Cosmetics in China: Top Brand Marketing Strategies to Unlock the Beauty Market
In this article, we will analyze China’s Cosmetics Market, Trends and, Marketing Strategies that brands have to use to sell in China.
The Cosmetics Market in China: A Gold Mine
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- Firstly, it is the largest market in the world
- Further, it is an extremely dynamic market
- Finally, consumers are ready to spend more on higher-quality products
Chinese female consumers spend more and more on cosmetics and personal care products and this trend does not seem to be slowing down. China’s beauty market is the second-largest in the world, in terms of sales and market shares. By 2024, the cosmetics retail sales should reach 67 billion USD.
How to explain the boom of the cosmetics market in China?
- The rise of the Chinese middle class and its appetite for all consumer goods – especially beauty brands
- The skincare segment is driving total cosmetics and beauty products. In 2021, the skincare revenues should reach 15 billion USD.
- The Chinese market is one of the fastest-growing countries among major beauty markets for growth
BEAUTY TRENDS IN CHINA
In Cosmetic, A Higher Price = A Better Quality
A survey of OG&C Consultants explained that 58% of Chinese People claimed that they want to purchase a more expensive product. While 36% of Chinese Consumers upgraded to more premium brands.
In the beauty market, Chinese consumers are very sensitive to the effects and the ingredients. The brand is only the third reason that could motivate their purchase. 39% of Chinese Beauty Consumers explained that better ingredients and better functionality were the key reasons for their switch to premium brands.
Luxury Cosmetics in China on the Rise
For consumers in China, social status is very important.
The average Chinese consumer uses luxury brands or expensive products as a way to show off his or her wealth. Chinese are the “new rich“. As a result, they tend to prefer higher-priced items because it is tangible proof they have a successful career and a higher purchasing power. In a word, higher is better.
Top beauty brands and luxury brands are benefiting from this strong appetite for “cosmetics”. Chinese consumers tend to consider an expensive price is a synonym of quality, which explains why they easily purchase skincare and makeup from luxury brands. For instance, popular products in China are anti-aging treatments, especially among young ladies! The best selling luxury cream of Guerlain, Orchidée Impériale, is mainly purchased by women between 50 to 80 years old in Europe… and by women between 20 and 35 in China!
International Brand First
For many Chinese girls, foreign brands are “more attractive“. There is a kind of “premium selection ” that comes with French brands that makes them a favorite among shoppers. International branding is key to catch this segment of the market.
- French & European brands are seen as innovative and high end
- Japanese brands have also a good image in this premium market
- Korean brands, Asian brands, and US brands have more mass-market positioning
The problem of brand-loyalty in China
It is well known that consumers in China tend to have no loyalty to brands. Chinese consumers often try different brands. But the moment they find one they like, they will stick to it.
What it means for you, is that you will have to spend money to acquire your customers, but once they are converts and are happy about your product, they will come back to it.
At the same time, Chinese female consumers are very “brand-conscious“. In a word, it means they love buying from “famous brands” as they believe higher prices equate to higher quality. Chinese consumers are now very focused on getting the best product for value and always comparing brands, so consumers’ feedback has a huge impact on their decision.
Magic Keywords for Cosmetics in China: Natural, Green & Organic
In Asia, and especially in China, the population is concerned about skin aging and pollution.
Only recently, consumers have started to think about the outcome of the pollution on their health and skin. This growing awareness has been particularly beneficial to air purifier companies and skincare brands. A new cream or skincare product that claims an anti-pollution effect is automatically a success in China.
Meanwhile, the increasing awareness of environmental issues is pushing consumers to turn to more eco-friendly products. Chinese consumers are more and more looking for labeled organic and natural products. Even cruelty-free products are gaining ground among Chinese consumers. This new trend is mainly driven by Millennials and Gen Z in China.
Cosmeceuticals on the rise
Cosmeceuticals products are popular among the Chinese because of a double function: beauty and pharmaceutical. They look for specific treatments such as skin spot treatments, skin brightening, acne treatment, anti-pollution, etc.
Chinese consumers are sensitive to products that provide internal benefits. 60% of Chinese consumers consider the “effects” are the most important to motivate their purchase. The increasing popularity of multi-functional products like BB Creams and CC Creams is a good example of it.
In 2019, China has voted for a law that forbids brands to sell cosmetics products as medical ones. Platforms have to enforce this law and brands have to adapt quickly as well. Undercover marketing would be the solution here: KOLs, PR, product reviews, consumers’ feedbacks.
Beauty for Men
We can see in China, an increase in the personal care of young wealthy men, especially in big cities. They go to the gym, take care of their appearance and wear luxury clothes.
- Brands are creating dedicated product lines to target men
- Communication campaigns are more inclusive showcasing men wearing makeup
- The male cosmetics segment in China reached almost 2 billion RMB in 2019
Influenced by Korean pop culture or K-Pop, Chinese male consumers are concerned about their skin. Most male consumers are still quite “conservative” and it is a niche population that starts to use cosmetics. For instance, La Mer launched a WeChat campaign mainly targeted at men.
Beauty Daily Routine is changing
Chinese females are using skincare products earlier than the previous generation. Japan and Korea are the kings of it. They are using an average of 21 different products during their skincare routine. Look at some Youtube tutorials, that is pretty impressive. The good news for cosmetics brands is that China is taking the same path strongly influenced by their neighbors but also by brands themselves.
Brands have been educating Millennials about the importance of good skin from an early age and an early stage of their cosmetics discovery journey.
Chinese women are also adding more steps to their “daily beauty routine“. To the basic function of a facial cleanser and a moisturizing cream, they have added the application of a toner, an eye cream, and a serum.
Around 70-80% of the beauty consumers also use makeup remover, mask and sun protection cream on a daily basis, which leads to an average of 6-7 steps in their daily skincare routines.
Some parts of the population (beauty “mature” women above 35 years old) were following “up” to 9 steps in their daily skincare routine.
The Web: a”huge influence on purchase habits
More than 90% of Chinese girls are influenced by online trends.
They are checking Beauty news, and actively research new products/reviews:
- Magazine of Beauty: inform and give brands news to stay up-to-date
- Influencers: helping to guide consumers for their future purhcase
- E-commerce websites: find product reviews on Tmall, Taobao, and JD.com
- Social media: browse and discover brands with UGC on Weibo and Xiaohongshu
Chinese girls are spending on skincare products earlier…
- A quarter of Generation Z (born after 1995) is starting to use skincare products as early as 18 years old
- 80% of Millennials (born in the 90s) started to buy their own skincare products before they were 20 years old
- 70-75% for those born in the 80s
Cosmetics Brands Entering the Chinese Market
You have a Cosmetics Brand or a Beauty brand and you want to enter the Chinese Market.
I am certain you have heard a lot of bad stories, and you already know that the Chinese market is full of opportunities and danger.
To sum up the Cosmetics Market in China :
- China is the most promising market for cosmetics in the world
- Above all, it will be the biggest market in the world for almost every beauty products
- In almost every product category, demand is increasing
- It is the best market for foreign brands: 80% of the market is dominated by international brands
- Chinese girls consumption power increase year after year
- Makeup is becoming more and more popular among women
The Beauty market is just in its early stage in China
90% of Chinese Girls do research before buying Cosmetics Products
Generally speaking, consumers will spend hours doing researches before purchasing a beauty/ skincare product.
Chinese consumers spend a lot of time comparing different types of cosmetics and products before taking any decision. Especially for makeup, they will look for KOLs and KOCs demonstrations. They prefer to see what the color of a lipstick or an eye shadow will look like on a Chinese influencer before actually purchasing it. In China, local consumers do not trust brands. They lack confidence and prefer to rely on KOLs for transparent feedback on products.
For instance, more than 90% of girls admitted that they conduct extensive research before they buy skincare products. The online and digital world certainly plays a critical role in this research.
There is huge amount of information on skincare brands across multiple channels in China.
E-commerce websites such as T-Mall and JD are the main channels for browsing across brands and offerings, while social media also plays an essential role in building brand awareness and helping consumers develop product and brand knowledge.
Chinese Consumers use a different way to research information than in the west. Mainly because the tool available in China are different that in the west.
What are the Top 3 Marketing Keys for Cosmetics in China?
#1 Chinese Social Media
Weibo is the number one platform for beauty KOLs and cosmetics bloggers. It is the place where all cosmetics superstars start to build their community. Most of them keep publishing on Weibo because it allows them to reach their fans and to get the virality of their posts. (Which is not the case of WeChat, for instance).
In addition, Chinese female consumers usually follow several beauty bloggers because they like tutorials, brand reviews, and think it is a trustworthy source of information.
Tips For Weibo Marketing
The cosmetics brands that want to perform on Weibo need:
- A certified Weibo account
- A communication plan focused on the community but also on commercial offers (discount, release, coupon, etc.)
- A strategic use of sponsored ads on Weibo that are efficient and relatively cheap
- An effective way to get exposure among targeted users. Ex: Female, 25-30, interest in cosmetics
- A creativite plan to create games and contest to engage Chinese users
It is important to get all kinds of influencers to reach each segment of your target audience. Show that you are not only a brand with resources that can buy big KOLs. By having your products reviewed and used by more “common” people, you are building your credibility. Once you are credible, people will start recommending your brand.
The Chinese Search Engine is still very efficient. Why? Because, as we mentioned earlier, consumers are looking for third party information. It is ultra-easy to make research on Baidu. Type your question and see the results.
Female users will use Baidu to :
- Find a solution to their problem. It is a good way for them to find a product that can solve skin problems, find the tutorial for makeup or get feedback from users. They will actively search for Question & Answer (Q&A) or conversations on forums.
- Get feedback from users. They will always search through the internet to find information about brands, especially before decided to buy a product. They will compare different brands and will be influenced by comments or reviews of users for each brand.
They will still consult the brand website. That is a good way to learn more about a brand but they know, no brands can be 100% objective about its products. You would not say “hey my BB cream is great at protecting your skin from UV, however, it feels really sticky”. That is exactly the kind of information consumers are looking for. The positive points as well as the negatives ones.
Tips for Baidu Marketing
Solely working on your own website and traffic makes no sense in China because the user does not trust corporate communication. They also do not purchase on a brand website but rather on the e-commerce platforms.
Having a good-looking website is still necessary but most of the energy should focus on the Baidu ecosystem:
- Q&A: Baidu Zhidao & Zhihu are a good source of information. Get positive feedback from your community is vital for brand reputation. Further, you can help your page rank higher. Use Baidu and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to get maximum exposure.
- Forums: You have a lot of conversations on forums about beauty. These conversations, especially the ones in which your brand is mentioned, can rank well if you optimize the Search Engine Visibility….
- Media: Get your brand information published on media is a good way to get the trust of potential clients, optimize this publication on Baidu, to let them reach the first page on strategic keywords is a good move to influence Chinese Consumers.
Focus your SEO effort on the third-party website rather than on your own website. The goal is to maximize the word-of-mouth about your brand.
Remarketing or retargeting visitors to your website is a good strategy to get awareness. It is a cost-effective solution to increase the number of apparitions of the brand in front of users. A smart business redirects click on Tmall or e-commerce platforms.
After 7-10 visuals contact with a brand, Chinese consumers will be more willing to buy their products. They will also found it reasonable to click on ads with discounts and make the purchase on Tmall – a platform they trust.
WeChat is the perfect tool for a newsletter. Consumers will be influenced by their friends, by the conversation that they can have on WeChat, or discussion that they can follow in groups.
The moment system is the best way for them to get personal feedback about brands. But usually, they do not publish brand reviews. They would prefer to find more intimate connections.
Groups are a better source of discussion. People join medium to large groups and discuss brands, solutions to solve their problems, or product recommendations.
Some WeChat accounts are also followed by a large number of people.
WeChat Brand Content
Brands should focus on external discussion, brand mention, or the number of shares.
Get Mentioned by WeChat big accounts is great but, usually, the cost of exposure is extremely high. In other words, we strongly suggest you use this budget in a smarter way.
Community management is the key to WeChat. You can get in contact with users, engage in conversation, create groups per interest, etc. It is time-consuming but also rewarding.
At the moment we speak, advertising on WeChat is expensive and the targeting is not great. In the future, WeChat will probably develop towards a better ads system but keep in mind that the core of WeChat is the users. Users want useful and interesting content. Especially this year, WeChat is celebrating its 10 years anniversary and is proposing a lot of new features such as short-form videos or immediate translation.
Little Red Book
Purchase sharing app like Little Red Book is getting extremely popular in China, especially among Chinese women. Xiaohongshu is the Chinese Instagram. It has a focus on cosmetics and beauty and 80% of the users are women. They have good purchasing power and love international cosmetics brands. The platform content is mainly created by its users (UGC) via “buying notes“. It is a great platform for KOLs to develop themselves and create a community. Working with these KOLs is beneficial for any brand. You basically buy their follower base as well as their credibility. In RED, you also have the possibility to create an online store within the App and ads hyperlink to your other online store.
Tips for Little Red Book
Little Red book allows brands to have a brand space and e-commerce store.
This is a great opportunity for small beauty brands to enter the Chinese market. The competition is not too high yet and Little Red book is based on a community already used to share cosmetics reviews. If you decided to open an e-commerce store, Little Red Book will take care of everything: logistics, packaging, delivery. This cost-effective solution is barely known by international brands and could be your key asset to perform in China.
The tag system is well executed. Each tag will send users to all the reviews associated with them, making it easy for users to discover new brands.
Brands have to maximize their communication via influencers to optimize their visibility, credibility and get engagement => drive sales.
Ask for our Little Red Book Report for free (just send us an email)
Women Social Platforms that have lost their appeal:
These social Media were inspired by Pinterest before moving to an eCommerce model. Today, they are commercial and lost their interest for users. In a word, most of the female users stopped using these platforms for cosmetics. If you hear about a strategy mentioning these apps, you should better… run!
Meilishuo used to be the reference for beauty and cosmetics. Meilishuo literally means “Beauty Talk” or even “Conversation on Beauty”. Users could share their best tips to find ideal clothing, cosmetics products, shoes, or bags. Since a couple of years, Meilishuo switched and decided to go further by becoming an e-commerce channel. This is a new Taobao copycat. (website & the app).
Mogujie is often compared to the Chinese Pinterest. In a word, it is a shared photo platform for trendsetters. Recently, the platform decided also to move to e-commerce and became “one more” Taobao / Tmall website.
Kimiss was a popular platform to reach trendsetters and micro-influencers. The concept was unique: you send your products to Kimiss community, and they write comments, critics about your Brand / Products. Then, the platform changed to a commercial business model. Brands have to pay to get these testimonials, and the platforms rapidly got full of positive Comments and lack of “real“ information.
Once consumers understood that, the popularity of Kimiss decreased. We said it, consumers are looking for genuine feedback.
In the Cosmetics industry Branding is everything
Cosmetics Brands in China have to focus on Branding. From finding a distributor to selling to consumers, this step is necessary… and above all mandatory. Every company has to invest in Branding to succeed in China.
Branding = Awareness * Reputation
How? Get exposure then maximize exposure is the first step for increasing your brand awareness.
#2 Distribution in China
If you want to sell your product on the Chinese market, you will need to find a distributor. The distribution is very complicated to understand because the model is very blind (on purpose). Distribution is often a headache for cosmetics companies!
1/ Exclusive Distributor
Most of the time, it is complicated to deal with an exclusive distributor in China. Once they get the certification and the authorization to represent a brand in China, they start to change their way of dealing with their supplier.
In China, you must always remember one thing: you will be their supplier, not their partner. To put it simply, the distributor’s interests always come before yours.
Distributors distribute. They do not have the knowledge on how to build a brand, or how to develop an international cosmetics brand in China but are usually good businessmen and know how to sell products fast, and identify resellers.
2/ Multi Distributors
The brand is controlling the distribution process. You can deal directly with distributors, agents, and resellers. It allows a presence in China, your own registration, and strong branding.
- Registration: the brand needs to have a legal presence and have the certification of the products
- Strong Branding: because having a strong brand opens every gate in China, negotiations are easier, shorter, and better
Your conversion rate will be higher as well.
That is how most of the Chinese local Companies use to develop their business in China. In other words, no branding, no distributors.
How to develop multi distributors?
Alibaba B2D (business to distributors) is still the best way to reach thousands of distributors and develop a network faster.
Trade fairs like Shanghai Beauty Expo, Guangzhou Cosmetics Expo, or Cosmoprof are trade fairs where you can be found by distributors. It is a great opportunity to meet thousands of potential distributors. But it requires having: support team, legal presence, and brand attraction.
3/ Develop your own distribution
Control and develop your own distribution is a must in China.
You will need a lot of investment because of the initial cost of setting each store but you’ll start to see positive results after 1 or 2 years.
A lot of consumers get information in physical stores and then buy online. Therefore, having your own store in a shopping mall is also a great way to increase awareness. Shopping is a widespread hobby in China. But you should plan it very carefully. Having a store in China, especially in first-tier cities is very costly. Depending on your budget, you should talk about your project to a local agency to find the option that would best suit your objectives.
#3 Chinese E-commerce Channels
Usually, the e-Commerce part is the most profitable and easiest way of selling beauty products in China. Especially for cosmetics, it is a great opportunity to obtain a higher conversion rate.
What are the reasons that explain the success of e-commerce in China?
- Habits: It is now a reflex to search for products and buy online
- Convenience: It is easy to buy and the product is delivered to home
- Discount: Most of the time, on e-commerce platforms you can get discounts, it is usually cheaper
- Re-Buy: E-commerce is perfect for a re-buying product. Getting your first sales usually cost a lot, but once you get someone to buy your products they will buy again if this person is satisfied with the product he bought. Focus on retaining.
E-commerce is, in 2021, necessary to almost every brand in cosmetics or personal care. Especially after Covid-19, the possibility to discover new brands, new products, and be delivered at home in a very short time is a daily lifestyle.
These e-commerce platforms provide usually a lot of useful information for buyers such as long and detailed product pages. What consumers really care about is the comments section. They will try to find product reviews and feedback on whether your cosmetic products are qualitative and good-looking.
However, most of these comments are not genuine. It explains why Chinese consumers do not trust these comments. As we said, they will always check 3rd party information, from private groups or KOLs.
There are 2 choices for E-commerce …
1/ Cross-border E-commerce (CBEC)
- Tmall Global
- JD global
- Crossborder platforms
- Your own website
- Little Red Book
You do not have a Chinese business license and you do not have the certification delivered by Chinese Authorities.
Opening stores on giant e-commerce platforms is expensive.
- You have to pay a deposit
- Build a nice store and create a lot of long detailed products pages
- Advertise a lot at the beginning
- Pay commission on each sale
- Fund the managing daily operation, which is high
- Meet the constant need to have an active marketing campaign to support sales
2/ E-Commerce in China Mainland
If you have a company license for your products then you can use Chinese e-commerce.
- Tmall / Taobao
- Other e-commerce websites like Jumei
Usually, the cost of delivery is lower and the time to get the product is faster than with crossborder. The performance for beauty products on these mainland e-commerce platforms is 20 times higher.
The process is the same :
- Deposit (to the platform)
- Build a store and design product pages
- Advertise and work on traffic acquisition
- Participate in special online events
- Manage daily operation, customer services
- Every store are supported by investment on branding
Tmall is the best e-commerce channel for cosmetics brands that want to build a premium image. On average, Chinese people spend 27 minutes each day on Tmall. In a word, Tmall could be easily compared to the Chinese Amazon. If a Chinese shopper wants something, he will go to Tmall to purchase it.
In the past year, Tmall has released a new service that targets small and mid-size brands. This service is called TOF or Tmall Oversea Fulfillment. What is the plus-value of TOF? Thanks to this new cooperation model, you can target the growing middle-class consumer base in China market to monitor sales potential. It is a key strategy for your overseas brand before entering China.
Owned by Alibaba Group, Tmall is proposing several features such as: Tmall, Tmall Global, Tmall Luxury Pavilion, …
In Chinese, Taobao literally means “find something precious“. This e-commerce channel is also owned by Alibaba, like Tmall. In recent years, Alibaba followed a differentiation strategy by turning Tmall into a more premium e-commerce platform and Taobao into a more discount e-commerce platform. Technically, this main difference will guide your e-commerce strategy in China.
You should remember that Taobao is the C2C giant platform in China. Every year, Taobao’s annual revenues is estimated to reach more than 14 billion USD.
Jingdong Mall is often named JD.com by Chinese consumers. There are 300 million monthly users on this e-commerce platform. Chinese shoppers often go on JD.com to find makeup, sportswear, sofas, or even food.
The key differentiation of JD.com is it works more as a distributor than an e-commerce platform. What does it mean? Jingdong Mall pays a lot of attention to the monitoring of its goods. In a word, your package will never be lost. For this e-commerce platform, customer service is very important. Even if JD is a market place, they will buy the products from brands before selling them to customers. They have the property on their stocks, so they are more cautious about the delivery and customer service… and they can earn a greater margin!
Today, JD.com has 500 warehouses all over China.
The concept of Jumei was good… 4 years ago. It was a website dedicated to cosmetics and beauty brands. It makes full sense in China as this platform was very popular. Back then, you could find a lot of information about brands, tips, and the design was inspired letting behind all possible competitors.
You know what is coming… Jumei moved to an “e-commerce” business model and then became a copycat of Taobao / Tmall. The platform decided to switch from a social media to an e-commerce platform. On Jumei, you can find beauty brands with discounts, luxury bags, or baby milk… End of the Community, End of the Story.
Today, we would not recommend you to put your efforts into Jumei as your results could be a little disappointing.
About GMA: The Chinese Digital Agency Specialized in Cosmetics
In the Gentlemen Marketing Agency, we are a China-based Digital Marketing Agency. We are specialized in cosmetics and have worked with major beauty brands in China: L’Oréal, René Furterer, Coslys, Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, Avène, etc… We have 70+ digital experts who stay up-to-date with cosmetics trends in China to provide the most effective solutions for:
- “New brand” entering the Chinese market
- Brands in China looking to level up their Engagement / Awareness / Sales
- Leading brands searching for “new” innovative solution
What are your next steps in China?
- Do not hesitate to contact us and discuss with our Experts or Consultants
- We can send you the latest Tips & Trends about the Market
- We can provide you with our Case studies and give you a Strategy and a Quote