Can a treadmill become Xiaomi’s next breakout product?

The Chinese smartphone maker’s first home fitness machine is receiving unexpected attention from consumers.

It may not be a device commonly associated with a smartphone maker, but a foldable treadmill might just be Xiaomi’s next secret weapon to repeat the success it attained in a popular line of air purifiers.

It’s called the WalkingPad. Since its launch in April last year, 200,000 units of the Chinese tech company’s new addition to its line of lifestyle products have been sold. During last year’s trial run, 6,000 orders were placed for the treadmill, exceeding its target by three times, product manager Liang Xiaoying told 36Kr in an interview in August.

The WalkingPad marks a continuation of Xiaomi’s attempts to diversify its product range from its traditional offerings as domestic smartphone sales decline, market observers say.

Xiaomi, whose home market phone sales trailed behind those of rivals Huawei and Oppo in the first quarter, has diverted resources to develop an ecosystem of lifestyle products that would leverage on internet connectivity to complement its smartphones. In 2013, it announced a five-year plan to invest in 100 hardware startups to achieve this goal.

So far, most of Xiaomi’s lifestyle product launches have been hit-and-miss affairs.

A Xiaomi store. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Its Mi air purifiers, when first unveiled in 2014, were embroiled in controversy. There were accusations from Chinese press and Balmuda, a Japanese lifestyle appliances maker, that the product was an imitation of Balmuda’s “Air Engine” launched in 2012.

But that didn’t deter Chinese consumers from placing orders, as they need to contend with bad air pollution. Mi air purifiers cost less than one-quarter of the price of those in the Balmuda range, which retail at RMB 3,999 (USD 599). In 2017 alone, Xiaomi said it sold over three million air purifiers, a year-on-year increase of more than 50%.

The Mi air conditioner and washing machine, both launched last year, failed to replicate that success. The latter is plagued by quality and operational glitches reported by Chinese online users. Other products, like a robot vacuum cleaner and smart TVs, have fared much better. Last year, Xiaomi sold 8.4 million smart TVs globally, surging over 200% from the previous year.

Riding China’s fitness fad

Xiaomi is now banking on the rise of China’s fitness industry to revive its fortunes. The sector has grown at an average annual rate of 10.4% between 2013 and 2018, generating nearly RMB 50 billion in revenue last year, according to IBISWorld, a global business intelligence information provider.

Xiaomi has identified a clear gap in the fitness market it can fill.

“While the penetration rate of home gym equipment exceeds 30% of all homes in western countries, it remains below 3% in China,” Liang said. “We learned that a majority of Chinese users found traditional devices too cumbersome and large to place in their homes, and sought to address this pain point.”

She said the WalkingPad was the result of two years of research. The company found that up to 80% of users who exercise on treadmills limit themselves to an average brisk walking speed of just six kilometers per hour—the maximum operating speed of the WalkingPad.

Xiaomi’s machine weighs just under 30 kilograms and measures just 13 centimeters tall and 82 cm in length when folded. It retails at RMB 1,799. In comparison, most of the standard treadmills used at home weigh over 50 kg and carry a price tag of RMB 3,000 to 5,000.

Xiaomi is using its WalkingPad to go toe-to-toe against Shanghai Wen-Jia Industrial, which sells a line of lightweight and affordable smart home treadmills. Its Ovicx device, better known as Xiao Qiao in Chinese, weighs just 34 kg and retailed at RMB 1,500 when it was introduced in 2016.

The same year, it was a surprise hit during the “Double 11” sales bonanza, which is also known as Singles’ Day, China’s equivalent to Black Friday. Wen-Jia told 36Kr that it had sold more than 250,000 treadmills in the past three years through October.

But it remains to be seen if Xiaomi’s gambit will pay off. Some fitness users, like Chinese fitness blogger VK, has dismissed the product as a gimmick. “Without handlebars, one questions the product’s safety standards…and it only allows users to stroll rather than jog,” VK said in a blog post last year.

Another online buyer on Chinese e-commerce site Suning.com also complained that the device was too slow and its weight makes it cumbersome to move around the house. “The treadmill’s walking belt is too narrow, which can lead to users accidentally stepping off,” the consumer added.

The original article was written by Yuan Silai for 36Kr, KrASIA’s parent company. 

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