South Korea and its cosmetic’s success in China

Almost everyone has already heard of the K-phenomenon that has overwhelmed social media, video platforms as well as dedicated stores. From Kpop and K-dramas to K-beauty products, South Korean brands are having resounding success all over the world, especially in China. However, following its economic growth in the last decade, China became an eldorado not only for Korean brands but also for companies coming from the four corners of the world. Because of this fierce competition, Korean cosmetic brands will have to be innovative, creative, and responsive in order to stand out amongst international brands, but also local brands that are experiencing lightning growth.

Korean cosmetics in China: A Resounding Success

Thanks to its attractivity and popularity among Chinese consumers, South Korea’s cosmetic industry is by far its most lucrative one in China. Indeed, the direct online sales transaction value from South Korea to China was worth more than 4,9 trillion South Korean won (US$4,39 billion) as of 2020. Of course, you have to take into account that brands also have brick-and-mortar stores all across China.

Korea’s attractivity among the Chinese population

In the past few years, South Korea has become one of the favorite spots for Chinese travelers. This can be explained by the fact that it is near China, and that the two countries have many things in common. Moreover, it is not to be denied that many Chinese women, and more recently, Chinese men, are going to South Korea to do surgery. As a matter of fact, South Korea is the leading surgery market in the world, in a society where appearance is the key to success in both personal and professional life.

Cosmetics brands in the streets of South Korea
Cosmetics brands in the streets of South Korea

Another reason for South Korea’s popularity among Chinese consumers is that many of them are fond of Korean Dramas (also known as ‘K-dramas’) and Korean Pop (also known as ‘Kpop’) which has resulted in what we call the ‘Hallyu wave’. This phenomenon has exacerbated even more Korean cosmetic brands that are collaborating with Kpop celebrities and actors to promote their brand.

Kpop Group BTS’ collaboration with VT Cosmetics
Kpop Group BTS’ collaboration with VT Cosmetics

South Korea’s Cosmetic Industry in China

As one of the leading markets in terms of cosmetics, and following its growing popularity among young consumers, South Korea was able to steadily develop its cosmetic industry, selling its products all over the world.

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In 2019, the production value of cosmetics in South Korea amounted to 16.26 trillion South Korean won (US$14,536 billion). In fact, the market size of the South Korean cosmetics industry stood at about ten trillion South Korean won (US$8,940 billion).

Moreover, as K-beauty products are gaining global popularity, the production and exports of Korean cosmetic products have significantly grown in recent years, especially in Asian countries.

Cosmetics in China: A very competitive market

As the world’s second-largest cosmetics market, Chinese consumers are key drivers of the global cosmetic industry, representing a wonderful opportunity for foreign brands looking to expand their activities overseas.

Because of globalization, it is easier than before for foreign brands to enter the Chinese market. Even though cosmetic companies still have to comply with strict regulations, many popular international brands have the opportunity to conquer the world’s most populous country. 

Young Chinese consumers shopping for cosmetics (© Yatsen Global)

It is also important to know that even though Korean cosmetics were for a long time at the top of the sales in China, brands have to face tough competitors, such as J-beauty products (Japanese products), and mostly local brands that are gaining strength in China.

What are the challenges for Korean cosmetic brands in China?

To sum it up quickly, Korean cosmetic brands are still popular in China, but they have to face strong competition against other foreign brands, local brands, and even within the Korean cosmetic industry. In order to stand out, they have no choice but to be creative, innovative, responsive, and if possible, collaborate with celebrities or KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders).

According to a survey on the global popularity of South Korean beauty products in 2019, more than half of the Chinese respondents stated that K-beauty is very popular in China. Korean brands also have to face the dissatisfaction of some Chinese consumers who are feeling surrounded by excessive advertisements. 

According to a survey on the Korean beauty market in China in 2020, around 32% of the respondents stated that their main negative impression about Korean beauty products was excessive advertisements. On the contrary, 32% of the respondents answered that they didn’t have any negative impression of Korean products.

Why are Korean cosmetics popular in China?

Beige Chuu
Beige Chuu

With its multitude of brands established in China, we can wonder why Korean cosmetics are leading the Chinese cosmetic industry?

The K-Phenomenon in China

As mentioned earlier, following the phenomenon of Korean movies, dramas, Kpop, etc. Many Chinese consumers are fond of South Korea’s pop culture and products. This has greatly contributed to the distribution of Korean cosmetics in China, following increasing demand from consumers.

Singers Kris Wu, Zitao Huang, and Yixing Zhang (ex-members of Kpop Group EXO) for Nature Republic

It is also important to underline that many Chinese celebrities are also well-known in South Korea, and sometimes were even famous in South Korea before China. Therefore, when cosmetic brands are collaborating with Chinese Kpop celebrities, for example, the success will be outstanding in China as well.

On the other hand, Chinese consumers are also looking to resemble these celebrities. We can say that Korean brands are able to target Chinese consumers as they have similar tastes in terms of beauty, and the beauty criteria are also the same. Thus, they understand even more the needs of the Chinese market.

K-Beauty means High-quality safe ingredients

According to a survey asking Chinese consumers the main positive aspects of Korean beauty products, 40.5% of them emphasized the positive effect and good quality of their products. Then, it is also important to underline that they are also known for their great value.

If we look at the role of celebrities, 21.9% of the responders were influenced or considered that celebrities in advertisements are a positive aspect of the Korean beauty industry.

Cosmetics for Men in China: A Booming Industry

Compared to other countries where men would be reluctant to try on cosmetics, Chinese men are strongly influenced by neighboring countries such as Japan and South Korea. The Chinese society seems to be more open-minded in recent years. Thus, it is common in China to see men wearing cosmetics, and celebrities promoting Korean cosmetics for men.

According to a survey conducted by Rakuten Insight in July 2019, 52% of male respondents in China stated that positive recommendations from family and friends would influence them to try Korean skincare products. When looking at the survey’s results, the share of Chinese male respondents who used Korean beauty products was around 24%.

Opportunities for brands selling Korean cosmetics in China

If we take a deeper look at Korean cosmetics’ opportunities in China, we can see that cosmetics for men is a booming industry. In fact, the younger generation, and especially millennials, would be willing to try cosmetics, following the popularity of celebrities wearing makeup and using cosmetics. China is indeed being reshaped with new values and trends. They are more open to trying new things, so you shouldn’t be worried about creating new innovative products. Moreover, you should target young customers, and adapt your advertising strategies for them not to feel oppressed by excessive advertisements.

Threats for Korean cosmetic brands in China

Korean brand Hera in China (© Investing.com)
Korean brand Hera in China (© Investing.com)

Even though the market is still lucrative for Korean brands, it is also important to underline the fact that political and economic tensions have arisen between China and South Korea in the past few years. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, many Chinese consumers have shifted from foreign brands to local brands. Their habits have changed along with the marketing strategies that were used during the pandemic.

Furthermore, Korean brands still have a lot to learn from domestic brands when it comes to localization, innovation, and mastering online platforms as well as Chinese social media. For example, Chinese brands Florasis and Perfect Diary were able to stand out thanks to their creative approach, advertising, and marketing strategies on social media.

How to sell your Korean cosmetics brand in China?

Following China’s rapid digitalization over the past decade, several e-commerce platforms were able to stand out in the Chinese market, grabbing over 782 million users as of 2020, and enabling this enormous spurt of China’s e-commerce sector. Thus, it is important for cosmetic brands to sell their products online, using e-commerce platforms.

Chinese E-commerce platforms

  • Tmall

Founded in 2008 under the famous Alibaba group, Tmall (天猫), is a subsidiary of the e-commerce website Taobao (淘宝网). Its target market is primarily B2C (Business-To-Consumer). Tmall’s concept is ambitious and wise as it allows both local Chinese and international companies to sell their products through the platform in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Tmall stands out from its competitor’s thanks to its strict standards in terms of quality and renown.

Korean Cosmetics Tmall
Korean Cosmetics Tmall

Over the years, Tmall was able to attract the majority of online shoppers, as well as thousands of international brands selling cosmetic products.

Nonetheless, platforms like JD.com and Tmall only accept high-quality products and brands that already have a good reputation in China. The Korean cosmetic products you’ll find on Tmall are most of the time from well-known brands.

  • JD.com

Founded in 1998 by Liu Qiangdong in Beijing, JD (which stands for Jingdong 京东) was at the beginning only a magneto-optical store, which diversified over the years with electronics, computers, mobile phones, etc. In 2004, it opened its online retail platform and quickly became one of the two massive B2C online retailers in China with its competitor the Alibaba-run Tmall. Now, JD.com is partly owned by the giant Tencent, which has 20% of its stake. As of 2021, JD.com has over 470 million active customers.

Korean cosmetics JD.com
Korean cosmetics JD.com

Even though JD.com is the reference in terms of electronics and new technologies, it also provides a wide variety of cosmetic products, such as Korean cosmetics.

JD.com has set its standards for online shopping through its commitment to quality, authenticity, and the variety of products it offers. Another asset of JD.com is the delivery time, which is, in general, the same day (or less than 24 hours). People can purchase their cosmetics, and be delivered within a few hours.

  • Taobao

Launched in 2003 by the Chinese giant Alibaba, Taobao (淘宝网) is one of the most popular online shopping platforms, specialized in both B2C and C2C transactions, as well as the most popular online entrepreneurship platform, enabling thousands of young entrepreneurs to be successful. It has hundreds of millions of products and service listings, which are really appreciated by Chinese consumers. As of 2019, it has 300 million daily active users and 668 million mobile monthly active users. Taobao accounts for nearly 60% of the total e-commerce sales in China.

Korean Cosmetics Taobao
Korean Cosmetics Taobao

Many Korean cosmetic brands are using Taobao to sell their products. However, it is also worth mentioning that there are lots of fakes and counterfeiting in China. That’s why Chinese consumers tend to be more cautious when buying cosmetics.

If you want more information about Taobao, read our Guide to Selling on Taobao

  • Xiaohongshu

Founded in 2013, Xiaohongshu (小红书) also known as ‘The Little Red Book’ and ‘RED’, is a social media and one of the world’s largest community e-commerce platforms. Over the years, it has grown to become China’s foremost shopping platform in terms of beauty, fashion and luxury products. As of 2021, Xiaohongshu is boasting over 300 million registered users and 85 million monthly active users. It was also valued at more than USD 3 billion in 2018 and has the support of giants like Alibaba, Tencent, Zhenfund, Genesis Capital, etc.

Korean Cosmetics Xiaohongshu
Korean Cosmetics Xiaohongshu

Xiaohongshu is not just a social media app, users can also purchase on it. As a specialized app for cosmetics and having 80% of its users being young Chinese women, Xiaohongshu benefits from a powerful word-of-mouth. With users mostly relying on KOLs recommendations instead of just buying products from famous international brands, Korean brands have to conquer KOLs first, if they want to attract quickly Chinese consumers.

  • Douyin’s flagship stores

Launched in 2016 and developed by the Chinese tech firm Beijing Bytedance, Douyin quickly became one of the fastest-growing short video apps in China. This sharing video platform allows users to watch and create short videos with music in the background, stickers, and animations thanks to easy-to-use video creation tools.

Korean cosmetics Douyin

In March 2021, Douyin launched its flagship stores, available for brand accounts on its platform, marking a major step into e-commerce. Until now, Douyin was just a way to promote new products and popular items to consumers through short videos and live-streaming. Moreover, it was also possible for companies to send vouchers to their followers and add links to e-commerce platforms such as JD.com and Taobao. However, as this functionality is pretty new, only a few brands have already created their flagship stores.

Learn more about Douyin’s Flagship Stores

Physical stores are Still Popular to sell Cosmetics in China

Physical cosmetic stores China
A consumer trying Amorepacific’s lipstick (© Bloomberg News)

Even though the majority of cosmetic brands are using e-commerce platforms in China, physical stores are still popular among Chinese consumers. They can receive advice choosing the right product, try the products with the help of experts, and compare directly in the store. Many Korean cosmetic brands are established in China, attracting Chinese customers looking for high-quality and popular products, such as facial aloe masks, whitening products, skin cream, etc. But, don’t forget they still have to face tough competition, especially against local brands that are gaining strength and popularity.

How to promote your Korean Cosmetics in China?

As traditional media are slowly dying in China, the Chinese market is mostly based on the online market and online communication. Focusing on the online segment to increase your reputation is definitely a relevant choice. A coherent online advertisement increases the brand’s notoriety, boosting its awareness, and developing its popularity. Because of the fierce competition, it is very effective for cosmetic brands to be guided and helped throughout the process of advertising in China.

Promote your Korean Skincare Brand on Chinese Social media

With more than 989 million internet users in China, it has become essential for brands to be on social media. However, due to the Great Firewall, social apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are unavailable. This means that you will need to comply with Chinese social media if you want to target new Chinese consumers.

As you understand, the Chinese population is among the most connected in the world, and with a tech-savvy population, it is almost considered mandatory to have an official account and be at the core of trending topics. When looking for Korean cosmetics, they will do research about the brand online. When hesitating between a brand or another, they will look at reviews, pictures, videos, etc.

  • WeChat

Created by the Chinese company Tencent and released in 2011, WeChat, also known as Weixin (微信) in China, is the most used social media in China with its 1.2 billion uses as of 2021, far beyond Weibo, and is expected to grow even more in 2022.

Worldwide, WeChat is one of the leading social networks, ranking sixth in terms of active user number, becoming a lucrative marketing platform with its plethora of different functionalities. Its success relies on the fact that Wechat was able to integrate almost all the features that made the success of the world’s most popular networks.

Korean Cosmetics WeChat
Korean cosmetic brand Laneige on WeChat

For example, one powerful and useful way to take advantage of WeChat is to create an H5 brochure that you’ll be able to share with your followers, and directly on your social media accounts. It is cost-effective, and people will be able to share it with their friends, like word-of-mouth.

If you want more information on WeChat, you can read our full Guide to WeChat and also our full guide to WeChat H5 Brochure

  • Weibo

Launched in 2009 by the Chinese technology company Sina Corporation (新浪), Weibo (微博) is one of the biggest social media platforms in China. As its name indicates (“micro-blog”), Weibo provides micro-blogging services and is often compared to Twitter. However, it has evolved into a microblogging hybrid with Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and YouTube over the years.

Korean brand Nature Republic on Weibo

As of 2021, Weibo has 56.8% of the Chinese microblogging market in terms of active users, and 86.6% in terms of browsing time over Chinese competitors such as Tencent and Baidu. It has more than 511 monthly active users and millions of posts per day, making it the largest Chinese-language mobile portal. Almost all Chinese millennials are using this social app in order to follow celebrities, KOLs, brands, read news, etc.

With the majority of foreign brands having an official account on Weibo, you will probably have to consider creating an official account on Weibo. To do so, you can contact us and our team will take care of it.

  • Douyin
Korean cosmetics Douyin
Korean cosmetics Douyin

As you probably already know, before providing flagship store services, Douyin is mainly a social app in which users can create short and entertaining videos. Thus, it is also a good way to promote Korean cosmetics, as well as collaborate with Douyin’s KOLs.

KOLs to promote your skincare brand in China

One of the most powerful ways to promote your cosmetic brand is to collaborate with KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) that are sometimes more effective at selling a product than celebrities. Thus, many Korean brands already know that they should collaborate with KOLs in order to attract a wider audience.

KOLs on Xiaohongshu Innisfree

Moreover, many people will talk about your brand without collaborating with you, but it’s wonderful word-of-mouth for your brand. You’ll be able to find KOLs on every social media such as Xiaohongshu, Douyin, Weibo, etc.

Having a Chinese website

Laneige Chinese website

For most of the Korean brands selling cosmetics in China, it is undeniable for them to create a website in Mandarin Chinese. In general, the first thing consumers will be looking at is your website. Indeed, they will enter your brand’s name on Baidu for example, then click on your website. Don’t forget that you must adapt your website for smartphones, as the majority of the population uses their smartphone to do online research, on their way to work, or during lunch break. Moreover, it is essential to have a Chinese website if you want to rank on Baidu.

Baidu SEO

As the most popular search engine in China by far, Baidu simply is a step you can’t skip in China. However, increasing your website’s ranking on Baidu requires a slightly different way of thinking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) compared to what you might be used to with Google. Considered as the “Chinese Google”, Baidu is the most popular Chinese Search Engine and stands as the 5th most consulted website in the world. As of 2021, it represents 71.9% of the Chinese market share.

Korean cosmetic brand Innisfree on Baidu

Baidu is an opening window to enter the Chinese market as consumers will do their research on it in order to discover your brand. If you are not visible through the first pages, you won’t probably get much traffic. That’s why working on Baidu’s SEO is as important as setting up your e-commerce online shop. In order to do it successfully without wasting too much time, you can contact specialized experts such as GMA. We have helped many companies increase successfully their rank on Baidu, gaining much traffic, and thus, much more clients.

Find more about our Baidu SEO services

Contact us if you want to sell & Promote your Korean cosmetics brand in China

With China being the world’s biggest market in terms of cosmetics, many brands are trying to enter the Chinese market in order to conquer a wide audience. However, as demonstrated in this article, you will have to understand all of its subtleties in order to successfully manage to attract customers and stay in the long term.

Collaborating with an agency specialized in the Chinese market is the best way to achieve your goal and increase your Return On Investment. As all companies are different, the marketing and advertising strategy must be tailored according to their needs and within their financial means. Proud of the success of the companies we have helped over the years, we know exactly what a certain company needs.

Thus, if you have questions about selling, advertising, exporting, etc. your cosmetics in China, contact us directly, and we will reply to you within 24 hours.

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2 thoughts on “South Korea and its cosmetic’s success in China”

  1. Pingback: South Korea Cosmetics is overwhelming China

  2. It is true that K-pop and Korean soap operas are helping to increase the popularity of Korean cosmetics brands. Would you have any advice on which strategy is the best to launch a Korean brand in China?

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