China is a key strategic opportunity for outdoor brands looking to secure future growth.

Chinese consumers are increasingly engaging with outdoor activities, making it a very exciting and developing market. Whilst the outdoor sector may be buoyant in the UK, there are a range of completely different factors driving the high growth rates in China:

Wellness
Chinese city-dwellers are increasingly aware of the impact that smog, long working hours and stress can have, and this has sparked a love affair with hiking. A survey of urbanites by The Chinese Outdoor Retailers Association found 19% of respondents went hiking, putting it third on a list of leisure activities behind TV and shopping, and ahead of cinema visits, and playing with children!

Social focus
Chinese society is less individualistic than the West and leisure activities, such as hiking, are often undertaken in groups. Fuelling a desire to keep up with trends, Chinese consumers often invest in extensive kit to undertake even light activities like walking.

Experiences
Younger consumers in China are beginning to place more importance on experiences. Status is increasingly conferred by what you do, not just what you own. Popular past-times allow participants to capture moments with friends, doing ‘different’ things in unusual locations, to be shared on WeChat, or specialist platforms like Mafengwo and Qyer.

The increased participation in outdoor activities is driving demand for outdoor apparel and equipment, with even casual participants investing in branded kit.  This presents an opportunity for western brands and four key areas underpin success in the Chinese market:

Product
Chinese consumers associate foreign brands with higher quality, providing instant advantage. However, to benefit, brands must ensure product fit and design are localised. Difficulty in moving stock into and out of China means failure in this area can lead to heavy discounting and brand equity erosion.

Price
Many international brands formerly relied on hefty price premiums to differentiate themselves from local brands, but the quality of local brands has been improving and increasing consumer savviness mean this is no longer an option. Establishing an appropriate price point is key.

Place
Whilst offline channels are important for showcasing brands to unfamiliar consumers, online is where Chinese consumers often discover brands. Getting online right in China is critical.

Promotion
Brands must diversify marketing activities to account for regional differences in preferences, lifestyles and consumer sophistication – a single Chinese strategy won’t suffice. Understanding how to leverage local social media and key opinion leaders is key to driving awareness and volume.

There are many important differences between the Western and Chinese outdoor markets, but we believe this territory is an attractive opportunity for brands looking to unlock future growth.

Alex Cook