written by: Shin Yorin, Lucitta

December 15, 2016 marks the opening of Lululemon Athletica’s first flagship store at Shanghai International Finance Center in China. It has been three years since Lululemon opens its first showroom January 2014.

Lululemon’s flagship shop in IFC Shanghai; photo from: http://www.qdaily.com/articles/35645.html

Customer Engagement before Purchase
From opening of showrooms (since 2004), to creating Tmall online store (November 2015) to launch of the first flagship shop in Shanghai, Lululemon has gone through three brand marketing phases of awareness—association—purchase. Lululemon builds a community of loyal followers in China through a unique “community communication” strategy. The emotional bonding with the brand starts with empowering their employees at the showrooms to become “educators”. They are tasked to help all interested consumers to get to know Lululemon’s products. At the same time, “ambassador teams” formed by loyal existing customers help organize regular yoga practice camps and some large-scale outdoor sports/yoga events to spread the brand’s culture. In this way, consumers could indulge in experiences of the products and the brand, as well as joining a community formed by people who have similar lifestyle before actual purchase decisions. The “community” would later become a continuous incentive for members to be engaged and support the brand.

Embassador who is educating people; photo from: http://www.jiemian.com/article/1026113.html

Yoga outdoor campaigns in Tiananmen Square; photo from: http://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/2017-02-22/doc-ifyavrsx4674151.shtml

Educate to engage
“Consumer education” is a prominent customer engagement strategy of Lululemon. Lululemon devotes a lot of effort to educate consumers what they need and what to look for. For those who are new to professional sports and yoga, the employee “educators” provide suggestions to what they need for protection and agility. For consumers who are already familiar with sports, Lululemon tries to convince them of the possibility to keep and show the beauty of body while sweating. As a matter of fact, wearing Lululemon’s well-designed yoga pants in daily life has become a fashion in North America. Lululemon is trying to migrate this trend to China. Lululemon is also molding a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle to influence consumers. All the showrooms and flagship shops offer relevant sports equipment and guidelines to consumer. The company’s culture and core brand values – friendship, sports, happiness, exercise to sweat – permeates into consumers’ perception. The messages are presented like a manifesto and are visible everywhere in their shops, on shopping bags or even integrate into the design of the products.

Lululemon’s popular fashion yoga pants; photo from: http://www.qdaily.com/articles/35645.html

Lululemon’s manifesto everywhere; photo from: http://info.lululemon.com/about/our-story/manifesto

Opportunity or Challenge
There are both opportunities and challenges for a brand working to thrive in the China market. The price point of its products is set at a range that only the more affluent consumers could afford. (The cheapest vest is sold at ¥400 in Tmall shop.) It takes Lululemon more than three years for a major retail market entry with its education and community engagement strategies. It is hard to distinguish whether it is slow progress or cautious expansion. Such speed of expansion is usually conceived as inferior if compare to other international brands such as Nike and Adidas.

Looking at it from the bright side, Lululemon has now aggregated a loyal middle-to-upper income female segment. They are followers of the brand that appreciate Lululemon’s insistence on a healthy brand culture and would support it all the way to make it a winner. Lululemon’s yoga-inspired product design is also a strong differentiation of the brand and is being perceived as most professional in the category.