Chinese Beauty: How Consumer Behaviour Is Changing Amid The Global Crisis

The global pandemic has interfered with beauty consumption in China with both immediate and lasting effects.

In the first quarter of 2020 as the lockdown became strictly enforced, Chinese consumers stopped buying cosmetic products as they stayed at home and shoppers wore masks to leave quarantine and purchase essential items. However, compared to the same period in 2019, beauty products tracked in March on Tmall saw sales grow, driven primarily by skincare and personal care products.

Skincare brands swiftly adjusted to the emerging trends and repositioned their products as stay-at-home essentials. Brands recognized the opportunity to cater for new behaviors, like people staying up later at night or viewing screens for long hours and marketed their products to consumers accordingly. Avène, a leading skincare brand, updated product images and titles on the Tmall platform to emphasize its products as solutions for skin infections caused by wearing masks. SkinCeuticals leveraged KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) to promote their products through quarantine skincare routines. Other brands executed their activations as planned despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Lancôme initially reduced activity on their brand account to demonstrate a level of sensitivity, but eventually leveraged KOLs to drive awareness and sales for a new product launch. 

A sense of nationalism and health consciousness has emerged amongst Chinese consumers amid the crisis. Taking advantage of this are Chinese cosmetics brands like Perfect Dairy and Colorkey, who have prospered during the pandemic by launching low cost, high quality products that gained momentum across social media in the middle of the lockdown. In the future, beauty products, and particularly skincare, are likely to cater for consumer’s growing desire for self-care and wellness habits. An even greater emphasis on ingredients is likely to emerge, as brands move towards clean beauty, which in the past had been slow to gain popularity in China. To stay relevant in the minds of Chinese consumers, beauty brands are amending their messaging and product formulations to meet the requirements of the realities.

Investing In Livestreaming

Livestreaming has been embraced widely over the course of the lockdown, leading to both higher engagement and increased sales. According to Gartner’s Digital IQ Index: Beauty China, 84% of beauty brands offer livestreaming content on their Tmall store. Taobao livestreams and content views increased significantly amongst prestige beauty brands.

Livestreaming has also become an integral part of brand campaigns, often featuring popular KOL’s and celebrity ambassadors such as Austin Li and Viya’s. WeChat livestreaming also emerged as a platform for driving traffic to brand sites and marketplaces over the past number of months. Many brands have invested in training and education for their sales associates and makeup artists to develop them as livestreamers. By developing the digital profiles of their frontline staff, brands can drive traffic through personal contacts and WeChat groups to livestreams, in turn increasing topline revenue. MAC Cosmetics expanded on this opportunity by launching a contest where 64 of its signed makeup artists were challenged to create looks based on themes and do demos during livestreams.

Digital Dominates

Throughout the pandemic, countless beauty brands selected to postpone their activations, however over the coming months many brands will resume activities, leading to a potentially noisy and crowded second half of the year. Brands will need to be careful not to overwhelm their audiences with product launches and activations, and carefully approach the anticipated rush of “revenge buying”. While celebrity influencers and KOL’s should exercise caution not to over commercialize their own personal brands.

Although more time is needed to assess long-term changes in consumer behavior, it’s obvious that e-commerce and digital channels have now become a top priority in terms of allocation of resources and investment for many brands following the crisis. According to Alimama, almost half of the beauty clients for Queen’s Day 2020 were new customers. In order to grow, beauty brands should leverage Tmall marketing tools, loyalty programmes, drive traffic to brand sites as well as invest in personalized services to retain these customers and drive long-term growth. Loyalty programs are popular among consumers, with 98% of tracked beauty brands on Tmall having one, and with 94% of brands offering points redemption.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the right digital infrastructure is critical. Brands who have invested in persuasive loyalty programs, robust CRM systems to track client activity online and offline, and who encouraged their teams to adopt online profiles to better connect with their clients will create the best opportunities for future success.

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