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Cosmetics Products in China: Characteristics of Female Consumers

As consumption levels in mainland China continue to rise and the country’s international business ties develop, looks increasingly matter at work. In light of this, the growth potential of the mainland skincare and cosmetics products market should not be underestimated. According to Euromonitor International’s estimates, retail sales in China’s skincare and cosmetics products market will grow at an average annual rate of 12.8% from 2016-2019, much higher than the global average of 6.0%, and will top RMB 287 billion in 2019.

In order to get a good understanding of the characteristics and development trends of this market, HKTDC Research conducted a series of company visits, consumer focus group discussions and an online questionnaire survey between October and December 2015 (see Appendix for details). The survey constituted an in-depth study into the spending mentality, consumer preferences, purchase considerations and purchase channels of mainland consumers of skincare and cosmetics products. This article therefore examines their mentality and preferences in detail.

Young Respondents Slightly More Likely To Wear Makeup

This survey targeted two groups of female respondents: a young group (aged 20-30) and a mature group (aged 31-45). The proportion of young women who have the habit of making up (88%) is higher than that of mature women (83%). Participants in the focus group discussions said they tend to wear “light makeup” on normal days but “full makeup” when attending important events such as banquets or meetings with business clients. Young respondents reckon wearing makeup is a way of expressing and pleasing themselves, and not simply for the sake of work or special occasions. Overall, 27% of the respondents said they would “make up every day”, the majority (59%) said they “only make up when the occasion requires” and 14% said they “do not wear any makeup”.

 

Table: Makeup Habit of Women in Different Cities
Table: Makeup Habit of Women in Different Cities

 

While wearing makeup is becoming increasingly popular in the mainland, the purchasing power of consumers is a factor in their habit of putting on makeup. The survey finds that the higher the monthly household income of respondents, the more likely they are to wear makeup every day. The proportion of respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB20,000 saying they wear make up every day is higher than the overall average, while the proportion of respondents with a monthly household income of less than RMB20,000 saying that “only make up when the occasion requires” is likewise higher than the overall average.

 

Table: Makeup Habits of Women with Different Monthly Household Incomes
Table: Makeup Habits of Women with Different Monthly Household Incomes

 

Different Cosmetics for Different Occasions

Respondents said they use on average 4.7 different cosmetic products on average, with the most frequently used items being BB/CC cream (57%), makeup remover (46%), sunscreen/sunblock (44%), lipstick (37%) and foundation (34%). The proportion of young respondents using products such as BB/CC cream, makeup remover and sunscreen/sunblock is considerably higher than that of the more mature respondents.

Chart: Everyday Cosmetics Products Used
Chart: Everyday Cosmetics Products Used

Participants in the focus group discussions contended that usually three basic items are needed for putting on “light makeup”, while over 10 cosmetics products are required for putting on “full makeup”. Meanwhile, the types of cosmetics used also change according to different seasons and fashion trends. For instance, in the autumn/winter season, richer and more moisturising liquid foundation is used, while the same product used in spring/summer would likely be lighter and sheerer. Moreover, they said it was important for makeup to match – for example, the colour of the lipstick should not clash with the colour of the eyeshadow. Therefore it is common to have more than one item of the same cosmetics product. Some respondents indicated that they have more than six lipsticks, for example. Others said that they would be likely to buy the lipstick brands used by actresses in Korean TV drama series.

Chart: Top Cosmetics Products Used
Chart: Top Cosmetics Products Used

 

Looking Prettier and Boosting Confidence Are Motivating Factors

According to the survey, all respondents, regardless of their age, city of residence and household income, agree that the main reason for wearing makeup is “to make oneself look prettier and boost confidence”. The higher the monthly household income, the higher the proportion of respondents who believe that putting on makeup can “express one’s personal image and taste” as well as “show respect for others”. Some participants in the focus group discussions said they wear makeup whenever they go out, which has been made easier and more convenient in recent years by the availability of cosmetics products with a wide range of benefits. For instance, the BB/CC creams on sale in the market generally offer UV protection as well, so female consumers do not need to apply sunblock if they are wearing those creams.

 

Table: Reasons for Wearing Makeup
Table: Reasons for Wearing Makeup

Product Benefits Are Main Consideration in Purchasing

The survey found that the most important considerations for purchasing cosmetics include: “product benefits/efficacy” (66%), “brand” (64%) and “word-of-mouth” (60%). Young respondents are more influenced by factors such as “word-of-mouth” and “price”, while mature respondents are more attracted by “natural/organic/herbal ingredients” and “high-tech/biotech products”.

Among all respondents, those with a monthly household income of less than RMB20,000 are more influenced by the “price” factor, while those with a monthly household income of over RMB20,000 are more attracted by such factors as “brand”, “origin of brand”, “place of manufacture” and “promotion”. Some respondents participating in the focus group discussions said that as they put on makeup every day, they are worried that if the cosmetics used are not well-known brands they may do harm to their skin. Therefore, they tend to buy cosmetics products from well-known brands. Figures show that the higher the monthly household income of respondents, the more important “brand” becomes as a consideration factor in buying cosmetics. The proportion of respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB40,000 who “make up every day” (42%) is higher than the overall percentage (27%), with “brand” being their most important consideration factor.

Some participants in the focus group discussions also said that for items (such as lipsticks, pressed powder foundation and rouge) required for doing touch-up when going out, they tend to buy international brands. The reason is that as they may use these products in front of others, they would feel embarrassed if the products are not from well-known brands.

 

Table: Considerations When Buying Cosmetics
Table: Considerations When Buying Cosmetics

Cosmetics Sets Are Well Received

The survey finds that the preferences of respondents for cosmetics is similar to that for skincare products – that is, they tend to follow the suggestions made by a certain brand and use its whole set of products (please see related article: Skincare Products in China: Characteristics of Female Consumers). Overall, 28% of the respondents said they prefer to use cosmetics sets of the same brand for example spring/summer sets comprising liquid foundation, powder and pressed foundation or makeup sets comprising rouge, eyeshadow, lipstick and nail polish. Half of the respondents (50%) would, on top of cosmetics sets of a certain brand, add other brands or other products of the same brand. Only 22% of the respondents like to mix and match products of different brands and different sets. This shows that most respondents have a preference for certain cosmetics brands and brand loyalty is high.

Innovative Products or Makeup Themes the Only Way New Brands Can Attract Consumers

When it comes to buying and using cosmetics products, 52% of the respondents would stick to several specific brands. Among the young respondents, 34% said they would buy and try different brands of cosmetics, while the more mature respondents (28%) are less eager to try new brands. However, for new, previously unheard-of brands/products launching onto the market (for example air cushion BB cream and two-tone lipstick), respondents said they would not mind giving them a try as long as they are attractive enough. Whether they would continue to buy them would depend on the products’ quality and benefits.

Chart: Cosmetics Products Brand Loyalty
Chart: Cosmetics Products Brand Loyalty

Overall, respondents’ cosmetics brand loyalty is quite high. In light of this, when a new brand enters the mainland market, it has to offer innovative products or novel makeup themes before it can attract the attention of consumers. Take liquid foundation as an example: traditionally it is in liquid form, but in recent years some brands have launched liquid foundation in gel or foam form. As for makeup themes, apart from seasonal and festive makeup, some brands use themes in their promotional strategy. For instance, one brand launched a new lipstick series under a “petal lips” theme, with special makeup workshops organised to attract consumers. However, the factor that most attracts respondents to buy a new brand is the launch of “products meeting a specific makeup need” (65%), such as cosmetics targeting different age groups and skin types.

Chart: Considerations When Buying New Cosmetics Brands
Chart: Considerations When Buying New Cosmetics Brands

 

Mainland and Korean Cosmetics Brands Are Most Popular

In recent years, Korean culture and trends have become immensely popular in the mainland. Overall, the proportion of respondents buying Korean cosmetics brands (31%) is higher than that of respondents buying mainland brands (24%), while those buying Japanese, European and US brands together account for 42%. Among young respondents, 35% said they mostly purchase Korean cosmetics brands, followed by mainland brands (24%). Mature respondents also mostly buy Korean cosmetics brands (27%), followed by mainland brands (24%). It is interesting to note that mature respondents buy considerably more US brands (12%) than young respondents (7%).

 

Table: Origin of Most Purchased Cosmetics Brands
Table: Origin of Most Purchased Cosmetics Brands

 

The price of imported cosmetics brands is higher than that of mainland brands. Hence, the purchasing power of a consumer affects her product choice to a certain extent. Respondents with a monthly household income of under RMB12,000 mostly buy mainland cosmetics brands, while those with a monthly household income of over RMB12,000 mostly buy Korean brands. Meanwhile, in terms of price, the average price paid by respondents with a monthly household income of less than RMB12,000 is about RMB236 for liquid foundation and RMB171 for lipstick, compared to the average RMB345 and RMB261 paid for those products, respectively, by respondents with a monthly household income of over RMB12,000.

 

Table: Origin of Most Purchased Cosmetics Brands
Table: Origin of Most Purchased Cosmetics Brands

 

According to interviews with mainland skincare and cosmetics product distributors (for details, please see Tapping China’s Skincare and Cosmetics Market through Cross-Border E-Commerce), mainland consumers have formed certain impressions of skincare and cosmetics product brands from different countries or regions even if they have not actually used these products themselves. For instance, consumers generally have the perception that Swiss brands focus on medical cosmetology, that US brand products have more advanced formulae, and that Japanese brands specialise in whitening and are more suitable for the skin of Asians.

Overall, female consumers’ three main considerations when buying cosmetics products are: guaranteed quality/a good word-of-mouth reputation (67%), good value for money (57%), and special formula/unique product (36%). Among those respondents who mostly purchase Korean cosmetics brands, 70% indicate that Korean brands have guaranteed quality/a good word-of-mouth reputation. As for respondents who mostly purchase mainland brands, good value for money (72%) is the most important consideration.

 

Table: The Brand Origin Factor of Most Purchased Cosmetics Brands
Table: The Brand Origin Factor of Most Purchased Cosmetics Brands

 

Conclusions

The survey shows that the habit of wearing makeup is become increasingly popular in the mainland. In particular, the proportion of young respondents putting on makeup is higher than that of mature respondents. While it is said that wearing makeup is a way of showing respect for others, respondents are more of the opinion that it can “make oneself look prettier and boost confidence”. Overall, respondents’ main consideration in buying cosmetics is product benefits. The higher the monthly household income of the respondent, the more important “brand” becomes as a consideration factor in making purchase. For cosmetics products used for touch-up when going out, respondents tend to buy international brands, as they will use these products in front of others. All in all, respondents’ cosmetics brand loyalty is quite high. Hence, when a new brand enters the mainland market, it has to offer innovative products or novel makeup themes in order to attract consumers. It is believed that if a brand organises special makeup classes on its new products, this can arouse greater interest among consumers.

 

Appendix:

Table: Focus Group Discussions
Table: Focus Group Discussions

 

Table: Online Questionnaire Survey
Table: Online Questionnaire Survey

 

Table: Average Monthly Household Income of Female Respondents
Table: Average Monthly Household Income of Female Respondents
Content provided by Picture: Alice Tsang
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