Traditional luxury had a big year in China in 2020, powered by a strong domestic consumption trend that saw previously globe-trotting Chinese tourist-shoppers make more of their high-end purchases closer to home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As Bain & Company noted last month, the luxury goods market in mainland China is expected to have grown by 48% last year, reaching a whopping RMB 346 billion ($53.4 billion) owing largely to this inward turn in high-end shopping. The firm also expects this trend to continue into 2021, keeping China on track to become the world’s largest luxury market by 2025.
This shift has upended the strategy employed by many luxury brands over the past decade, which is to say viewing their mainland China stores as glorified showrooms, and optimizing stores in tourist hotspots such as Tokyo, New York, and Paris to sell to Chinese travelers. Those days are seemingly over, and now it is critical for global brands to see their Chinese outlets not simply as marketing vehicles but rather as crucial sales points.
Last year, we saw this manifested by Burberry’s partnership with Tencent on a “social retail” store, in the launch of a massive Arc’teryx Shanghai flagship, and through Nike’s Guangzhou store that integrated online and offline. But there are signs that the domestic, inward-facing shift in luxury consumption in China is filtering far beyond fashion and powering a huge wellness and fitness trend that could dwarf the West’s in terms of market size.
Recently, CCI profiled the Youku show “Sleep Tight,” which highlighted the epidemic of sleep deprivation faced by China’s urban residents and provided Youku parent Alibaba with numerous opportunities to sell sleep-related products. In addition to products, services, and programs devoted to sleep, another area in which we have seen a flood of investment in China is fitness. When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in China at the beginning of 2020, at-home fitness became a hot topic among the savviest adopters of content-commerce marketing in China, with Lululemon, Nike, and others offering streamed workouts for those stuck at home under strict lockdown orders.
And while much of China has managed to return to a post-coronavirus sense of normalcy, at-home fitness appears to be here to stay and is evolving quickly. Already, China has its own “Peloton killer” in the form of the Xiaomi Yesoul V1-Plus Beast smart exercise bike, and startup myShape has developed a smart mirror nearly identical to the Lululemon Mirror. Now, Chinese companies that are developing both software and hardware are attracting millions in investment and helping clear leaders emerge in the lucrative fitness and wellness industries.
This week, Chinese fitness brand Keep closed a $360 million Series F financing round led by Softbank’s Vision Fund, which included additional funding from existing investors such as Tencent. This values the six-year-old firm at roughly $2 billion, and will help it continue to diversify its already wide range of offerings, which currently include everything from an app with fitness tracking and livestreamed workouts to smart bikes, snacks, and apparel.
Unlike the luxury industry, which frequently ends up in the crosshairs of China’s central government, the wellness and fitness markets in China are being actively promoted by Beijing as part of an ongoing “national fitness” campaign. Given this backdrop, we can only expect to see this boom in investment and marketing budgets to continue well beyond 2021.