Decathlon in China

Decathlon is a French manufacturer and retailer of sporting goods, established in 1976. It provides to customers a wide range of products (clothing, shoes but also equipments) for more than sixteen different kinds of sports, from beginners to professionals.

Through the years, Decathlon expanded its business abroad and in 2009, Decathlon had become the second top ranking sports retailer in Europe in terms of global sales. In addition to Europe, Decathlon had started to develop its own business in China, with a first retail store in 2003. Since its introduction in the Chinese market as a sport retailer, Decathlon had seen a rapid and successful growth. Indeed, in 2010, Decathlon owed more than thirty-three Chinese retail stores and about 5% of its global annual sales revenue came from China. However, in 2011, Decathlon China started to realize that its competitors were more and more aggressively using online branding to create awareness and were developing their own online shops. As a result, Decathlon China understood that it had to react quickly not be left behind because of its almost non-presence online.

Indeed, Decathlon China, in contrast to the competition, was used to promote its business using traditional media, through promotions in local newspapers and TV. Moreover, Decathlon China was highly involved in public relations such as sport events with kids to create brand awareness, loyalty and generate a positive word of mouth. Decathlon China recognized that setting up its own online branding strategy was a priority and an opportunity to create more brand awareness, which means, a potential increase in sales in the short term, and maybe its market share in the long term.

What could be the online branding strategy of Decathlon in China?

As explained in the introduction, Decathlon China must set up its own online branding strategy not to be overtaken by its well established competitors. The objectives of this online branding strategy would be to develop awareness but also a way for consumers to buy Decathlon’s products online, which will allow Decathlon China to reach more consumers, which means, more potential profits.

Let’s now consider the target audience of Decathlon China. Thanks to our researches, we noticed that Chinese consumers of sporting goods were mainly young people, aged between 20 and 40 years old, and were very active online. After taking into account this key information and again, always thanks to our researches, we can estimate that about 50% of the 420 million Internet users in China, it is to say, 210 million Chinese people might correspond to the Decathlon’s target for its online branding strategy.

This figure show us how much it is important to Decathlon’s China to take these potential customers into account, as it could change the competition’s landscape in a very positive way. Before this, Decathlon China has to collect information about their habits on Internet but also their needs in order to better attract them. Concerning their habits, we already found that the young Chinese people usually hang out on social media, and mainly two, which are Renren and Sina Weibo. We also found out the typical opinion of a Decathlon’s customer in China: “It is a really good bargain, and it is like a treasure house. You can do returns or exchanges within one month”.

According to the previous information, the Decathlon’s positioning in China would be: “To young active online Chinese people looking for sporting goods, our wide range of sporting goods is affordable and accessible to everyone, from beginners to professionals.”

Now that we have established the target audience and the positioning of Decathlon China, let’s have a deeper look at its challenges on Internet and the online branding strategy it could develop in China. First, we notice that Decathlon has some internet presence as it developed its official Chinese website in order to present the company and its products in China. However, it seems that almost nothing is done to update it; Decathlon China should first hire someone who will be charged to update the website frequently to be more dynamic. Secondly, another challenge is to increase brand awareness and connect Decathlon China with its customers. To begin, we can see that no efforts are done to bring consumers to the Decathlon’s official website.

As a result, Decathlon China should use specific online forums about sports, where people usually tell their purchasing experiences, ask questions, etc. and where Decathlon China could use banners to be visible and attractive. Decathlon China could also hire an employee who will be charged to share its “purchasing experiences at Decathlon China”, so as to convince people to have a closer look at Decathlon China when they are looking for sporting goods. In the same time, we can see that the competition is highly using social media to connect with their customers. Accordingly, Decathlon China should create a company fan page on Chinese local social media, and more specifically, Renren and Sina Weibo, as its target audience usually hang out on these social media.

The Decathlon fan page should inform potential consumers, bring them to the official website, but also allow consumers to interact, ask questions directly to Decathlon. As a consequence, Decathlon China should also hire few employees to update its fan page frequently and answer very quickly to the questions of potential consumers to show their reactivity. Thirdly, we notice that Decathlon China wants to develop its online shops to reach more consumers. Decathlon China has here two options; the first one would be to develop its own online shop, creating a dedicated part of its official website to shopping.

The second one would be to find an online Chinese global sport retailer to sell its products, so as to be more accessible to potential consumers. Both options probably should be used at the same time to reach more consumers. However, in this case, Decathlon China would have to make sure that the prices on both online shops are the same, not to confuse consumers and to be coherent.

To finish, we can add that Decathlon China should control each month if its online branding strategy is working or not in order to improve it. For instance, Decathlon China should see if the number of its fans, the percentage of comers is increasing or not in Renren and Sina Weibo. Besides, it should take into account the evolution of its online sales, both through its own official website and through the chosen global sport retailer. Moreover, Decathlon China should continue to build its reputation, creating sports events and maybe creating games on its official website and fan pages to win coupons to attract people and generate a positive word of mouth.

-------------------------------------------- [ 1 ]. Multinational companies such as Adidas and Nike, but also local companies such as Li-Ning, with 7,000 retail stores and Anta, with 7,547 retail stores in China. [ 2 ]. Similar to Facebook; targeting college students and workers (18-35 years old); N°16 in China. [ 3 ]. Similar to Twitter; targeting students and professionals (18-40 years old); N°3 in China with 40.13% of the market share in 2011.

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