Walking down a street in Hong Kong just a decade ago, it was rare to spot women wearing foundation or nail polish. Now though, it's hard to find a bevy of better-groomed denizens anywhere.
"There have been lots of changes over the past 10 years," said Esther Kwong, director and general manager of Shiseido in Hong Kong.
For one, the city's economy rebounded strongly after a series of alarming events. From 1998 to 2003, its business in all sectors was negatively impacted by Asia's economic crisis. And in 2003, the SARS epidemic virtually cut Hong Kong off from the outside world.
But ever since, sales of beauty products have risen consistently, with many industry executives saying they rang up revenue in the strong double digits last year.
The growth is driven by numerous phenomena.
"Now, consumers are more sophisticated and know more about skin care and makeup," said Kwong. That includes the increasingly wealthy from Mainland China.
In part, this sophistication stems from the fact that consumers see ever more beauty advertising. According to the Nielsen tracking firm, media spend on cosmetics-related ads in Hong Kong magazines for the first 11 months of last year topped that for full-year 2006 by 25 percent. Further, the emergence of malls (of which Hong Kong has about a dozen) gives shoppers more places to buy beauty items outside the traditional department and convenience store channels.
And given Hong Kong's free-port status (the city is a largely autonomous Special Administrative Region of China), it has been relatively easy for products from countries spanning the globe to jockey for position on counters here. Skin care generates the lion's share of Hong Kong's beauty business, followed by color cosmetics, then fragrance, executives said.
For an additional point of difference and to bolster business even more, beauty retailers are ramping up their new brand offerings — often to include products with a "healthy" bent or with those billed as exclusives to Hong Kong. Stores also are upping their customer service to a greater degree.
Lane Crawford is a case in point. The department store takes a somewhat different approach to how it sells beauty in each of its four Hong Kong locations, which are a 10-minute walk from one another.