Tips to Sell Sports Equipment in China

Do you have any sports equipment that you would like to sell in China? The sports equipment industry is growing rapidly, accounting for 33.94 million dollars in 2022. China is the global leader in sporting goods and the segment will grow even faster, as more and more people start exercising in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

Whether you are a startup or an established company, there are a few things to keep in mind when selling your products in this market. In this blog post, we will discuss some tips to help make your brand in the Chinese market successful but first let’s have a look at the market, its opportunities, and challenges.

China’s Sports Equipment Industry Overview

With the improvement of people’s living standards, health awareness, and the development of sports activities in China, the enthusiasm of Chinese residents to participate in sports activities continues to increase. The Chinese government is also on board with this shift in behavior, promoting a healthy diet and sports activities, as the country is facing serious obesity problems.

  • The average growth rate of sports equipment goods increased by 45.2% year on year
  • In 2022, the turnover for fitness equipment was USD 33.94 million
  • In 2022, 67.5% of people aged above 7 participated in any sports activity at least once a week
  • In global comparison, most of the revenue in sports equipment is generated in China
  • When it comes to sports equipment distributors and distribution channels, the proportion between offline and online choices is 51.5:48.5.
Sports equipment market in China

China sports equipment: buyers’ demographic

In terms of sports participation, in 2018, the rate of Chinese over 19 in China was 18.7%, while that of the United States reached 35.9% (the proportion of people of all ages participating in at least 3 sports activities per week). In 2020, this figure was at 37.2% already. China is planning to increase this number to 38.5% of the population by 2025 (source Bloomberg).

Looking at the Baidu index gives us a good idea of the domestic demand and consumers’ interests. For instance, when focusing on research related to strength workouts, the majority of consumers are males (with almost 60% of market shares) aged between 20 and 39 years old. On all fitness-related keywords, the ratio of the male to the female is relatively similar.

When looking at the age distribution, Millenials and Gen Z make for the most important segment and we note that as people age, women stay more active than their male counterparts. In general, the majority of people interested in sporting goods as well as sportswear in China’s market are those under 40 who have more than 5000 RMB of disposable income per month. They live in first and second-tier cities and are interested in gym equipment, sports protection equipment, and other kinds of sporting goods.

Opportunities in the fitness equipment market

  • Muscle building and strength training: There is a great potential for resistance training equipment developing in China market.
  • Chinese consumers are gaining interest in sportswear and athleisure. Domestic brands like Anta or Li Ning, as well as foreign giants like Nike or New Balance are gaining profit, as young people start to dress more casually and comfortably.
  • “Home gym” with the pandemic, China witnessed incredible growth in the personal fitness equipment segment. For instance, stationary bikes and treadmills recorded respectively 230% and 119% sales growth.

Thus, the Chinese sports equipment markets have a lot of room for improvement in sports participation and consumption of sports equipment. Unrealized consumer demand provides a large space for the future development of sporting goods and sports equipment brands in China.

Domestic sporting goods giant Li Ning on Douyin

Sports equipment brands in China come from everywhere in the world

In the ten years following 2009, major international brands have grown rapidly in China. In 2018, brands such as Nike, Adidas, Skechers, New Balance, and Puma represented 49.6% of the Chinese market. But in 2022, for the first time since the introduction of foreign brands, domestic Anta Group jumped to second place, placing itself above Adidas.

While Chinese brands have been growing steadily over the last few years and the sportswear market is more and more saturated, there are still opportunities for foreign entities in this market, notably when it comes to niche and specialized fitness equipment.

What Are The Main Trends in Sports in China?

When it comes to sports in China, there are many factors that push people towards sports that brands need to be aware of, in order to prepare a proper marketing strategy for sports equipment. The main trends that can be seen in the market are;

  • Growing interest in winter sports thanks to the Winter Olympics that took place in Beijing
  • Concerns about health (and even more: desire to lose weight)
  • Growing popularity of digital and home gyms
  • Westernization which leads to the introduction of new activities

Chinese people are growing interest in winter sports

Apart from COVID-19 concerns shaking the country, China also proudly hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the event aroused great attention among Chinese sports enthusiasts. With many athletes winning medals and becoming well-known celebrities, the winter sports equipment gained a lot of new potential customers.

The market share of Anta Sports, one of the leaders of local brands that was also an official sportswear partner of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics Games and Paralympics Winter Games, went up more than 5% in one day during the games.

People of all ages are more aware of the health benefits of living an active life

As China is becoming an aging society and more and more people start having obesity problems (research shows that one in three kids is obese in China), the Chinese government has started promoting healthy diets (pushing to halve meat consumption by 2030) and sports activities. The authorities introduced the Healthy China 2030” initiative, aiming to engage 700 million people in sports. The authorities are investing more than 5 trillion RMB in the sports industry by 2025.

And, what is more, Chinese people, especially Millenials and Gen Z from first and second-tier cities are gaining interest in healthy lifestyles, just like their counterparts in the West. As you can see above, the main purpose of exercising for almost half of the respondents is to lose weight, which is a fertile ground for sports equipment brands.

Covid-19 helped boost the popularity of fitness apps and home gyms

Because of the global pandemic in recent years, people all around the world were forced to train at home, as there were no gyms and fitness centers opened due to restrictions.

What is more, although Chinese people always preferred slim and slender bodies, nowadays, with the introduction of Western TV shows, celebrities, and globalization, the beauty standards are changing, as young Chinese people desire to have strong and athletic bodies.

Thanks to these two factors, fitness apps, and digital gyms are booming, with more and more people joining the fitness fever at home. As people build their own mini-gyms at home, they are in need of specialist sports equipment, such as weights, yoga mats, running tracks, exercise bikes, and other sports products, that they usually buy on e-commerce platforms rather than in shopping malls.

Yoga mini-program on WeChat

How Foreign Brands Can Sell Their Sports Equipment in China?

Now that we have seen the opportunities that the market represents, let’s dive into the best ways and practices to reach out to your customer base and start selling your sports equipment and sporting goods in the Chinese market.

During the 2020-2021 period, e-commerce has become the main way of buying sports equipment in China with 63% of sales happening online. As people were training at home and couldn’t buy from offline sports equipment distributors, they were going online shopping for sports products and other necessities.

But before you enter China’s e-commerce competitive landscape, there are several steps foreign businesses should take to be able to cater to the needs of Chinese consumers and sell their sports equipment in China.

Branding is the key to selling sports equipment in Chin

Chinese consumers are picky and opinionated when it comes to their favorite brands. To stand out in a crowded industry, sports equipment brands need more than just good products; they need to focus on brand image and values shown to the Chinese audience.

Not trusting brands is especially true of Chinese consumers. This is explained by many scandals happening all over China in many sectors, leading many Chinese consumers to pick foreign brands and manufacturers over their Chinese counterparts.

However, the poor reputation of Chinese brands has been changing quickly in the sports gear and sportswear market and you’ll have to not only set yourself apart from already well-known international brands but also from a strong and dynamic local competition.

Start with a Chinese Website for your sports equipment brand

When the Chinese want to buy a product, the first thing they will do is search for information on the Internet. Is this product of good quality? Is the brand good? Where are the products manufactured? Are there some positive or negative reviews about the product?

Dicathlon Chinese website

If Chinese consumers can find your website in their mother tongue with good storytelling of your brand, and detailed illustrations about the specs of your product, it will give consumers a sense of reliability.

Keep in mind that your website is one stop in the consumers’ journey, and most types won’t be the conversion stop so do not get frustrated that your website does not convert, it is not your website goal!

Baidu SEO boosts your brand awareness

With more than 70% of the total Chinese search engine market share, Baidu is the largest search engine in China. If you want to get a name in China and make Chinese consumers check your website, you need good Baidu search engine optimization, so that it will be easy for Internet users to find your products.

Baidu statistics

So far, search engines are still the main source of website traffic, and SEO is still ONE OF the most effective means of online marketing. If you want to have a place in the Chinese sports equipment market, your brand awareness is vital for your goal, because the Chinese consumer doesn’t buy products they don’t know.

Baidu SEO results when we tape in “Sports equipment”

On one hand, those popular social media and search engines that you are familiar with like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are blocked by the Chinese Great Firewall. On the other hand, although the theory of Baidu SEO and Google SEO is the same, in practice, they are quite different. Baidu SEO is more complicated and the algorithm is also different from that of Google. (Learn more about Baidu SEO)

Chinese social media: an efficient marketing strategy

Chinese people are highly connected to the Internet. China has a high rate of mobile phone penetration. Social media plays an important role and has a great impact on Chinese social lives. It is also one of the main sources of information or news for Chinese people. WeChat, Weibo and Xiaohongshu are three of the leading social networks in China. They are different and complementary, so it’s best if you manage to be on all of them.

WeChat: the leading social media in China

WeChat, with more than 1.26 billion active users, is the largest one in China. Initially a messaging app, it has developed many more powerful functions over the years: mobile payment, hotel & restaurant reservation, e-commerce platform, etc.

These functions are what’s driving users’ growth but also are godsent for marketers and brands that know how to make the most out of it.

  • What WeChat is not for brands and companies: a fast following building mass sharing app for high conversion
  • What WeChat actually is: A powerful nurturing channel that offers brands many tools to polish their branding a build loyalty with their customer base.

Marketing on WeChat through its many communications means for brands will definitely help with brand awareness as well as a more engaged “relationship” with your target audience.

WeChat can also be used by sports equipment brands to sell products via WeChat stores, provide customer services, send all announcements and updates from the brand, and so on.

Check one of our sportswear manufacturers’ case study:

Weibo: a powerful tool for mass marketing & KOLs marketing

Weibo has more than 550 million monthly active users, ranking second in China. It is an open social network, which means every user can see all content on the platform.

As a result, it is an ideal channel for mass marketing. It is also the largest place for KOL marketing in China, to the point that almost all KOL, KOC, or celebrities that you can name have an account on this giant platform.

Weibo offers many forms of paid advertising and marketing tools that make it easier for brands to connect and interact with their target audience.

Xiaohongshu: a user-generated content social network

Xiaohongshu was originally a UGC (user-generated content), where users can share their shopping experiences, tips, and product recommendations… but now it has developed into a UGC combined with e-commerce, thanks to its big user database.

KOL & celebrity marketing about sports equipment on Xiaohongshu

KOL marketing works well for sports equipment

Social media combined with influencer marketing is very popular in China now; especially those with live streams. Even during the epidemic, the sales generated by this model of selling are not declining but sky-rocking.

But how to choose a correct KOL needs to be taken well into consideration. Not whatever KOL can bring in traffic and profits for a brand. There are some tips to follow:

  • Choose suitable KOLs in harmony with brand concept and image
  • Pay attention to fake traffic data of KOL
  • If the budget is limited, a small KOL well-chosen can work as well
  • The platform on which the KOL marketing will be launched matters

KOL marketing is very complicated and there are many tricks and hidden rules, it is strongly recommended to have recourses with a professional agency to implement the strategy for foreign companies.

Read our China Kols Marketing Guide to understand how to collaborate efficiently with Chinese Influenceurs. Check out our Social Media and China Kols Solutions. We offer all services for social media platforms, including hiring Key Opinion Leaders on Xiaohongshu:

Zhihu: Q&A campaigns promote your brand credibility

Just like what has been discussed earlier in this article, Chinese consumers tend to rely on recommendations and former users’ experiences in order to make their purchasing decisions.

Sports equipment topic group on Zhihu

Where do Chinese people discuss those sports equipment-related topics? Zhihu of course. Zhihu is the Chinese equivalent to Quora in essence. It is an important platform where the Chinese find their answers like:

  • Can someone give some recommendations about jogging shoes?
  • What do you think about ASICS shoes?

As the above screenshot shows, there is a topic group dedicated to sports equipment and there are 766,805 topic followers and 29,922 Q&As.

Zhihu is also a popular place for advertorials and PR. Therefore, if you are planning to work on your brand credibility in order to gain more audience, your marketing strategy should include Zhihu.

Chinese Cross-border e-commerce can avert legal procedures for foreign brands

With Tmall Global, JD Global and Suning as resources for testing the market in advance before going through the various loops of administration to register a company in the country; it is easier than ever to enter China’s e-commerce space with confidence.

Tmall Global

Tmall Global is the biggest cross-border platform in China and its business model is a third-party B2C. Tmall Global direct supplies overseas authentic goods for domestic consumers by cooperating with the free trade zone, which avoids basic legal risks and obtains legal protection, greatly shortening the time between place orders and the arrival of goods.

By selling their products on those channels, foreign brands can avert bureaucracies and reduce legal risks as well as remove distribution obstacles.

Reach out to more Chinese sports enthusiasts by joining the local marketplaces

If the feedback of testing on the cross-border e-commerce is positive, and then the company has made up of its mind to sell its sports products in China, the e-commerce platforms such as Tmall, JD, are a good choice.

Being present on those e-commerce platforms can also help brands to reach more audiences.  Via the e-commerce channel, companies don’t have to invest time and money to build local facilities, get a local business license, or tackle with locations. They can host the inventory and run the business from anywhere in the world, with low overhead.

Hire a China Digital Marketing Agency to Help You Enter the Sports Equipment Market

If you are serious and you are ambitious to gain a place in the Chinese market, but the complicated market, those hidden rules, and tricks make you a headache, we can help you.

As a professional Chinese marketing agency in Shanghai, our group, composed of marketing specialists from many countries in Asia and in Europe, is passionate and excellent in Chinese marketing strategies.

We introduced many brands from different sectors on the Chinese market with great success. We offer many different services, such as;

GMA - most visible digital agency

And many more! We helped over 600 brands and the numbers are still growing, so don’t hesitate to contact us today to discuss your project in China! We are your first, cost-effective China contact, ready to introduce your to the most thriving market in the world!

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