Demand for beauty products, particularly facial cosmetics, is booming in China. What is driving this boom?
The Chinese social concept of mianzi (face) stresses that a person’s outward appearance should reflect his or her status. This idea has considerable currency in contemporary China’s middle class, according to Joanna Hutchins, current Managing Director of global brand consultancy Dragon Rouge and former Unilever Global Brand Director for Skin Care at Pond’s.
“In China, your face really is your card to the world,” Hutchins said in an interview with That’s Beijing. “And that’s the case for both men and women.”
Despite an evident obsession for flawless faces, consumers show little interest in body products; wearing multiple layers of clothes to preserve the paleness of one’s skin is still a common practice in China. Whitening cosmetics are most popular, followed by “new-fangled, China-centric hydration products,” which now account for nearly a third of all facial moisturizer sales in the country.
On average, white collar Chinese women spend about 30 percent of their total income on cosmetic products and treatments. Looking good is important for men as well; China’s grooming sector is currently the second largest in the world after South Korea, and grew by 29 percent between 2009 and 2014, according to Euromonitor. Overall, Chinese consumers spent US$25.9 billion on beauty products in 2013 alone.
“Consumers perceive beauty purchases as investments in their career, private life and social success. They consider appearances a major asset to their persona. Women want to transform, while men are not as interested in looking different as they are in looking perfect,” Hutchins says.
As beauty products continue to boom in China, e-commerce is becoming an increasingly important sector, with online platforms now accounting for 20 percent of all sales. Online shopping offers consumers considerable discounts and a large range of brands, but companies must take care to balance their offline and online presences for long-term success, says Chen Wenwen, an analyst for the Mintel research company.
“The beauty retailing market continues to perform strongly, but in order to increase expansion, integrating both online and offline channels becomes a must,” she said. “Affluent consumers are still longing for memorable in-store shopping experiences, and that remains essential in the long-run.”
Chinese cosmetics companies are also becoming more and more popular with consumers. Home players like Herborist and Inoherb, the first and second largest domestic brands in the country’s skin care sector, integrate natural therapies or TCM principles into their products, satisfying 37 percent of the market. Their products are popular because of their roots in Chinese culture as well as their perceived safety in comparison to chemical-based alternatives on the market.
Korean brands, such as Laneige and BB Cream, are also hugely popular among Chinese consumers. Seoul’s influence is spreading across China thanks to a wave of South Korean pop culture, the “hallyu” phenomenon, driven by promotions from Korean celebrities like singer Yoona and actress Song Hye-kyo.
“There’s been a tremendous change over the last three years,” notes Hutchins. “In Asia, for the first time, Europe and America have had very little influence on beauty. It used to be all about the West influencing the East… now the East is looking up to itself and its own culture, as there’s a fundamental belief that Asian skin is different from western skin. Next, the continent will be telling the rest of the world about beauty trends.”
image credit: pond’s