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FT Confidential Research

Adidas edges out Nike in race for female Chinese shoppers

Latest FTCR survey finds Nike most popular overall but Adidas winning among women

| China

Adidas pipped Nike in the fourth quarter of 2016 as the most popular sportswear brand among urban Chinese women. Although Adidas's overall popularity has surged over the past year, Nike remained China's favourite sportswear brand.

These companies are now marketing directly to women in China as female participation in sports increases. Domestic brands remain overly focused on the mass market but we expect leaders like Li-Ning and Anta to increase their focus on female shoppers.

Value for money is the priority among female shoppers for sportswear but fashionable design is also a strong consideration. Chinese men value the durability of their sportswear above all.

Adidas has edged out Nike as the most popular brand among female shoppers in China, a market where women's participation in sports is surging, according to an FTCR survey.

The US and German rivals still dominated the Chinese sportswear market in the fourth quarter, continuing to build on market share at the expense of domestic companies. Our latest brand survey of 2,000 urban consumers found 44.1 per cent of Chinese sportswear buyers said they most regularly purchase Nike or Adidas sportswear, up from 39.6 per cent a year ago.

Domestic brand leader Li-Ning's popularity was largely unchanged - it was cited by 11.1 per cent of respondents - but the popularity of Anta and 361 Degrees slipped relative to our 2015 survey.

Overall, Adidas recorded a 3.1 percentage point rise in brand popularity since the fourth quarter of 2015 versus a 1.4 percentage point gain by Nike. In second-tier cities, the proportion of respondents choosing Adidas rose 8.1 points to 24.5 per cent, compared with 20.4 per cent who opted for Nike.

Adidas also edged ahead of Nike among female consumers (see chart). Our survey found 22.2 per cent of women who bought sportswear chose Adidas most regularly, up from 18.4 per cent, while 20.3 per cent of female respondents said they bought Nike most often, down from 21.0 per cent.


Adidas began marketing directly to women in China in 2013 as part of an "all in for my girls" campaign. The company now operates five women-only stores and plans to have 20 open by 2020. Sportswear for women accounted for 27 per cent of its Greater China sales in 2015, up from 22 per cent in 2012. Nike is also focused on the women's market and has begun dedicating retail space to female shoppers.

Domestic brands, which remain focused on selling at lower prices to the mass market, have been slower off the mark, although they are slowly moving in this direction. We expect an increased focus on the women's market by both international and domestic brands amid signs of increased participation in sporting activity among women.

War on couch potatoes

The Chinese government began ramping up investment in sports in 2014 as part of a top-down drive to increase levels of consumer spending and health, but also to grow the country's medals haul at international events.

At the household level, rising incomes and a greater awareness of the health benefits of exercise have fuelled participation rates. An FTCR survey last month of 1,000 urban residents found just 7.8 per cent said they did no sports, down from 10.1 per cent in a September 2015 survey.

Increased female participation accounted for most of the drop, with 10.4 per cent saying they do no sports, down 4.3 percentage points from September 2015. In that time, the proportion of men saying they did no sports fell just 0.2 percentage points to 5.2 per cent. Among women, 26 per cent said they do sports specifically to lose weight, nearly double the number for men.

However, female respondents were less active than men; just 65.2 per cent said they did sports at least once a month versus 72.8 per cent of men.

Running was cited as the most popular activity overall. This is reflected in the 328 running events registered with the Chinese Athletic Association in 2016, involving 2.8m professional and amateur runners, up from just 22 events in 2011. Badminton was the most popular sport among women, cited by 39 per cent of female respondents.

Although they participate in sports less frequently, women said they spent more on sportswear and equipment, laying out an average of Rmb1,141 ($165) on sportswear alone in the past 12 months, while men spent Rmb1,081 (see chart).

Female shoppers cited value for money as their most important consideration when buying sportswear (for 50.2 per cent of respondents) but attractive (29.8 per cent) and fashionable (21.1 per cent) design were also considered more important to women than to men. A celebrity endorsement was considered important by just 3.1 per cent of female respondents, although this was nearly double the proportion of men.

 This article was first published on Mar. 9 by FT Confidential Research.

FT Confidential Research is an independent research service from the Financial Times, providing in-depth analysis of and statistical insight into China and Southeast Asia. A team of researchers in these key markets combine findings from proprietary surveys with on-the-ground research to provide predictive analysis for investors.

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