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Social Media May Be Killing Makeup Sales in the West, But It’s Boosting Them in China

November 18, 2019, 1:11 PM UTC
003 Fortune Global Forum November 18th, 2019 Paris, France 11:45 CHINA: NEW FRONTIERS FOR GROWTH LUNCH DISCUSSION For over a decade, China has been a powerful engine of the global economy. But the changing business landscape, spurred by automation, geopolitical shifts, and new consumer demands present unique challenges and new opportunities to turbocharge old business models. A roundtable discussion on gateways for growth in the new Chinese marketplace. Discussion Leaders: Bernard Charlès, Vice Chairman and CEO, Dassault Systèmes Li Zhenguo, President, LONGi Group Federica Marchionni, Chief Executive Officer and Group Strategy Officer, Secoo International Vincent Qiu, Chief Executive Officer, Baozun Gregor Theisen, Senior Partner, McKinsey Digital Asia, McKinsey & Company Annie Young-Scrivner, Chief Executive Officer, Godiva Sonny Wu, Chairman, GSR Capital Moderator: Adam Lashinsky, Executive Editor, FORTUNE; Co-chair, FORTUNE Global Forum Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune
003 Fortune Global Forum November 18th, 2019 Paris, France 11:45 CHINA: NEW FRONTIERS FOR GROWTH LUNCH DISCUSSION For over a decade, China has been a powerful engine of the global economy. But the changing business landscape, spurred by automation, geopolitical shifts, and new consumer demands present unique challenges and new opportunities to turbocharge old business models. A roundtable discussion on gateways for growth in the new Chinese marketplace. Discussion Leaders: Bernard Charlès, Vice Chairman and CEO, Dassault Systèmes Li Zhenguo, President, LONGi Group Federica Marchionni, Chief Executive Officer and Group Strategy Officer, Secoo International Vincent Qiu, Chief Executive Officer, Baozun Gregor Theisen, Senior Partner, McKinsey Digital Asia, McKinsey & Company Annie Young-Scrivner, Chief Executive Officer, Godiva Sonny Wu, Chairman, GSR Capital Moderator: Adam Lashinsky, Executive Editor, FORTUNE; Co-chair, FORTUNE Global Forum Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune
Stuart Isett for Fortune

The “VSCO Girl” trend may be killing makeup sales in the West, but that’s definitely not the case in China.

In this year’s Singles Day—a Nov. 11 Alibaba confection that has become the world’s biggest sales event by some margin—the hottest category was cosmetics. That’s according to Vincent Qiu, the CEO of e-commerce solutions provider Baozun, who shared insights about the event Monday at the Fortune Global Forum in Paris.

“In this [Singles Day] event we are seeing cosmetics grow the fastest among all the categories,” he said. “Right now, young people are fond of making themselves better-looking.

“Social media helps us a lot,” Qiu added, pointing to the growing popularity of live-streaming.

That’s an interesting fact, given that social media has also been identified as the vector for the spread of the VSCO Girl phenomenon in the U.S. and elsewhere. But Qiu’s point was reinforced by Annie Young-Scrivner, CEO of the luxury chocolate brand Godiva.

Young-Scrivner noted that the cosmetic industry was already big in China 10-15 years ago, but it was “mostly moisturizers [as] in Chinese culture you don’t want to put on a lot of makeup.” Now, with the proliferation of social media apps, “you have to beautify yourself,” she said. (Irony alert: it’s serums and creams that are keeping the cosmetics industry afloat in the West these days, as makeup sales decline.)

“Go to any of the malls [in China] today and prime spaces are going to the global cosmetics companies, but also the Asian cosmetic companies,” Young-Scrivner said.

China has for some time been the second-biggest market for beauty products, after the U.S. However, a recent JPMorgan report suggested it would become number one by 2023, even if growth slows.

The trend provides a good example of the need for global businesses to closely examine the specifics of the Chinese market and also of regional variations and tastes within that market, as Young-Scrivner stressed.

“If you’re a CEO of any company you should be in China,” she said. “You should be physically there and you should do the consumer research yourself. Go to a home setting, go to a university. It’s not good enough to go once a year. You will think of things that will help you in your home country.”

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