Fitbit Offers Refunds for the Force; May Fuel Nike’s Fire

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Fitbit’s Force might help consumers stay fit, but it might also give them a rash. Fitbit has been selling its products since 2008, and the San Francisco-based company came out with its latest device, the Force, in late October. All of Fitbit’s activity trackers are wireless-enabled wearable devices that measure data such as the number of steps taken and other metrics, but the newest $129.95 gadget promised to not only track exercise throughout the day but also communicate that data with an app on users’ smartphones to relay statistics in real time.

The problem with the Force that the Los Angeles Times recently uncovered is that it is causing irritation to users’ skin and may even be provoking allergic reactions. A number of complaints have been filed against the Force — one user wrote on Fitbit’s forum in December: “I’ve had my Force for about a month now. About 4 days ago I started getting the burn/rash. I quit wearing it so my arm could heal but it is about the size of a baseball now and it burns. It’s also has started to swell. I’ve tried putting creams on it and it hasn’t helped.”

The Times reports that Fitbit is now offering to refund or replace the Force completely, maintaining that it is aware of the problem. Though the company has not said if plans to recall the device, the company recently said in a statement to Consumerist: ”Our customers are our top priority, so we already have been taking steps to make this right with any customers who feel that they have an allergy related to their Fitbit device including offering a refund or a choice of a replacement tracker. Fitbit will handle all shipping costs and will provide a refund in any difference in price.”

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This is a significant complication for Fitbit, especially as the company comes off the lucrative holiday shopping season. Fitbit’s loss is other rivals’ gains, as more and more companies work to market or launch their own respective wearable devices. One company that is especially poised to benefit is Nike (NYSE:NKE): It already released its Nike+ FuelBand and FuelBand SE, and has faced significant competition from the Fitbit Force.

Similar to the FitBit Force, the Nike+ FuelBand SE can track users’ sleep schedules, miles walked, and other personal metrics. That device was released on November 27, about one month after the Force’s launch. While the Force currently goes for $129.95, the FuelBand SE is marketed at $149.99 and its smartphone compatibility is only available for iOS 7 devices.

Needless to say, the FuelBand SE and the Fitbit Force have gone head to head. Now, Fitbit’s latest complications are giving Nike the opportunity to pull ahead — as long as its FuelBand gadgets aren’t fueling the same problems.

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