China Cross-border Beauty Commerce: a Primer

Non-native brands need a strategy to break into the Chinese market.
Non-native brands need a strategy to break into the Chinese market.

Beauty is even bigger business in China than it is in the United States. If you want to sell internationally, marketing comes first. You need to ensure demand overseas by building credibility for your brand, awareness of what it does, name recognition and lots and lots of exposure on all platforms available.  

Embracing A Digital Channel

There are a number of things a company needs to know and do before considering selling in China and other Asian markets. First and foremost: Everything in China is digital.

“Email and desktops, even laptops are outdated,” says Franklin Chu, managing director of Azoya International. “Mobility is most important when communicating with consumers.”

We Chat is the main way of communicating via mobile devices in China, where Facebook is banned. In addition, WeChat has grown from a messaging app to a social media hybrid, becoming the standard for all business transactions and communications.  

Non-native brands need a strategy to break into the Chinese market. Companies need to be prepared to advertise on WeChat, sell on WeChat and communicate there.  

Building a Social Brand Presence 

Brands need a social presence in China before selling there. You can get started in China with a conservative budget, but you need serious commitment.  You should have $10,000,000 in sales in the United StatesU.S. and $300,000 to invest in social overseas, according to Chu. 

China’s dominant social media platforms are Little Red Book and Weibo, an open social media platform where people get news and trend updates. 

This is where content goes viral and key opinion leaders (KOLs; more on them below) build their communities. 

Like popular American social media platforms, brands can create their own accounts and post content designed to engage followers. They gain popularity on “super-topics” in community forums.  

Chinese Influencers

Influencers on the WeChat platform are known as KOLs.

“KOLs are the primary movers for setting the trends and defining what’s hot,” saysChu. “Then there are the key opinion consumers (KOCs), which are not defined by the number of followers they have. KOCs may only have hundreds of followers, but their expertise is assumed and their credibility and marketing reach is enormous.”  

KOLs and KOCs are particularly critical due to the shrewdness of Chinese shoppers.

Chu adds, “Skin care [for instance] is very taken serious in China and consumers are very particular about it. Brands need to know how to reach and respond [to educated shoppers].” 

Know Your Retail Channels

Selling is done on WeChat Mini Program Live Streaming for which WeChat Live Streaming Advertisements drive exposure.  

In August 2020, WeChat Mini Store for SME launched to help people sell products without the program development and entry costs which has helped more merchants start online businesses more quickly.  

Tmall Global is the main platform for overseas brands selling directly to consumers in China while getting paid in their own currency.

Tmall is owned by Alibaba, the B2B selling platform that also owns TaoBao, China’s equivalent to eBay. 

Getting set up on Tmall Global is easier than Tmall’s main platform because it doesn’t require a local bank account or entity, but it does require paperwork and planning. There are also Tmall agents who let American companies use their existing stores to sell their products. One note: Tmall Global requires translation into simplified Chinese.

The best way to navigate business and cultural norms in China is to connect and work with established partners that have years of experience with beauty brands in China.  




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