10 Aug 2016
Fit for Purpose
High-tech sporting goods have been a hit in recent years, with such products as smart fitness bands and sports glasses stimulating strong consumer demand across the Chinese mainland. According to industry specialists, the overall consumer sporting goods sector will become increasingly dominated by high-tech devices, particularly those incorporating smart functions and data-tracking features. Buoyed by such huge potential demand, the high-tech sporting goods market is now seen as offering considerable investment opportunities.
According to figures from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, sales of sporting goods on its Tmall and Taobao online shopping platforms totaled more than Rmb100 billion in 2015. Some 400 million purchases were made, while the average age of shoppers continued to drop. Not surprisingly, young people are generally more receptive to innovative ideas and products, particularly when it comes to high-tech gadgets.
While there is no authoritative and definitive information yet available with regard to China's high-tech sporting goods market, figures released by smart band manufacturer Xiaomi show that sales of its first-generation fitness band reached Rmb6 million, just a fraction of the sale of such products across all producers and distributors.
Searches on several e-commerce websites, including Tmall, demonstrate the vast range of styles and types of high-tech sporting goods available. One popular example is a particular brand of smart trainers, selling for about Rmb349.
Thanks to their built-in chip, the shoes can be linked to an app installed on Xiaomi sport watches, which enable wearers to track the running route, distance covered and calories consumed, as well as user’s speed and pace.
A wide variety of other products with built-in sensors are also available, including smart bands, smart watches, smart basketballs and smart badminton rackets. Virtually all products that facilitate the tracking of fitness data have been popular with consumers.
Many of these products, however, still fail to meet the full range of consumer expectations. Typical of such criticism, one online reviewer lamented that many of these products were virtually interchangeable, with their novelty soon wearing off. There have also been complaints about the accuracy of such systems, with one particular brand of fitness band being regularly singled out as unreliable.
Despite of such concerns, many sporting goods manufacturers are still prioritising the development of technological innovations. In line with this, at a recent sporting goods and equipment exhibition in Beijing, a new generation of sensor-equipped products made their debut.
Among them is the WICA personal trainer, which consists of a high-speed, high-definition video camera, complete with a wireless smartphone app that tracks the user's exercise movements. It also offers coaching advice on how to perform exercises safely and more scientifically.
The WICA personal trainer was launched last December, with its ease of use described as a key factor for its popularity, especially among overseas golfers.
High-tech solutions are often used to help users adopt a more scientific approach to training. According to one company, its "hypoxic exercise" concept can even enhance an individual's aerobic capacity as well as their exercise proficiency.
Its proprietary hypoxic training system reportedly simulates low oxygen environments, such as the partial pressure at different altitudes, allowing players to adapt and adjust accordingly.
Such high-tech facilities, however, are rarely available in most mainland gyms. According to industry statistics, the number of such gyms has roughly doubled every year since 2014. Inevitably, this has also seen a huge surge in the number of people employed in the sector. The continuous and sustained growth has led to the belief that a huge potential market is open for technical innovations in the sector, including the wider introduction of hypoxic exercise equipment.
Apart from new technology, several new materials are also used in the sporting goods sector. One state-owned technology enterprise in Beijing has developed a new range of carbon fibre outdoor sportswear.
Style and Connectivity
According to WICA, domestically produced goods have a particularly bright future in the market, where electronic sporting goods have traditionally come from overseas.
The development of high-tech sporting goods on the mainland began only relatively recently, with no market leaders yet to emerge. As a result, mainland brands primarily attempt to woo consumers through low prices.
Typically, a domestically produced carbon fibre sportswear item sells for less than Rmb1,000, while the WICA personal trainer is available for under Rmb2,000. Online shopping site searches also showed that a pair of smart running shoes can be purchased for as little as Rmb200 to Rmb300, while a smart band can sell for Rmb100 or less.
While prices remain low, consumer expectations of product quality continue to rise. One outdoor sports club manager believes, however, that as living standards rise, price is less of a prime consideration for consumers, who care most about design and whether a particular kind of exercise is right for them or not.
Another growing consumer requirement is social media connectivity. Many young mainlanders are keen to share their fitness data on WeChat Moments, looking to attract "likes" and comments from peers.
As well as the highly-popular WeChat WeRun, which is a sharing app for distance runners, various social media outlets are compatible with sensor-enabled sporting products. The smart running shoes, for instance, can directly share running data via WeChat Moments.
With the growing popularity of digitally enhanced sporting goods, social media connectivity should be considered a prime design requirement in any digital sporting item looking to gain market share.
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