A woman promotes swimwear via livestreaming in Xingcheng, Northeast China's Liaoning province, Dec 18, 2018. (PHOTO / IC)Xingcheng, a remote coastal city with a population of 500,000 in the Bohai Bay Area, has become China's largest swimsuit production and e-commerce sales platform in the past three years. Last year, it delivered more than 200 million bathing suits to global customers, generating a revenue of 15 billion yuan (US$2.24 billion), according to Li Haifeng, president of Xingcheng Swimwear Industry Association.
"It took us three decades to reach the sales target of 5 billion yuan. But via e-commerce, we tripled that figure in three years," Li explained. "Nearly 10 billion yuan of last year's output is from online platforms. In fact, we contributed 80 percent of China's online swimsuit sales and 25 percent of the global swimwear market."
It took us three decades to reach the sales target of 5 billion yuan. But via e-commerce, we tripled that figure in three years
Li Haifeng, President of Xingcheng Swimwear Industry Association
Xingcheng is located 400 kilometers northeast of Beijing. The past decade saw the city transform from a fishing village into the nation's top swimsuit production base.
Statistics from the local government show Xingcheng houses 723 swimwear producers that own 458 brands and provide over 160,000 jobs. The industry registered 43,700 internet enterprises in the past 10 years, whose services include online design, marketing and statistic analysis.
Unlike the struggling manufacturing industry, the swimwear market has experienced stable growth in recent years due to the lipstick effect, a theory that claims people will continue to spend on luxury goods, albeit less-expensive items, even in difficult economic times. According to Technavio, an international market research company, the global swimsuit market is expected to reach $20 billion by 2019, with a compound annual growth rate of more than 5 percent.
With the improvement of Chinese people's living standards, swimming, fitness and coastal tourism provide an impetus for the growth of the swimwear industry.
"Xingcheng seizes the opportunity and realizes the potential of internet marketing," said Yuan Guoxiang, mayor of the city. "Our first and most important strategy is embracing e-commerce. This helps us climb from low-end fabric wholesale to global retail."
Local companies faced severe challenges in 2005 when exports plummeted and their little-known swimwear products suffered from poor market share.
But the city rebounded by partnering with Taobao. It then opened China's first swimsuit cross-border e-commerce platform in 2014, with the help of China Customs.
In order to face fierce online market competition, local enterprises adopted webcast marketing and large data analysis to optimize production and sales.
"Consumers used to make purchase decisions via pictures and texts. But the late 1990s were a different era. Only insightful companies that understand change can succeed," said Chen Zhongqi, founder of Xingcheng Qianzi swimsuit company. As the flagship company of Xingcheng, Qianzi opened 10 online stores on Taobao, eBay and Amazon to cater to individualized demands.
Chen is backed by Chen Xiaoxia, a 38-year-old housewife in Shenyang. "It's uncomfortable to try on a bikini in a store," she said. "Watching online and chatting with others who have bought the suits is more pleasant and helpful when buying."
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In addition to online marketing, customer data analysis also plays an important role in helping enterprises improve their understanding of consumer preferences.
"It also helps us understand the different tastes of domestic and foreign consumers," said Zhao Yingna, design director of Yinghua swimwear company. "For example, Chinese consumers prefer pink, while European consumers like deep blue. This is important in this small but fast-paced swimsuit market."
Yang Jichao, vice-president of China National Textile and Apparel Council, said: "Swimwear is just a small part of the clothing industry, but Xingcheng digs gold from such a niche market. The internet and digital technology are helping the Chinese industry gain advantages."
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