Beauty Retail in Asia: Adapting to COVID-19

09. 06. 2020

Alison Jambert, Co-Founder and Communications Director

Retail is suffering from unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, much like every facet of society across the globe. Brands need to adapt to changes on a daily basis, while looking for new and improved ways to promote their businesses. 

It is predicted that Asian economies will bounce back faster and stronger than Western ones and there are already signs of pent-up consumer demand being released – ‘revenge spending’ has swept through China after lockdown was lifted, with luxury brands reporting record high single day sales. 

Some trends being reported:

  • For prestige brands, a year-on-year decline in many cosmetics and fragrances due to working from home, mask wearing and airport duty free shop closures. With a return to work, an exception could be above-the-mask treatments.
  • In China, Alibaba reported eye-cosmetic sales increased 150%, month over month, during the week of February 18, 2020. South Korean influencers on platforms like YouTube were also amongst first to introduce make-up looks to match protective masks.
  • By contrast, skincare (serums, facemasks, facewash etc.), hair care, and bath-and-body products appear to be benefiting from self-care and pampering trends across all markets with body lotion appearing particularly strong.
  • Nail polish and nail stickers sales are very strong in Asia, despite low costs of nail salon services. This reflects a consumer response to social distancing and restrictions around salon operations.
  • Brands have moved to engaging consumers online through livestreaming, as a means to keep connected and boost e-commerce sales.


Differing states of lockdown across Asia are impacting various industries in different ways. However, the region has collectively reported a significant drop in physical retail business while e-commerce sales have either held or increased.

In Japan, Shiseido’s e-commerce sales are up, with all premium skincare brands enjoying strong online sales. One men’s self-care brand that has benefitted from a timely switch to ecommerce during this period is Bulk Homme; the brand has reported a 90% year on year increase in March and 130% in April. In South Korea, 49% of consumers have increased their online shopping, with cosmetics powerhouse Amorepacific reporting an increase in skincare product sales.

Even before the pandemic, a combination of livestreaming and online sale events has been increasingly popular in China. This has proved to be useful during the pandemic for brands like L’Oreal, who turned around their consumer engagement strategy after Covid-19 broke out. They shifted their focus to e-commerce and participated in online shopping mall sales. Coupled with easing lockdown measures in March, the company reported an upturn in sales closing the first quarter up 6%.

It has also been critical to develop backend operations and logistical capability to scale and adapt to these changes in demand. L’Oreal swiftly addressed work safety measures, enabling them to restore operational capabilities as early as February.

Self-care in isolation

DIY beauty care is not just a result of people fearing close contact or salon restrictions, but also reflects the impact of economic difficulties faced by consumers. This trend has also led to an increased demand for DIY content, which Asian brands have been responding to as a means to keep customers engaged.

Instagram reigns supreme for the beauty industry and unsurprisingly some brands have been quick to invest in content to match consumer needs. Skincare experts are in demand online as retailers race to share advice and knowledge to help drive sales. Two strong Instagram Live examples are Sephora in Singapore (@sephorasg) and Uka in Japan (@instauka); both brands host daily sessions at 8pm each evening focusing on self-care at home.

Hair colour brand Palty (@palty_official) has also started collaborating with hair and make-up artists to create ‘home workshop videos’ on Instagram, encouraging their audience to try out new hairstyles. Maison KOSE is also riding the hashtag trend by launching a series of product promo videos filmed by brand ambassadors from their own homes.

Make-up in the time of digital apps

For a lot of women in Asia, wearing a protective mask in the workplace has lifted the burden of putting on a full face of make-up. However, moving to a work from home situation has created a new make-up trend in Japan – the Zoom Meeting Make-up. Popular magazines like CanCam and VoCE have published make-up tutorials aimed at putting on your best face forward online, focusing on coral hues and camera-friendly highlighters.

Other brands such as Eyeddict and User Select contact lenses, have been making the most of mobile apps to keep their customers engaged. Together with fake eyelashes brand Miche Bloomin, they’ve partnered with popular beauty AR and selfie app YouCam Makeup. While virtual make-up apps are now commonplace globally, cross-platform partnership enables brands to tap into an existing audience and keep them engaged digitally.

Other trends

Cross-platform and cross-industry tie-ups have also been increasing in frequency, as make-up brands look to tap into more audience in the digital sphere. 

In 2019, M.A.C. Cosmetics in China partnered with Tencent to create a limited edition line of lipsticks co-branded with the game ‘Honor of Kings’. What looked to be an unlikely partnership was a huge success, owing to the largely female player demographic. 

Meanwhile, Beam Suntory launched an advertising campaign in the Philippines for their Horoyoi line of canned cocktails. Targeted at a female demographic, the brand released a ‘Happy Hour Make-up’ line inspired by the products and the igari (hangover) make-up trend.

It’s a challenging time for all businesses, but as in any crisis, it also provides opportunities, stimulating innovation and creativity. The Asian market may not provide a complete answer for other regions but examining how brands and consumers are coming out of lockdown will provide valuable marketing lessons for all. And if you haven’t considered Asia as a market before perhaps it’s now time to do so.

About us

Eat Creative is a brand and communications agency based in Tokyo and Hong Kong. Multi-disciplined and multicultural, we work in partnership with a roster of creative specialists, to tackle a wide range of creative challenges. We develop bespoke brand and communications strategies that addresses the specifics needs for Western companies expanding into Asia and Asian companies to the West. Please get in touch to learn more.