2 Oct 2015
Smart Mobility Devices Target the Young and Old Across the Mainland
For the young, they are stylish and fun, while for the more elderly they allow supported self-transport opportunities – in both sectors of the market, mobile devices, including scooters, unicycles and wheelchairs, are proving hugely popular.
An increasingly diverse range of mobility devices are now available in the shopping malls, medical equipment shops and high street electrical vehicle retailers of many of the mainland's major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The options on offer include folding electric bicycles, electric scooters, electric unicycles, two-wheel self-balancing electric scooters for younger buyers, as well as mobility scooters suitable for the elderly or infirm.
Imported and Domestic Brands
The mainland's mobility market now offers a wide variety of smart devices, including both imported and domestic brands. A number e-commerce platforms, notably JD, Tmall and Taobao, also feature a number of such products. JD.com, for instance, carries the Aerlang, Shengte and Ccezwheel brands of electric scooters, with prices ranging from a few hundred yuan to more than Rmb10,000. The platform also carries the Aerlang, Ccezwheel and Airwheel brands of electric unicycles, available for between Rmb698 and Rmb12,800. In terms of folding electric bicycles, the Solomo, Ford and Dahon brands are all available, with prices ranging from Rmb181 to Rmb7,488.
For Taobao.com, one of its best-selling products in the sector is its range of smart self-balancing scooters, with the domestic brands outselling the imports. Topping its best-selling chart is Osdrich's mini-size unicycle (Rmb999), with average sales of 144 units per month. The product has been reviewed favourably by many buyers, typically described as "good value-for-money" and "sleek". Ranked fourth on the chart is US brand Airwheel, with its S3 two-wheel self-balancing electric scooter. This sells at Rmb6,999 with the portal reporting average monthly sales of around 18 vehicles.
Airwheel, which promotes itself as "intelligently cool, environmentally green", has also recently rolled out its S5 self-balancing electric scooter. Powered by imported lithium batteries, this mobility device is seen as highly eco-friendly and is, consequently, frequently sought out by style-conscious youngsters.
One popular smart mobility vehicle shop in Beijing's Chengnan commercial district has a notably wide collection of mobility devices on offer. Its two-wheel self-balancing scooters are sold for between Rmb9,980-15,800, while its unicycles retail at Rmb2,299. It also stocks the Inmotion and Jiexing brands of electric scooters, at Rmb3,699 to 5,280 respectively. According to the shop owner, his prices match many of the online channels.
In the Chengbei district, home to several higher education institutions, one of its streets now has more than 10 electric vehicle shops. These shops sell folding electric bicycles and electric scooters. The majority of the brands in stock are home-grown, including Sino-li, Gomid, Meilix, Supaq, Birdie, Slane and Sunra. There is little price differential between them, with most of the items selling for between Rmb2,000 and Rmb4,000. Typically, the scooters have a range of between 30 to 60 km.
These particular high street shops have only been selling mobility devices for about six months, initially catering primarily to car owners who needed a temporary driver service. As such, these shops generally stock a small number of walking substitute vehicles, usually no more than 10 at a time. The owner of one such shop, Xinri e-Vehicle, which exclusively stocks the Sunra brand, said he usually sells two to three units per week. Xinri has more than 100 stores in Beijing, with walking substitute vehicles accounting for 1% of its total sales volume.
The bulk of China's mobility vehicles are primarily manufactured in the southern cities, typically Shenzhen, Changzhou and Wuxi.
O2O Sales Push
Currently, smart mobility devices in China are sold both online and offline. Airwheel, which claims to be the frontrunner in the global smart portability industry, has sales networks in 48 countries. It has more than 200 distributors in Greater China, with Wanda, Carrefour and Parkson being its offline retail store partners, while Tmall is its online partner of record.
Ninebot, a domestic brand, currently exports to some 30 countries. Its physical sales are primarily channeled through Sundan, Suning and 3C4U. Recently, the best selling items in its online shop have been a number of personal transportation tools, namely the Ninebot E, NinebotOne and Ninebot C.
Many offline vendors have adopted the one-tier sales agent operating model. This allows customers to develop a better understanding of the device on offer via both online and offline channels. The vendors, upon receiving customers' orders, contact the manufacturers directly to arrange door-to-door product delivery and the provision of an after-sales service.
According the manager of one vehicle company, its online sales surged last year. This year, however, online sales have been lagging behind orders from physical stores. This change seems to be down an increasing consumer preference to "try before they buy" and growing concerns over counterfeit items being sold via e-commerce channels. This was confirmed by one customer who said the in-store purchase option had allowed him to find the ideal vehicle.
Overall, the offline market for walking substitute vehicles is seen as being highly seasonal. According to the manager of one shopping mall-based mobility vehicle outlet, winter is usually the low season, with sales volumes not picking up until May. In addition, many children and young people only decide to buy such devices after trying out a variety of products as they trawl around shopping malls. Sales are also affected by the fact that mobility devices are available for rental at beaches, parks and public squares during the summer months.
Mobility Vehicles for the Elderly
Statistics show that the mainland population is aging rapidly and that, by 2035, the elderly community will account for 20% of China's total population. Naturally, this offers a huge market for senior-friendly mobility vehicles. Typically, seniors tend to choose lightweight, speedy and convenient mobility vehicles in order to meet their daily living and commuting needs.
Currently, a variety of specialist elderly mobility vehicle brands are available, notably Karma, Sen-bu and Hubang. One of the most popular such items on JD.com is the SSK brand's SLD9-A electric wheelchair, now selling for Rmb3,680. One of the most in demand items on Taobao.com is Hemeide's HMD-334 elderly four-wheel mobility vehicle, priced at Rmb3,280. On average, 86 units of this product are sold every month, with favourable buyer reviews describing it as "compact" and "stylish".
A visit to one mobility vehicle shop on the West 3rd Ring Road in Beijing saw the Pride, Karma, Pihsiang and Kymco brands of electric wheelchairs all on sale. A single-seat wheelchair was on sale for Rmb5,000-6,000, while a double-seater cost around Rmb20,000. The wheelchairs were described as "very safe and easy to operate" and were said to allow users to travel to parks and supermarkets with ease. The shop owner said the market this year has not been particularly active, but thought that the sales of elderly mobility vehicles would inevitably grow in the future.
Elderly mobility tricycles and quadcycles are already seen as being highly popular among seniors. A Gamma electric vehicle shop near Beijing's 5th Ring Road, for instance, has been selling elderly mobility vehicles for six months. Its tricycles are priced at Rmb8,000-12,000, while its quadcycles are sold for between Rmb15,000-50,000. Typically, battery charging time is about 10 hours for a range of 60-70 km. On average, one vehicle is sold about every three days.
In view of the overall market situation on the mainland, elderly electric wheelchairs are definitely set to enjoy brisk sales. The market for electric tricycles and quadcycles, however, has yet to take off and merits further assessment in the near future.
Qiao Xue, Special Correspondent, Beijing