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Arc’teryx: The Polar Opposites of Market Performance in China and Beyond

“Among the three treasures of Chinese middle-aged men—fishing, Moutai, and Arc’teryx—how many middle-aged men’s aspirations for the middle class are fulfilled by a single piece of Arc’teryx clothing?”

Before its surge in popularity, Arc’teryx was relatively unknown in China, recognized mainly within the outdoor sports community. However, in the past two years, the brand has stepped out of its niche and become a trendsetting luxury item, attracting young consumers and even doubling its product prices due to high demand, with out-of-stock and sold-out notices being a common sight.

Many Chinese consumers attribute this phenomenon to Anta’s marketing strategies. Indeed, after acquiring Arc’teryx, Anta has significantly revamped the brand, following the successful revitalization of FILA.

The brand’s popularity in China is reflected in its financial reports. In recent years, the revenue growth of Arc’teryx’s parent company, Amer Sports, in the Greater China region has been outstanding, showing a potential to pull Amer Sports out of its financial quagmire.

In contrast, Arc’teryx’s international market is a stark opposite to the Chinese market. Unlike the booming domestic scene, the brand is rather unremarkable overseas. Any ripples in the international market are often due to Chinese consumers’ cross-border shopping, as Arc’teryx products are discounted, affordable, and available in all sizes and categories abroad.

It is evident that no matter how compelling the story in China, it does not resonate overseas. In unfamiliar markets without supply chain advantages, even Anta’s marketing magic seems to be at a standstill.

At the beginning of this year, a limited edition “Chinese Dragon Year” jacket priced at 8,200 yuan caused a frenzy among consumers, selling out on the first day of its release. Some consumers even claimed to have queued for three hours to purchase it. Meanwhile, several popular Arc’teryx products are also out of stock or sold out.

In the secondary market, this “Dragon Year Limited Edition” jacket has been resold for over 12,000 yuan, with the highest price exceeding 16,900 yuan, nearly doubling its original price. The term “Arc’teryx Dragon Year Jacket resold for 12,000 yuan” also topped the trending list on Chinese social media.

How popular is Arc’teryx in China? Quantifiable data shows that the brand’s membership grew from 14,000 in 2018 to 1.7 million by September 2023.

However, Arc’teryx’s popularity in China has not extended to other regions. Compared to the hard-to-get products in China, the brand frequently offers discounts and has a full range of products in the international market.

A Chinese consumer in London mentioned, “Arc’teryx here seems to be seriously unsold. The Beta is only a little over three thousand, and the Beta Lightweight is a little over four thousand. The category is almost complete, with all colors and sizes available, including the pants I’ve been wanting to buy but couldn’t find.”

The difference between Arc’teryx’s market in China and other regions is almost like “fire and ice.” Under the dual influence of high heat in China and cost-effectiveness overseas, many consumers have started to cross-border shop for Arc’teryx.

The reasons for Arc’teryx’s polarized treatment at home and abroad are closely related to Anta’s marketing tactics.

In China, by reducing the professionalism of the clothing and increasing its commuter and trendy appeal, the brand caters to the mainstream young consumers of the moment, while its unwavering attitude solidifies Arc’teryx’s luxury status.

But in other markets, losing the image of professional clothing and being labeled as trendy clothing is seen as a disaster.

In the past, globally renowned brands like Supreme have fallen into a performance slump after decades of glory, and old brands like Stussy have retreated from the market, with British brand Ted Baker on the brink of bankruptcy…

Trendy brands have become a name that overseas brands avoid, and the headquarters in Vancouver responded tactfully: “Arc’teryx would not be cool if it became a street brand one day.”

This has also led to the situation where LV’s creative director Virgil Abloh wore Arc’teryx at the LV autumn and winter show, which was a good publicity opportunity, but the headquarters in Vancouver was eager to distance itself, stating, “Abloh and his brand team used Arc’teryx products without permission.”

On the other side, the Greater China region, which has been working hard to create a new brand story, is confused and angry to question the headquarters, “Why be ‘arrogant’ when marketing is ‘knocking on the door’?”

The different attitudes of the Chinese and Western markets towards trends have left Anta, which is good at marketing, at a loss.

On the other hand, Anta cannot fully control the overseas sales channels and cannot strictly unify the selling prices.

After acquiring Amer Sports, although Anta has cut a large number of Chinese distributors and supported direct operations, it is not so easy to get rid of foreign distributors, especially in the overseas market, where Anta lacks supply chain advantages.

The Vice President of Overseas Retail for Arc’teryx once revealed: “Although we plan to focus on building direct operations, most of the current sales still come from the wholesale channel.”

Relying on distributors in the overseas market means that Arc’teryx is destined to compete with other brands in the hands of major distributors, and price competition is inevitable. Therefore, whether it is Anta or Arc’teryx, to go global, they must face the issues of overseas supply chains and sales channels.

In addition to the above objective reasons, the previous incident where Arc’teryx used Chinese sizes to unify international sizes also attracted attention. This move may have been convenient for Asian consumers, but it also increased the difficulty of purchasing for Europeans and Americans who have very different body shapes from Asians, deterring many overseas consumers.

However, Arc’teryx’s arch-rival Lululemon only modified the suitable sizes for Asian consumers and was loved by Chinese market consumers without causing any waves in the overseas market.

Even though Arc’teryx has become one of the “three treasures” for middle-class men in China, its competitors are still formidable. Facing the overseas market, the brand story is hard to tell, and Anta, which is only comfortable in the domestic market, is destined to have a long and difficult road on the path to globalization.

Angel Zhang

Editor in Chief of FirmKnow.
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