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Decathlon plans big expansion in China

French sporting goods retailer to set up innovative concept stores to attract consumers

By ZHONG NAN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-16 09:52

A Decathlon employee checks the condition of a bicycle at a store in Beijing on May 1. Decathlon plans to open 20 to 30 stores annually in China over the next two years. [Photo/China Daily]

To ride the boom in China's sports market, Decathlon, a French sports equipment and sportswear manufacturer and retailer, plans to open 20 to 30 stores annually in China over the next two years, said its senior executives.

As Chinese consumers, especially the younger generation, have shown a growing passion for buying sports products, the Lille, France-headquartered group also plans to introduce a number of smaller and innovative concept stores, each around 1,000 square meters in size, in various Chinese cities in the coming years.

To further spread awareness of its brand, Decathlon launched several stores with a new brand identity in China as well as around the world this year, offering customers a new and immersive experience.

Barbara Coppola, CEO of Decathlon, said the China market plays a pivotal role in the company's development, and the group is committed to investing in the country.

Coppola noted that China's sports industry, with its significant growth, presents unparalleled opportunities for business expansion.

Government data showed that China's five-year (2021-25) extensive mass fitness program is helping the general public have improved access to physical fitness opportunities. Fitness facilities are fully available in counties, towns and villages. For communities, facilities are accessible within a 15-minute walk. Demand for such facilities is expected to rise further. The sports industry is expected to reach a valuation of 5 trillion yuan ($690.84 billion) by 2025.

Currently, about 94 percent of Decathlon's products sold in China are made in the country. The retailer has plans to increase this to 100 percent soon.

"I am also impressed by the speed of digitization and its development in China, especially with innovative marketing methods such as TikTok (Douyin in China) and Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book). During my visit to China, I discovered how our Chinese colleagues interact with consumers and sell products online," she said.

With this year marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, Coppola said that Decathlon has been developing in China for decades and the country is distinguished as a major global market with extensive capabilities, encompassing industrial, logistical, product design and retail strengths.

"I think Decathlon can be a unique link to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. We can not only share innovations but also build more win-win business partnerships," she said.

Trade between China and France was worth 555.11 billion yuan in 2023, up 3.1 percent year-on-year. China's imports from France were worth 262.42 billion yuan, surging 10.9 percent year-on-year, statistics from the General Administration of Customs showed.

Supported by more than 101,000 employees globally, Decathlon has built a market presence in 78 countries and regions. It currently runs four factories, 11 intelligent manufacturing and sourcing centers, three logistics parks and over 200 physical stores in more than 100 cities across China.

Committed to long-term development in China, the company sees new growth opportunities as the country has a fairly strong sporting atmosphere where football and cycling are well promoted, said Steve Dykes, Decathlon's chief retail officer.

"Decathlon, as a multi-specialist sports brand, has always encouraged people to become more involved in sports, which is in line with the philosophy of sports promoted in China," said Dykes, adding the company thinks that products like bicycles and outdoor sports equipment have great growth potential in the Chinese market.

Similar views were expressed by Jiang Yiyi, deputy dean of the sport, leisure and tourism school of Beijing Sport University. "The Paris Olympics (from July 26 to Aug 11) will boost interest in niche sports across China and spur the dynamic growth of trend-driven sportswear for categories that have not yet captured significant market share."

Jiang said the Paris Olympics is set to rekindle consumer enthusiasm for sports, being the first Olympics after the COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted, and noted that this resurgence is expected to invigorate the sporting goods market.

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