How South Korean Cosmetic Brands Are Challenging Western Brands

South Korea Cosmetic Brands are Gaining Ground in China

South Korean beauty brands such as Laneíge, Innisfree, Etude House, Mamonde, The Face Shop, and Skinfood have an increasing number of customers in China. They are now formidable competitors for Western brands on the Chinese market. A new proof of it is that in 2015, South Korea overtook the US and Japan to become the No. 2 cosmetics exporter to China, only outperformed by France. According to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, it exported $1.1 billion worth of cosmetic products in 2015. If France is the core of the European beauty ethos, South Korea is Asia’s.

South Korean beauty products popularity has caused a decline in Western brands’ market share of foreign beauty products in China, which decreased by 3.8% for color cosmetics and 4.8% for skin care in 2014.

What is the key to the success of these South Korean Cosmetic brands?

South Korea has a strong reputation for innovation and for using natural oriental medicine ingredients to differentiate its products. Because Korean consumers are highly interested in cosmetics and are willing to try new concepts, Korea is likely to be the market where new trends emerge before going global. « The hottest products in recent years including BB cream and cushion compacts that Western brands have copied, originated in South Korea,” says Danielle Bailey, research director at L2.

The Chinese consumers’ demand for South Korea cosmetic brands is fostered by their K-pop obsession, their love for traveling to South Korea, and the massively popular Korean celebrities and TV shows. The ability to leverage them is one of the main reason of the success of South Korean brands on the Chinese market according to a report on Korean beauty brands in China published by L2. For example, Korean drama star Song Hye Ko is Laneíge’s spokesmodel since 2008 and the brand recently saw a significant sales boost for a lip product that was featured in the show in which she stars. Innisfree “Summer Love” campaign featuring Korean influencers Yoona and Lee Minho was a great success, with an average of 181,000 views per video on Youku.

South Korean cosmetic brands are also excelling online and succeed in building their presence on e-commerce sites. According to the report released by L2, Innisfree is the most-searched beauty brand on Baidu thanks to its focus on technological development. The brand offers a gamified omnichannel loyalty program and e-commerce through their its own website and on Tmall. Meanwhile, Laneíge is the most mentioned beauty brand monthly on Weibo.

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