Li Mei Foong
Apr 19, 2016

Asean powering beauty gadgets growth

SECTOR STUDY: Price-sensitive consumers make emerging markets like Southeast Asia a challenging playing field. But the rewards are big for brands that play their cards right.

Electric charm: Convincing customers of the value for price is key to sales increase
Electric charm: Convincing customers of the value for price is key to sales increase

The Western beauty ideals of ‘effortless-chic’, ‘less-is-more’ grooming regimes are lost on Asians. For the world’s largest continent, more is more.

This is the observation of Harriet Robertson, director of Flamingo. She notes that even in emerging markets, “having more [beauty] products, taking more steps in the routine […] are seen as a good thing.” 

Joining the battalion of bottles and tubes on vanity dressers are electric beauty devices. These gadgets, including facial cleansers, hair-removal lasers and light-therapy masks, boast of precise technology for visible end results. Clarisonic’s cleansers promise the use of sonic frequency that “outperforms manual methods or rotary cleansing devices”. Philips VisaPure claims to use dual-motion technology that “stimulates microcirculation for a more radiant complexion”.

“People [in the region] are end result-focused ... They will interrogate on the claims of products,” Robertson says.

According to Euromonitor International, the retail volume of personal care appliances in Asia is projected to jump 50 percent over the next five years. The current market size stands at US$5.6 billion—over a quarter of the global US$18.5 billion. Euromonitor reported sales of electric facial cleansers in Asia recorded a “remarkable growth of nearly 11,000 percent in volume between 2010 and 2015”. 

But most of it was driven by China’s humongous population and developed markets. In many SEA countries, the retail volume remains “negligible”, says Minji Kim, senior analyst of beauty and fashion at Euromonitor. The average price of the electric cleansers at US$200 is out of mass users’ reach in emerging markets. In contrast, the cheaper, battery-operated cleansers are performing much better.

Robertson concurs on the unaffordability of the devices, saying emerging markets are facing a “real threat” from the cheaper “local copycats”. But Kim sees the glass as half-full—the popularity of low-price devices proves consumers in emerging markets do demand for beauty solutions beyond what skincare products offer. She suggests global brands to test the waters with no-frills versions first. When people warm up to these, they may upgrade to premium models.

Sharon Kwek, senior innovation and insights analyst at Mintel, opines luxury gadgets may not have to engage in a war with cheaper brands. The real battle lies in convincing consumers that they are getting value for their money. “People [will be willing] to pay for quality and safety to ensure nothing goes wrong.” She says multiple functions would help justify higher prices, citing the example of Luna, a skincare gadget by Foreo, which allows for both exfoliation and skin-firming. 

These functions need to be conveyed with the right marketing language. Kwek says general terms like ‘anti-aging’ no longer sell well because people demand to know how a device targets specific areas like wrinkles and dark spots. 

How one sells these devices is just half the strategy—the other half is where one sells it. Kim says an omni-channel strategy may work best. Product trial in stores is important to convince consumers that the gadget is worth higher prices, but online retail channels also help brands cut cost when entering the markets. 

 

EXPERT OPINION
When it comes to beauty gadgets, don’t forget male-grooming
Kathryn Sloane, director of growth, SGK Asia-Pacific

In a region that embraces technology, it is hard not to notice the buzz around electric beauty devices, with the promise of professional results in the privacy of your home. According to Transparency Market Research, devices are expected to achieve global sales of US$10.7 billion by 2018. But are these devices a step too far for male-grooming? 

In the West—maybe. But in the East where men feel liberated to celebrate their vanity and masculinity, anything is possible. 

Brands in Asia have an opportunity to expand male-grooming rituals with electric-powered cleansing. Electric hair-grooming systems, shavers and toothbrushes are already widely used, so it is easy to see that these devices can be a credible extension of today’s male-beauty regime. 

Philips has already tapped into this trend, launching VisaPure Men facial brush in Hong Kong and in the US. L’Oréal’s Clarisonic Alpha Fit Cleansing System and Clinique for Men’s Sonic System Deep Cleansing Brush are recent entrants. 

But product availability alone will not drive category adoption. Successful brands will be those that:

  • respond to cultural and behavioural nuances 
  • build logic and benefits into messaging
  • rethink product touchpoints and make it easy for men to find information online
  • make the most of Asian men’s attitude of enjoying experimentation, with on-ground activations and product trials
  • build and elevate dialogue at virtual/physical shelves to optimise conversion

 

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