BEIJING: Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning is facing an uphill battle as it aims to build international sales via its new e-commerce site.

Digital Li-Ning, a joint venture with digital agency Acquity that launched this week, is the company's first English-language web portal. It forms a key part of Li-Ning's global expansion strategy, which also involves the firm spending $100m on international marketing over the next five years.

In the US, Li-Ning is planning to concentrate on the new online portal before opening any brick-and-mortar stores.

For its marketing messages, the company plans to play on its national origins in order to hook buyers, with women a particular target.

George Lu, chairman of Acquity and CEO of Digital Li-Ning, told Advertising Age: "There is a market segment of women who don't want to build up muscles and sweat all the time and feel they have to compete with men."

He added: "They may be involved in kickboxing or whatever but it's the psychological side that we need to cater to ... It's a very Eastern philosophy."

The company aims to grow its international sales revenue from around 5% of the total to 20% by 2018. By this date, around 50% of the foreign sales are to come from the US.

But Li-Ning's market leadership is being eroded in its home territory.

The firm suffered a 5% fall in revenue in the first six months of 2011, compared with the equivalent period in 2010. In China, it is facing increased competition from international brands such as Nike and local rivals including Anta.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Sean Rein of the China Market Research Group said: "The problem is that [Li-Ning are] building overseas at a time when they've lost so much of their vision at home."

Warc subscribers looking for further analysis of the key players in the Chinese sportswear market can view this recent Warc Exclusive paper.

Data sourced from Advertising Age/Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff