Top Marketing Strategies for Success in the Chinese Cosmetics Market
Updated: Jul 2
June 15, 2023 | Beauty & Cosmetics Industry, Sectors & Industries
The cosmetics industry in China has undergone remarkable growth, driven by the expanding middle class, evolving consumer preferences, and a long-standing beauty culture. The Chinese market now places great importance on self-expression, individuality, and sustainability, leading to increased investment in a diverse range of beauty products and services.
Through the combination of e-commerce platforms and influencer marketing, both local and international cosmetic brands have thrived in this dynamic marketplace. This article aims to provide an overview of the Chinese beauty market, highlight emerging trends and consumer insights, and, most importantly, offer strategies for promoting your brand effectively to Chinese consumers.
The Cosmetics Market in China: A Gold Mine
China’s beauty market is the second-largest in the world, in terms of sales and market shares. By 2024, cosmetics retail sales should reach 67 billion USD, and $87.64 billion by 2025 (564.40 billion RMB).
The growth of the beauty industry in China over the past decade is truly remarkable. Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, including the 2022 lockdowns, the industry has managed to double its numbers since 2012. Among the various segments, the skincare market stands out as particularly promising. What makes it even more enticing for foreign brands is the fact that Chinese consumers continue to hold overseas beauty products in higher regard than domestic ones.
The rapid expansion of China's beauty market, with a notable compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14%, can be credited to the increasing affluence of the middle class. This demographic's strong demand for consumer goods, particularly within the beauty and skincare industry, has been a significant driving force behind this growth.
What Are The Newest Trends in the Chinese Beauty Market?
The cosmetics industry in China is undergoing rapid transformations, emphasizing the importance for companies selling cosmetics to stay abreast of the latest trends and market insights that are shaping the local beauty sector.
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.
Top beauty brands and luxury brands are benefiting from this strong appetite for cosmetics and skincare products. Chinese consumers tend to consider an expensive price as a synonym for 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 Brands First
For many Chinese women, foreign brands are more attractive. There is a kind of premium selection that comes with French, Japanese, or Korean brands that makes them a favorite among shoppers. International branding is key to catching 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
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 cosmetics. 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
Cosmeceutical products are popular among the Chinese because of a double function: beauty and pharmaceuticals. They look for specific treatments such as skin spot treatments, skin brightening, acne treatment, anti-pollution, etc. It’s one of the biggest trends in cosmetics in China in 2023, especially in the skincare segment.
Chinese consumers are sensitive to products that provide internal benefits. 60% of Chinese consumers consider the “effects” to be 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 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, and consumers feedbacks.
Beauty for Men
We can see in China an increase in the personal care market of young wealthy men, especially in big cities. They go to the gym, take care of their appearance and wear luxury clothes.
Therefore, brands started to create dedicated skincare and cosmetics product lines to target Chinese men. What is more, there are also more and more campaigns showing men wearing makeup and the market research shows they are being well-received in China.
Chinese male consumers, influenced by Korean pop culture or K-Pop, are increasingly prioritizing skincare. While male consumers in China are generally considered more "conservative" when it comes to cosmetics, there is a growing niche population that is starting to embrace such products. Recognizing this trend, brands like La Mer have launched targeted WeChat campaigns aimed specifically at men. The male beauty sector is now one of the most promising segments, experiencing significant growth in recent years.
Beauty Daily Routine is changing
Chinese females are using skincare products earlier than the previous generation. Japan and Korea are the kings of it. The good news for beauty companies is that China is taking the same path strongly influenced by their neighbors but also by the 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 beauty consumers also use makeup remover, masks, 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.
How to Promote Foreign Cosmetic Products in the Chinese Market?
Promoting a foreign brand in China can be challenging due to the distinct differences in business practices compared to the West. Firstly, Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin, which may be unfamiliar to you, play a crucial role in reaching the target audience.
Moreover, consumer behaviors and preferences in China differ significantly. So, how can you effectively appeal to the Chinese market? Let's explore some strategies.
Understand the shopping behaviors of Chinese consumers
Generally speaking, consumers will spend hours doing research before purchasing a beauty/ skincare product. 90% of Chinese women do research before buying any products, especially from foreign brands.
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 (Key Opinion Leaders) and KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) 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.
There is a huge amount of information on skincare brands across multiple channels in China.
E-commerce websites such as Tmall 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.
Promote Your Brand on Chinese Social Media Platforms
As previously mentioned, Chinese marketing strategies diverge due to the unique media and channels available in the Chinese market. For effectively promoting and selling products to the Chinese audience, the key social media platforms to focus on are WeChat, Weibo, and Xiaohongshu.
WeChat is China’s go-to messaging app and social media platform. There are more than 1.26 billion registered users, which means that most likely all of your target audience is using the app on a daily basis.
WeChat is the perfect tool for a newsletter that can be published on Wechat official accounts. Consumers will be influenced by their friends, by the conversation that they can have on WeChat, or by discussions that they can follow in groups.
Brands should focus on external discussion, brand mention, or the number of shares. 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.
WeChat offers brands many features that make marketing easy and very efficient, like paid ads, official accounts, available mini-programs, where you can build your brands’ store, or a brochure presenting your products etc. It’s a great tool to target consumers and engage with the existing ones, by offering loyalty programs and special offers etc.
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 with WeChat, for instance).
In addition, Chinese female consumers usually follow several beauty bloggers because they like tutorials and brand reviews, and think it is a trustworthy source of information.
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.)
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 creative plan to create games and contests 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.
Little Red Book
Lifestyle-sharing app like Little Red Book is getting extremely popular in China, especially among Chinese women. Xiaohongshu is called 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 add hyperlinks to your other online store.
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. Little Red Book is based on a community already used to sharing cosmetics reviews. If you decide to open an e-commerce store, Little Red Book will take care of everything: logistics, packaging, and delivery.
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, and credibility and get engagement to drive sales.
Create a Chinese website and optimize it for Baidu
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.
Chinese users usually check Baidu to find a solution to their problem (basically what we do on Google). It is a good way for them to find a product that can solve skin problems, find a tutorial for makeup or get feedback from users. They will actively search for Question & Answer (Q&A) or conversations on forums.
Another purpose of using Baidu is to get feedback from users. They will always search through the internet to find information about brands, especially before deciding to buy a product. They will compare different brands and will be influenced by comments or reviews of users for each brand.
Consumers will still consult the brand website. That is a good way to learn more about a brand but they know, no brand can be 100% objective about its products. This is why it’s important to offer the audience in Mainland China a Chinese website adjusted to their needs (it also needs to be hosted inn China).
Tips for Baidu Search Engine Optimization
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 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 good sources of information. Getting 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. You can start an official account on Baidu Tieba, the most popular forum in China.
Media: Getting your brand information published in 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 word-of-mouth about your brand.
Collaborate with Chinese influencers
Influencer marketing has become a powerful tool for brands to connect with consumers in the Chinese cosmetics market. Collaborating with influencers can significantly boost brand visibility, and credibility, and ultimately, drive sales. When working with influencers, it’s crucial to consider the following tips:
Authenticity is Key: Choose influencers whose values align with your brand and whose followers resonate with your target audience. Authenticity drives trust and credibility, leading to more meaningful connections with consumers.
Engage in Personalized Campaigns: Tailor your influencer collaborations to fit the preferences and interests of their followers. This personalized approach creates a genuine connection, increasing the likelihood of consumer engagement and conversion.
Leverage Live-Streaming: The live-streaming function on platforms like Little Red Book and WeChat offers immense potential for reaching and engaging with consumers in real time. Collaborate with influencers to host live-streaming sessions, showcase your products, answer questions, and offer exclusive promotions to create a sense of urgency and excitement.
Interactive and Educational Content: Encourage influencers to create content that is interactive, informative, and provides value to their followers. Demonstrations, tutorials, and product reviews help educate consumers, build trust, and increase the likelihood of purchase.
Through strategic collaborations with influencers and leveraging the power of live-streaming, cosmetics brands can unlock the immense potential of the Chinese market. This approach enables them to expand their reach, establish genuine connections with consumers, and capitalize on the abundant opportunities available.
How to Sell Cosmetics in China?
To effectively sell cosmetics in China, a combination of online and offline sales channels is highly recommended. In the beauty sector, numerous distributors in China specialize in assisting brands in entering offline stores and markets. When it comes to online sales, collaborating with distributors and leveraging e-commerce platforms presents additional opportunities. Let's explore these options in more detail.
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! Here are some options for you to consider;
Dealing with an exclusive distributor in China can often be a complex process. Once they obtain the necessary certification and authorization to represent a brand in China, their approach towards the supplier may undergo significant changes.
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 primarily focus on distribution rather than possessing expertise in brand building or developing international cosmetics brands in China. However, they excel in their business acumen, swiftly selling products and identifying potential resellers.
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: a support team, legal presence, and brand attraction.
Develop your own distribution
Control and developing 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.
Chinese E-commerce Platforms
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.
Why is e-commerce so successful 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 re-buying products. 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 necessary for almost every brand in cosmetics or personal care. Especially after Covid-19, the possibility to discover new brands, and new products, and be delivered at home in a very short time is a daily lifestyle.
These e-commerce platforms provide 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 third-party information, from private groups or KOLs.
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, and 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 are 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. Today, JD.com has 500 warehouses all over China.
About NWITC GROUP: The Chinese Digital Agency specializing in Cosmetics
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
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