Do not jump to conclusions

With today’s globalisation and China’s urbanisation, it would be easy to believe that the Chinese market is similar to any Western one. Its rich culture and history as well as its fast-growing economy make it a country where consumption habits are very specific, half-way between tradition and modernity. Understanding this culture greatly determines a brand’s outcome and it is difficult to be successful in China without a differentiated strategy.

Be patient

Barriers to access the Chinese market should not be taken lightly: import is made complicated by Chinese regulations with many expensive procedures. After registering your trademark, another burdensome and expensive step is to obtain an Administrative Approval (product registration). The whole process differs whether it concerns “ordinary cosmetics” or “cosmetics for specific use”. The latter, as well as products which include new cosmetic ingredients, will be submitted to toxicological tests.

Know your target

Chinese consumers are now more sophisticated in their buying habits. It implies that they have a better knowledge of the existing offer and more specific needs regarding products. They enjoy communicating with fellow customers but also with the brand itself. They are not as loyal as they used to be and will not hesitate to regularly change and test products to find the ones that suit them best. Cosmetic products for men are usually bought by a female relative, which you need to bear in mind when choosing your strategy.

Also read: The hassle of importing cosmetics into China

Define your positioning

It is not without reason that almost all Western brands in China are positioned on the high-end market. First of all, Chinese customers trust international brands and perceive them as quality brands. It is also due to the fact that Chinese brands still struggle to break into this market segment. Shanghai Jahwa’s Herborist counts among the very few Chinese luxury cosmetics brands. On the other hand, low- to mid-end segments are so saturated that Western brands such as Garnier or Revlon for example had to withdraw from the Chinese market.

Showcase your expertise

If Chinese consumers trust foreign brands, it is because they associate them with expertise. Apart from having a good reputation, these brands are a symbol of quality and innovation to Chinese clients. The growing enthusiasm for cosmeceuticals - cosmetic products with pharmaceutical features- is also a sign of this perception.

Adapt you products to different needs

Expectations regarding beauty products are very specific in China. Be it skin or hair care, or even make up, meeting customers’ needs is your priority. Light texture, subtle fragrance and hydration benefits for example are a must for skin care products. Some Western brands have even launched products lines only dedicated to Asian skins in order to best match their needs, like Estée Lauder for example with Osiao.

Bet on naturalness

Chinese people are still very attached to traditional Chinese medicine techniques and according to the latter, beauty is closely linked to health. Which is why they would rather choose products which contain ingredients of natural origin. L’Oréal has focused on this part of the Chinese culture with its brand Yue-Sai, while Lancôme uses rhodiola or gentian root-based formulas.

Select the right distribution channels

In China, beauty products are sold in department stores and supermarkets with dedicated counters, in cosmetics retailers such as Watson or Sephora, in spas, in drugstores and of course on e-commerce platforms. Each distribution channel has its own advantages: customer advice and the opportunity to try products are important factors in the buying process, as well as the possibility to buy products in a few clicks. (If you want to learn more about Chinese distributors mentality read Chinese cosmetics distributors will never invest in the brand of their suppliers).

Create a unique customer experience

Chinese customers are nowadays more interested in the experience you can offer than in the brand name. A well-thought storytelling, an attractive packaging, the use of sensory marketing in stores will definitely impact their decision. They want to be able to communicate with their favourite brands.

Do not underestimate the digital channel

In China, Internet users go online more on their cell phone than they do on their desktop, thus information is usually transmitted via mobile devices. Recommendations, advice and ratings spread very quickly: consumers will only trust brands which are known and documented by fellow Internet users.

Therefore, being present on social media will greatly influence its success, as well as its presence on e-commerce platforms. E-commerce is still growing fast: 25% of all cosmetics products purchases are done online, and with cross border shopping’s success helping, e-commerce in the beauty sector looks even more promising.