Kiehl’s : its misleading discretion in the cosmetics market in China

Kiehl’s is an American brand very discreet in China but not that much…

Kiehl’s story

Kiehl’s has been created in 1851 in New York by the Kiehl family. At first, this brand was actually a simple pharmacy proposing homemade products. Then, rapidly, it became a real brand.


In 2000, L’Oréal group decided to repurchase shares in order to make it one of its ally companies. 

It’s reputation on search engines

The most used search engines worldwide are Google, hence in China, it is censored. That is why Chinese users are doing their research on Chinese Google, and Baidu. I had to check the Clinique’s reputation on Baidu.

On Baidu by typing the keyword « Kiehl’s, » the three-first results are :

  1. The Chinese website of the brand
  2. The American website of the brand
  3. The brand products sold by one of the two Chinese E-commerce leaders, Tmall 
Kiehl's Baidu

We can notice a predominance of Chinese versions of websites. Kiehl’s possesses thus a quite good reputation in China. Moreover, it does not happen a lot but the brand’s American website appears as the third choice on Baidu.

Its marketing strategy on social networks

In China, American social networks are also censored. Thus, Twitter and Facebook are unavailable here without a VPN connection. I also checked the marketing strategy of the brand on the 2 main Chinese social networks Weibo (the Chinese Facebook) and on WeChat (the Chinese Facebook Messenger).

The brand does a better scoring on Chinese social networks than on the American ones.

  • Weibo: more than 420,000 subscribers and the communication with the Chinese consumers is identical to the one with the American consumers on the American social networks.
Kiehl's Weibo

On WeChat, the number of subscribers to the page is impossible to know, however, the number of posts is. Thus, this one posts at least 1 article/post per week. This figure is fine. It’s even better than other bigger foreign brands such as M•A•C which only posted 2 within 2 years of subscription.

Thus, the marketing communication of Keihl’s on Chinese social networks is of good quality. It attracts various Chinese consumers.

I also check the brand results on Youku (Chinese YouTube). Hence, I noticed that there was no Kiehl’s official channel. This is not a good strategy since Chinese consumers love streaming videos because it is faster to get information from them.

Chinese cosmetics market trends

In China, the cosmetics market trends are really high. To compare with the makeup ones which are really basic. Chinese women mostly use several products such as :

  • Makeup remover (liquid, gel, cream, oil, milk…)
  • Face cleanser (with an additional action like whitening)
  • Moisturizer cream
  • Serum
  • Mask (liquid or tissue masks)
  • Body cream
  • Face Mist…
tissu mask

The products proposed in the West are less numerous, we are the opposite, Chinese people use basic makeup products while we prefer using basic dermo-cosmetics products.

Kiehl's JD
Kiehl’s results on

When you’re looking for the brand Kiehl’s on the two Chinese E-commerce leaders, and Tmall, just like on its own online shopping website, products that we can find remain the brand’s basic products although they are all various :

  • moisturizer (liquid, cream, gel…) for the face and the eyes, serum, tonic and even UV cream…
  • Tmall: Similar to
Kiehl's Tmall
Kiehl’s results on Tmall

However, the brand did not adapt to Chinese consumers’ expectations, and exit the whitening effect, the brand wants to keep its home-made reputation by proposing products with still an additional actions that Chinese consumers are expecting a lot such as unclogged pores, UV protection…

Its retailing process

Just like I just said, Kiehl’s product is sold online but also at stores. Thus, online, Chinese consumers can buy on the brand online shopping website, nevertheless, they are not used to doing so, they prefer to order on Chinese websites such as the 2 main Chinese online retailers and Tmall. sells more than 4200 references of the brand but these ones are only done by resellers. On Tmall, it is the same, it is only resellers that through Tmall website, they are selling Kiehl’s products to Chinese consumers. Tmall possesses only a little bit less than 100 references of the brand on its website.


Regarding physical stores, Kiehl’s only owns 17 stores in China and 5 of them are situated in Shanghai. Its retailing process is thus limited for good exportation in China.

Its market shares

Regarding market shares of the brand, it is impossible to know the figures only about Chine. The brand still owns worldwide sales results reaching millions of dollars. Plus, since the brand belongs now at 51% to the French group L’Oréal, it is this last one’s market share that comes first. Indeed, L’Oréal is by itself a really popular brand in China.

Kiehl's store

Kiehl’s has a long story behind it. It has been created in the 19th century. Even L’Oréal ta repurchased 51% of the company has been created later. In China, Kiehl’s is not really well-known either it is about its physical stores or online. Yet, it is popular. When it was created, the brand was only a pharmacy offering homemade beauty products. Today, the brand wants to keep this image/reputation by retailing uniform cosmetics products in China. Moreover, its packaging is remaining simple with a really home-made and very simple style. Its exportation in China stays thus to look after.

To know more about marketing in China, click here.

You can also read our full guide on the Top Marketing Strategies to Succeed in the Beauty Market

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