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Mainland male skincare market now the worlds second largest

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Summary:Mainland male skincare market now the worlds second largest

Sales of male skincare products across the mainland grew at a faster rate than the global average last year, with only the Korean market seen as more lucrative. Online operators are seeing particular growth in the tier two and three cities.

The value of the mainland's male skincare market rose by 7% in 2013 – 2% faster than the global average. With the market in China second only to Korea in value terms (according to Euromonitor International), it is clear that this is now a hugely lucrative sector and one only likely to grow in the short- to medium-term future.

The growth figures come in a survey by Kantar Worldpanel, the research wing of WPP. Its findings show that the sales volume of men's skincare products (including facial scrubs, shampoos and deodorants) grew by 7% last year across the mainland, compared to the global average of 5%. Tellingly, Kantar's figures also show that 73% of men in the major mainland urban conurbations agreed with the proposition that having a decent appearance is an important asset when it comes to achieving career success and attracting the opposite sex.

The growth of interest in skincare has brought about a host of business opportunities for entrepreneurial individuals across the mainland. Two such beneficiaries are Jiang Liu and her husband, who act as agents for a number of Japanese cosmetic companies.

Jiang and her husband have been trading in Beijing for more than 10 years, primarily acting as agents for several mass-market brands, notably L'Oréal and Nivea. Typically, their clients tend to be small and medium-sized retailers.

Sharing her insights into the current state of the market, Jiang said: "Many clients say that skincare products for men are now selling well and that they are planning to source more goods from us. Unlike women, when men shop they don't keep on making comparisons. As long as they like a product, they instinctively purchase it. Their brand loyalty is also higher."

Overall, Jiang Liu believes the wholesale and retail margins for mass-market male and female skincare products are around the same. With bulk orders clearly her priority, she said: "In the past we used to mainly handle women's skincare product. From now on, though, we will be increasing our emphasis on men's items."

Currently, the primary sales channels for men's skincare products on the mainland are department stores and supermarkets, which together account for around 50% of total sales. Recently, a number of outlets have begun to upgrade the sales points for their male skincare ranges. This has seen multi-brand shelving replaced, by dedicated brand areas, highlighting particular ranges or products. In a move mimicking the traditional approach taken by many female cosmetic brands, these dedicated areas are being promoted as "experience centres" – a place to sample and learn – rather than simply as sales points.

This approach is now being widely adopted. In both Carrefour and Watsons, specialist male skincare sales areas are now on offer. A similar promotional platform is also in place at the Sa Sa outlet in Beijing.

According to staff working in the sector, offering an attentive and comfortable shopping experience for male skincare customers is a priority for mainland retailers. These discrete services help male shoppers to avoid embarrassment as well as acting to increase their product knowledge and confidence. It also sees them feel more free to indulge in such non-typical male pampering behaviour as facial spas and eyebrow shaping.


When it comes to online shopping in the sector, it is the mass-market products that are clearly dominating. According to Tmall.com, Nivea's three-piece (cleanser + toner + moisturiser) men's skincare product is their best seller. "Ms Meng", one of the supervisors of Nivea's Tmall store, believes the products success is down to two factors – firstly, it is good value-for-money and, secondly, it offers a comprehensive solution to all basic skincare needs.

The product currently sells for around Rmb149 and achieves monthly sales of some 6,200 units. Its chief product benefits have been identified as oil control, hydration and skin brightening.

Aside from products for greasy skin conditions and acne treatments, skin whitening and brightening items also sell well. According to Meng, more and more men are now opting for skincare products that help them remove dark spots, lighten acne spots, and whiten their skin.

Apart from the B2C online giants, notably Tmall.com and JD.com, small and medium-sized e-commerce operators are also making major inroads into the more masculine cosmetics sector. Ju Chuanguo is the Chief Executive of tiantian.com, one such specialist online cosmetics portal.

Assessing his own company's experience, he said: "In line with the online sales of male cosmetics continuing to grow, our own sales volume has tripled. We are seeing a particular surge in the second- and third-tier cities, with these territories proving prime areas for future growth and development."

One of the key benefits of e-tailing is the ability to sell products in areas neglected or under-served by traditional sales channels. It is also thought to be ideally suited to the male cosmetics market, given its facility for offering comprehensive information on product quality, allowing for shared feedback, purchase convenience and high-perceived value-for-money.

For many, the next logical step will be for brands to have their own proprietary online offerings on the mainland. In March this year, two overseas brands – Pure & Mild and Jurlique – actually launched their own sites, with many more expected to follow suit.

Given the relative immaturity of the sector and its focus on fashion and the latest trends, it is still incumbent on manufacturers to develop innovative new treatments and stay ahead of market expectations. In terms of male high-flyers, products need to focus on potential image enhancement, particularly in terms of anti-ageing, firming skin tones and concealing blemishes. A number of companies – notably Armani, Dior and Biotherm – are all relying heavily on the aspirational elements of their products in their mainland marketing initiatives. 

Added-value in the domestic sector

Given the dominance of overseas brands in the sector – particularly L'Oréal, Nivea, Bioré, Olay, Mentholatum and Shiseido – domestic companies have struggled to find their own niche. Given the potential rewards, however, this has not deterred many from trying.

One such hopeful is Inoherb, an established manufacturer of herb-based skincare products for women that made its first move into the male market in March 2013. As part of its USP, the brand offers tips on simple and practical skincare procedures for male consumers, with its products focusing on two particular areas – oil control and moisturising.

Pechoin, a Shanghai-based manufacturer, is also counting on its value-added offer to attract consumers. In particular, its marketing emphasises the quality of its research and development procedures. Currently, its range focuses on eight product areas, including face washes, moisturisers, lip balms and eye serum. The brand also seeks to woo consumers through its overseas style packaging, which features prominent English wording.

The average unit price of men's skincare products produced by domestic manufacturers is said to be around Rmb50, slightly lower than that of similar products for the female sector.

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