking, multi-GNSS GPS support, and so on. Plus, the company’s experience in automotive and aviation markets helps it to leverage that research into their smartwatch products. Lin underlined the diverse portfolio of Garmin across price segments instead of other competitors that offer only a few variants.
Additionally, all Garmin smartwatches come with Garmin Coach that offers training plans from expert coaches (workout plans on another fitness-focused smartwatch like Fitbit require a premium subscription). And, depending on the model you pick, there’s the Surfline feature that offers information about tides, wave height, as well as wind and surf ratings for nearest surf spots, enhanced topographic maps for explorers, information around ski resorts worldwide, and CourseView maps for more than 43,000 golf courses around the world.
These unique features have given Garmin a reputation of being an essential companion for those who pursue such sports or adventures professionally or are serious enthusiasts.
In our interaction, I did ask Lin about Garmin’s missing service proposition. While Fitbit offers a premium subscription to offer deeper insights as well as health and wellness guidance, there are local players like GOQii offering subscription-based personalized coaching and several other health startups that offer guided and personalized fitness coaching including live online sessions – driven by the demand for such programs during the pandemic. Lin said one, Garmin focuses on building community – of enthusiasts, runners, and professional coaches – helping everyone in the ecosystem and second, all Garmin features are available to all users irrespective of the device.
Garmin has been witnessing double-digit growth in India and the company expects the momentum to continue and is bullish on the premium smartwatches category (smartwatches priced over $300, i.e. about ₹25,000).
Though the company has a pan-India presence already, it is now fine tuning its channel strategy. While Garmin devices are available across several ecommerce stores, including Flipkart and Amazon, it has also partnered with large-format retail stores like Croma and leading watch retailers like Helios Watch Store. Additionally, the company is looking at expanding its offline stores. There are four Garmin brand stores in India already – two in Bengaluru and one each in Gurugram and Pune – and Lin said the company will have six more by the end of this year. The brand stores serve as both sales cum experiential zones, while also doubling up as service collection points.
There have been media reports citing company executives that Garmin may also consider local manufacturing to take advantage of the government’s production-linked incentive scheme if it sees sustained demand and growth in the Indian market, but I think that might be a little far ahead.
According to Upasana Joshi, a research manager at IDC India, the smartwatch market will cross 50 million units in India in 2023, up from 30.7 million last year. Garmin doesn’t want to miss this party.
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.