20 January 2019
Li Ning aims to breathe new life into the brand by producing a new line of "smart" running shoes in association with smartphone maker Xiaomi. Photo: Li Ning
Li Ning aims to breathe new life into the brand by producing a new line of "smart" running shoes in association with smartphone maker Xiaomi. Photo: Li Ning

Can Li Ning turn the corner with ‘smart’ tie-up with Xiaomi?

Chinese sports apparel brand Li Ning has joined hands with smartphone maker Xiaomi to produce a line of “smart” running shoes.

It marks the latest effort by Li Ning to recapture its glory days. Given the hype surrounding Xiaomi and the popularity of the home-grown tech brand, Li Ning hopes to create new buzz and breathe fresh life into its athletic products business.

Will the company succeed in its strategy?

Li Ning, which is backed by private-equity firm TPG Capital and Singapore wealth fund GIC, warned in January that it expects to report a loss for the third straight year. The group will announce its 2014 results on Wednesday.

Now, the company obviously wants to ride on the fame of Xiaomi and make a comeback.

Li Ning said its partnership with Huami Technology, a subsidiary of Xiaomi which manufactures fitness wearables including Mi band, represents the first collaboration between sports and smart technology in China.

According to Li Ning, smart chips will be installed in the soles of the running shoes. The shoes will be connected to a Xiaomi mobile app, allowing runners to keep track of their progress and results, analyze their form, and monitor their achievements.

However, Li Ning is not the first in the field to roll out smart shoes that track users’ exercise performance. Two sports apparel behemoths—Nike and Adidas — have done such things back in 2012.

Their smart shoes target professional athletes, such as basketball and football players, helping them to improve their performance by recording useful data.

For professional athletes, the data they need is different as it is based on the sports they play. That’s why Nike only manufactures tailor-made smart sports shoes; they are niche products as nearly every athlete has different needs.

It is understandable that prices of these smart shoes would be high.

Most people buy shoes based on the looks and functions.

If Li Ning’s smart shoes can’t offer features other than the usual ones like tracking the distance and heart rate — which are already provided by smartphones or wearable hand bands, it would be a hard sell.

To differentiate from other sport shoes, the company can, for example, target the children’s market by installing GPS navigation function.

As kids tend to wander, a GPS function inside the shoes will enable parents to keep track of their children.

Such location tracking shoes would be more reliable than alternatives like smartphone apps, given that children will have their shoes on most of the time.

Many smart devices such as Xiaomi’s Mi band and Nike’s FuelBand market themselves by encouraging people to exercise.

Sports app Runkepper is doing that too. The app grants HK$120 e-shopping voucher to users who break their personal records, in endeavors such as running more than 5 kilometers.

Li Ning should offer similar motivations to their customers. It can pair up with other merchants to offer discounts or cash coupons to users if they have done a certain amount of exercise.

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EJ Insight writer

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