Wearable technology company Fitbit has turned to Alibaba Group’s business-to-consumer site Tmall.com to help launch its two newest devices in China, the two companies announced on May 18, a move that coincides with the fast-growing trend in health and fitness in the world’s second-largest economy.
The San Francisco-based company was at Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou to mark the launch, promoting a “Super Brand Day” marketing campaign on Tmall to jumpstart sales for its Blaze smart fitness watch and the Alta fitness wristband, which were first released in the U.S. in March. Fitbit also held a “China Is Getting Fit” event which included a group exercise class and competition with 500 people at Alibaba’s Xixi campus.
“Alibaba is the perfect partner to help us expand our reach to millions more Chinese consumers and show how Fitbit can help them take small steps to be more active, exercise more and sleep better, which can lead to improvements in overall well-being,” Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park said in a statement. Park attended the Hangzhou launch.
According to U.S.-based research firm International Data Corp., 19.7 million wearable devices shipped globally in the first quarter of 2016, up 67 percent from the 11.8 million in the same period last year. Fitbit’s 4.8 million units commanded a 24.5 percent share of the market, making it the world’s top wearables company. China’s Xiaomi, known largely for its smartphones, ranked second with 19 percent, while Apple was the number three player with 7.5 percent.
The Blaze smart watch gives users a heart-rate monitor, GPS for real-time run tracking, automatic exercise recognition capability and sleep monitoring, as well as customizable clock faces. The Alta wristband, meanwhile, tracks all-day activity and sleep. Both the Blaze and Alta also feature calendar, text and call notifications and interchangeable bands and frames allowing consumers to personalize their devices.
Alibaba and Fitbit, which opened a flagship store on Tmall two years ago, have taken notice of a rising awareness of wellness issues among China’s middle class.
Park said that with heart disease and diabetes posing increasingly significant health risks in China, “health and fitness issues are becoming a serious problem.”
“So we feel that we are at the right moment in time for us to partner with Alibaba to bring incredible health and fitness devices to the Chinese consumer,” Park said in an interview.
Sales growth of sports apparel outpaced all other apparel categories on Tmall last year. Sales of yoga gear from international brands such as Lululemon doubled, while running shoes from companies such as Asics, New Balance and Saucony jumped 65 percent, according to Tmall.
A shift of some consumer dollars away from luxury goods to the health and fitness space has drawn particular attention from Alibaba. “With increasing importance being placed on personal wellness in China, Alibaba is committed to driving a greater health and fitness culture across our own company, as well as throughout China,” said Jing Yin, president of Tmall’s consumer electronics and home appliances channel.
Today’s China Is Getting Fit promotion featured 500 Alibaba employees attempting a two-minute plank hold, with Fitbit donating 50,000 renminbi ($7,650) to five schools in China’s rural countryside as a part of the event.
Fitbit’s Super Brand Day promotion will give the company premier placement on all of Alibaba’s e-commerce sites and drive traffic to the Fitbit’s Tmall storefront. Alibaba will also leverage the shopping data collected from its 420 million users to target Fitbit’s intended audience and drive engagement with those customers.
“Super Brand Day for Fitbit is an incredibly important marketing strategy for our company in China just because it’s incredibly rare for our brand to be featured so prominently,” Park said, “and to do it on a platform like Alibaba and Tmall is really incredible.”
Fitbit joins several top international companies including Starbucks, Estee Lauder and Harley-Davidson to use a Super Brand Day promotion to raise its profile in China.