Consumers are now concerned about key ingredients, efficacy and quality. High-end products, dominated by foreign brands, are taking up a larger share of the market, increasing from 27 per cent in 2014 to 38.3 per cent in 2019.
National pride shows itself in the cosmetics market
Domestic beauty brands have made huge strides in recent years as part of China’s Guochao (often translated as “national hip”) trend.
The standout brand name attached to this trend is Perfect Diary. Its parent company, Yatsen Holding, became the first Chinese beauty company with a market capitalisation of more than RMB 100 billion (approximately AU$20 billion) after its very successful IPO in New York in late 2020. Yatsen is also home to other cosmetics brands, including Little Ondine, Abby’s Choice, Dr. Wu, Eve Lom and Pink Bear, each aimed at different sectors of the market.
The Guochao trend can also be spotted in brand name trends. At one time, if domestic brands didn’t sound European, American, Japanese or Korean to customers, it would have struggled. In 2016, Olay even eliminated its Chinese name, 玉兰油 (Yulanyou, Magnolia Oil). However, in 2020, it added the name back into its narrative, as an increasing number of domestic brands have also added Chinese elements to their product names. For example, skincare brand Gu Yu’s name refers to the rain that makes crops grow, reflecting the nourishing effects of its products.
European, American, Japanese and Korean brands still dominate the premium end of the market, while local Chinese brands are mostly in the mid-range and lower end. Demand for brands such as Shiseido, L’Oréal and Estée Lauder remains high, and demand for Japanese brands jumped 30 per cent in 2020 to $US4.3 billion, making them the top nation for cosmetic imports to China. South Korean, European and American brands such as Innisfree, Laneíge, Kiehl’s, Sephora, MAC, Clinique, Guerlain, La Mer and Lancôme are also strong sellers.
However, there’s a concerted effort by local brands and favourable government policies to change this dynamic and Chinese brands not only want to take over the top end of the market but openly advertise these goals.
Chinese brand Florasis has even gone as far as marketing itself overseas and has become a well-known brand online. It launched successful campaigns on Facebook, TikTok and Instagram by gifting products and sponsoring videos by makeup influencers. However, it seems that the brand hasn’t fully worked out its distribution model yet and is still hard to buy outside of China.
Extended needs and desires
The beauty market is growing and segmenting to include more than just basic makeup and skincare. People are looking for beauty devices for other parts of their body, with growth in eyecare devices far exceeding that of other categories.
Late nights and “staying-up culture (修仙文化)” mean young people are looking for solutions for the dark circles and puffiness under their eyes. According to CBNData, between 2017 and 2019 alone, purchases of eye beauty devices on TMall by those born after 1995 and those born after 2000 has increased 67-fold.
The male grooming market continues to grow
Sales of men’s cosmetics were about US$15.6 billion in 2019, up eight per cent from the previous year, according to Euromonitor, with increasing demands for innovative products designed specifically for men.
Dear Boyfriend is one of the newest big domestic brands in this market. Launched in early 2020, it’s done well by targeting specific needs for men, such as oil control, shower gels, fragrance and face masks, and implementing highly targeted digital marketing.
This includes aesthetic procedures. With hair loss on the rise, and men seeing hair loss at younger ages, hair transplants, customised wigs and hair pieces are also very popular. Rhinoplasty, cheek fillers and hair augmentation are the top three treatments. Interestingly, with an average price of RMB 7025 (approximately AU$1400), men are spending 2.75 times more than women per transaction.
Medical beauty no longer taboo
China’s medical beauty sector is expanding rapidly, growing from RMB 64.8 billion (approximately AU$13 billion) in 2015 to RMB 176.9 billion (approximately AU $36 billion) in 2019 and forecast to reach US $52.4 billion (AU $68 billion) by 2023. Soyoung, China’s answer to realself.com, where people compare results from various treatments, debuted on the Nasdaq in 2019 and is going strong.
Post-’90s consumers and those in the south of the country are the main forces driving the market. The top three services are hair transplants, skin improvement and collagen-related services.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve 2021, a medical beauty salon in Chengdu said that the number of customers had increased by about 50 per cent compared to the same period in previous years, and that “the three ingredients for beauty” for young people had changed from nails, eyelashes and hair to hydration, Botox and fillers.
Apps such as Soyoung mean that lots of people are sharing before and after photos and post-surgery diaries. This is influencing people and affecting their decision-making process. There are about3.5 million of these diaries on the platform. More than 25,000 professionally qualified plastic surgeons and more than 6000 medical beauty institutions are on the Soyoung platform.
The influence of social media
In addition to dedicated apps such as Soyoung, content related to beauty brands abounds on platforms including Little Red Book, WeChat, Weibo, Douyin (TikTok), QQ and Bilibili. Local brands such as Perfect Diary and Florasis have used them skillfully to gain a foothold in the market.
Although the brands are sold primarily through dedicated e-commerce platforms such as TMall and Taobao, most millennial consumers learn about new brands through the social media platform Little Red Book. It has successfully connected itself to Taobao, where stores can quote posts and comments made on Red when editing a product introduction. Red also played a key role for Perfect Diary when its sales significantly improved after it opened a store on the platform.
Though the pandemic has challenged the beauty market, the crisis also swiftly brought it to the next level of digital integration and accelerated trends that were already emerging. It has come out the other end with a stronger focus on quality, Chinese brands, enhanced standards for male grooming, greater openness to medical enhancements and a strong role for social media.