China’s Health and Fitness Industry is turning to Online Platforms

Broad shoulders, abdominal muscles and firm arms … A fitness craze has hit China in recent years. China’s increasingly urban and young population are driving the growth of a new health and fitness industry in China.

The health and fitness industry boom started in 2015 with the introduction of the O2O (online to offline) system. Lefit, based in Hangzhou, is currently the largest O2O fitness platform with gyms in all major Chinese cities. Membership costs RMB 99 (£11) / month giving members access to any gym 24 hours, 7 days a week.

The person leading the change in China’s health and fitness industry is HAN Wei. In 2013, the then 37-year-old HAN Wei was the marketing director of Alibaba Group, the executive general manager of Taobao Tianxia Media Co., Ltd., and the public relations director of Alibaba. After leaving Alibaba, HAN Wei went to the US to pursue further studies. In the United States, HAN Wei found that the gap between Chinese and American Internet companies is not as big as imagined. “Chinese always think that the United States is more open and free. In fact, China and America are only different in form of expression. The biggest opportunity in the world is undoubtedly in China, because the most prosperous market is in China.”

The idea behind creating an O2O business model stemmed from Taobao’s business model. O2O gyms connect consumers directly with the health and fitness industry. Through the online systems users are able to choose time, venue, classes and coaches online. By giving users more flexibility to plan their active lives through the O2O system, gyms are able to increase their utlisiation rate.

However, Lefit’s online model also generates significant data giving insight into users choices and preferences. This allows the platform to offered tailored services to their members and to support them making healthier lifestyle choices. As of October 2018, Lefit has over 3.2 million registered users, 6,000 coaches and nearly 500 gyms.

However, the ClassPass system also faces challenges in China. Unlike in the US, where 70% of the gyms are large chain gyms and 30% are small studios, China’s market is dominated by small studious. Therefore creating a homogeneous product offering across these smaller studios has been an issue HAN Wei and his team have been facing.

However, HAN Wei is certain, with the craze in health and fitness continuing more and more sports will be made available on Lefit and maybe in the future Lefit will not only be able to offer gym services but also sports like badminton, basketball, and table tennis.