Quality an Issue with Chinese Beauty


MEATH, Ireland—The Chinese beauty market is difficult to navigate because beauty buyer behavior is still relatively unknown. That's why Diagonal Reports has been researching the Chinese consumer—in order to understand the opportunities for the beauty industry.

Which country manufactures beauty products merits special attention, as the "Made-in-China" label doesn’t' inspire consumer confidence, according to  Beauty retailers—at all price points—interviewed by Diagonal Reports across China. China may now be the workshop of the world, but quality conscious consumers there look elsewhere for their beauty products. Consumers have serious concerns about quality standards, product safety and consequent damage to their skin. Premium imports are perceived by all consumer segments to deliver the highest quality skin care. This so-called obsession with prestige brands is, in fact, quite rational, given serious product quality concerns which exist.

The country of manufacture is the key to confidence in skin care brands. Consumers have more trust in multinational brands manufactured outside of China than the same brands made in the country. Products from some European and Asian countries are very highly sought after. This is because Chinese buyers attribute what are regarded as national characteristics to brands. France continues to benefit from the historical status of Paris as the global arbiter of culture (especially fashion and beauty).

Of course this issue is complicated by a number of other factors. Chinese buyers also want these imported skin care products to be specially formulated for their particular needs. Like all beauty buyers around the world, they believe they have a unique skin type and problems. Brands formulated for Caucasian skin, for example, or different climatic or environmental conditions will be less effective on Chinese skin and unsuited to the extremes (e.g., temperature or pollution) of Chinese cities. There is also a mutually contradictory desire to support Chinese manufacturers for patriotic and other reasons.

When faced with beauty products, Chinese beauty consumers focus primarily on price. All beauty buyers, but especially the premium segment, want a price which is commensurate with value, i.e., what the product delivers. But price does not always mean a low price and buyers reject brands that do not offer value for money.

The market demands functional beauty products that solve problems. Above all, the Chinese buyer wants solutions to problems of dry and aging skin. Chinese buyers prefer multifunctional products that save them not just money, but as importantly time. Time is a very important—but often understated if not ignored––issue in beauty product usage and in beauty retail. Chinese women have less free time as they work far longer hours than their European or U.S. counterparts. Beauty buyers want products that will require the minimum time to apply, but deliver the maximum outcome.

Time poor women explain why time easy products are among the most successful products in China. A striking example is the blemish balm category, sales exploded because they offer significant time economies. The most popular balms are multifunctional, that is, they deliver many results.

This new research identifies opportunities in the beauty market. It is based on in-depth discussions with the largest retailers of quality beauty products in China during early 2012. Experts interviewed included department stores, boutiques, specialty cosmetics chains and health and beauty (H&B) chains Diagonal Reports has been tracking the Chinese beauty market for more than a decade.