China’s beauty market is ever-growing and shows no sign of slowing down yet. According to China’s National Statistics Bureau, the country’s cosmetics retail industry in 2017 climbed 13.5% on-year to RMB 251.4 billion ($40 billion). And an OC&C Strategy Consultants report shows that over 90% of respondents surveyed increased their spending on skincare products last year by going up the value chain. Even men are spending more in an effort to defy ageing. Tmall Global’s statistics show male customers of facial serum products rose 20% from last year.
Chinese consumers in general are improving quickly in terms of skin care knowledge and expertise. Their demands are evolving constantly and becoming more sophisticated over time. New products, categories and skincare trends are welcome and can pick up fast in this active country.
Ampoules, small glass vials containing highly concentrated active ingredients, are a sound example and a growing consumer sensation in China beauty market since 2016.
On the shopping app Little Red Book, #ampoule was hashtagged over 100,000 times. These posts analyse and compare different ampoules and their ingredients, effects, as well as suitability for various skin types.
The RED #Ampoule community
In 2017, Spanish ampoule brand Martiderm sold 27 times more ampoules on Tmall Global than 2016 (more about this later). When L’Oreal Paris launched their Revitalift Filler Ampoules in China earlier this year, they sold 2000 units in the first minute and over a million units in the first three months.
What is ampoules?
A little like a supercharged serum, ampoules are targeted treatments which contain a higher concentration of active ingredients which aim to cure a specific skin concern whether that be brightening dark spots or plumping skin up.
Ampoules are intensively concentrated and can help the skin truly transform. Serums are similar to ampoules, but are typically less concentrated. Ampoules typically employ single-use, air tight packaging to replace weighty bottles and jars of product.
These single-use tiny containers prevent you from under or over using the content since they already help you decide a certain and most effective amount to use for each time. They are also delightfully portable for an on-the-go glow or just offering up more space in your wash bag.
Martiderm is a Spanish derma-cosmetics brand which was launched into China market in 2016 on Tmall Global platform.
After entering China in 2016, MartiDerm’s total sales exceeded 20 million CNY (nearly 2.5 million EUR) in the first five months.
By the end of 2017, the sales volume increased by 10 times, reaching 200 million CNY (nearly 25 million EUR).
During Singles’ Day (or Double 11, the most famous online shopping festival in China), MartiDerm sold over 5 million ampoules, reaching one unit sold every 2.49 seconds.
Martiderm’s success has attracted a lot of attention on social media and a new wave of demand for “ampoules” products. In fact, Spanish beauty products are among the bestsellers on Tmall Global, while Spanish-made ampoules enjoy an overwhelming lead compared to other countries in this category.
What possibly explains the growing popularity of Martiderm and ampoules in China?
Ampoules are marketed as containing concentrated nutrients that can transform the skin
While abstract marketing messages like embracing your inherent beauty work globally, the narrative in China appears to be in the opposite direction. To Chinese consumers, beauty means youth and flawlessness. These ideals have historically dominated the Chinese perception of beauty, and this quest for skin perfection remains till now.
Therefore, Chinese consumers care very much about product effectiveness, and they appreciate products with concrete ingredients that target specific skin problems and can deliver results clearly. Ampoules are created with that positioning in mind. They are highly concentrated with active ingredients that can make a visible impact on the skin faster than usual product types such as serum or cream.
Niche brands are on the rise
China’s largest cosmetics consumer group is represented by millennial.
Grown up as digital savvy and different from older generations, they are exposed to massive information. They are both knowledgeable about skincare and have become frequent users of specialized products like essence and serum as well as have the tendency to endorse individualism.
In particular, the younger generation is looking for ways to stand out and be unique from their peers, and this is reflected on the way they choose skincare products. While global brands such as L’Oreal, Lancome and Estée Lauder are dominating the beauty market in China, consumers have another option to go for more niche brands such as the Spanish derma cosmetics brand Martiderm.
Obviously, the quality of the products itself is the main reason for it to be accepted by a large amount of customers. While Chinese and Korean skincare products dominate the low-end segment and luxury brands dominating the high-end, Spanish ampoules fit in with medium prices and super quality. This is reflected in the positive comments and reviews these brands receive all over Chinese social media.
Ampoules customers are young
Consumers in China begin to look after their skin much earlier than in the west. They believe that the first signs of ageing start surfacing when one turns 25 years old. As a result, women start implementing a strict regimen from their early 20s. A new term has even been coined about this Chinese millennial fervor for anti-ageing skin care in recent years – “kang chu lao 抗初老” – which means battling the first signs of ageing.
On Tmall, women between the ages of 25 and 30 make up the demographic that’s most interested in ampoules. They want to remake their skin with a highly-concentrated material than gives them a fast and visible effect.
In a report by Kantar China, post-90s and 80s Chinese consumers’ per capita consumption of skincare products is nearly 100 yuan higher than those post-60s born consumers. Moreover, Millennials are more willing to try new products and brands.
…and ingredient savvy
The popularity of social media, coupled with the habit of sharing everything online, has led to a boom in the number of social media posts evaluating a skincare product by its ingredients.
Between October 2018 and January 2019 on Baidu, ‘skin-care ingredient’ and related cosmeceutical keywords searches saw a 331 percent surge, according to a recent report by Gartner L2 on beauty product trends in China. Also, according to CBN Data’s “Unmasking the Secrets of Chinese Beauty” report, the number of “decoding skincare ingredient” posts on Weibo from January 2018 to October 2018 has increased by 133% compared to the same 10-month period in 2017.
In the past, a Chinese beauty blogger probably only needed a few “before and after” photos and some buzzwords to convince the audience to buy a product. But today, a blogger would need to explain the ingredients as well as their functionalities in an expert way to be able to gain trust from readers.
Ann, who is a millennial skincare fan and a KOL with 1 million fans over multiple social media channels started her ampoule journey in 2017 to cure her acne-prone skin. She said her core criteria to distinguish between different products is to look at the ingredients and treatment.
Fortunately, KOLs have done a great job in educating consumers on ampoule ingredients. One of the top searches for KOL/ampoule content on Baidu with over 50,000 hits is a video from the Chinese male beauty blogger Fang Junping. In the 6-minute video, Fang reviewed four different products at different prices to demonstrate the variety. Fang also gave specific advice on topics like when to incorporate Ampoule into your skincare routine and what people with sensitive skin should look for.
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On a different post, blogger San Mushu, a self-proclaimed chemistry doctor, shared his concerns about one of Lancôme’s ampoule products on ‘Chinese Quora’ Zhihu. There he questioned if the package — which separates the product into capsules of liquid — is necessary because it makes the ingredients less active, and he also warned about the risks of heightened skin sensitivity when first using an ampoule due to its highly concentrated nature.