Face masks may still be perceived in the West as an indulgence rather than an essential part of a skin care programme, but the situation is very different in Asia. Ardent purchasing by Chinese, Korean and Japanese consumers mean the sector is set to become the next big thing in beauty care – and travel retailers are taking note.
“Today, Asian women look for three different things from a face mask,” says a L’Oréal spokesperson. “They look to get a perfectly hydrated and even-toned skin, a last step which would complete their daily beauty routine, and a quick response to their main skin concern, which is reducing dark spots and revealing a clear skin.”
Lancôme masks are available in all duty free and travel retail shops in Asia and, according to the spokesperson, 2006 growth was at 5.2%, “with a great performance from Lancôme Absolute Mask.”
For the first quarter of 2007, the company’s average growth has been of 4%, but expectations are for an 8% growth with the introduction of Absolute BX and Beta X, and a Primordiale technology eye-mask, which will concentrate on the eyelids.
Malaysian retailer DR Group Holdings reports its face mask business is on the rise. “Our most popular SKUs are Estée Lauder’s Stress Relief Eye Mask, Lancôme’s Primordiale Optimum Eye Mask and Clarins’ Thirst Quenching Mask, which is a favourite among frequent travelers,” says Amy Chew, buyer for the group’s Colours & Fragrances business. “For Europeans, dehydration due to long haul flights is often a main concern, but among Asians, particularly Chinese travellers, whitening masks are the top sellers.”
From Colours & Fragrances’ perspective, price is less of a factor when it comes to purchasing skin care products than a product’s benefits and perceived value. It has registered a promising growth in the skin care sector of 15% in 2006 compared to the previous year. Face mask sales comprise just under 5% of skin care product sales and, Chew explains, are often not the core product that their customers look for, unless they are regular users: “It is more of a complementary skin care product introduced to them by the beauty advisors during cross-selling.”
Japanese and Korean women seem to need less convincing than South-East Asians at the beauty counters. Enthusiastic users of face masks, especially in sheet forms, they tend to buy mainly the Asian brands Shiseido and SK-II. “We offer five Shiseido face masks and seven SK-II masks at Chubu Centrair International Airport,” notes Centrair commerce & marketing manger, Tayuka Nakatsu.
According to Nakatsu, 1.26% of Shiseido’s total sales at the Nagoya airport are face masks, and so are 13.43% of SK-II products. “Face masks only fill a 0.36% of Chanel total sales, and even for Lancôme and Dior, the figures are under 1%,” says Nakatsu. “Only a few cosmetic companies focus on this sector and, as you can see, SK-II is benefiting right now.”
Centrair sells masks mainly to women, with Koreans at the top, but also to men. “Men buy masks as a present and for themselves, in particular the Clé de Peau brand from Shiseido,” says Nakatsu.
Many Asian airlines also include face masks among their SKUs – and very successfully too. “We usually offer two masks each quarter, but starting Q3 2006, we also started offering a single piece mask to our passengers,” says Cindy Lam, inflight sales & logistics manager, Cathay Pacific Airways.
The Cathay Pacific team thought that some passengers might want to buy only one piece, and even use it while flying, rather than committing to a pack of six or more. They worked with L’Oréal on this initiative to make a Cathay Pacific exclusive offer: the Revitalift Intensive Treatment 10-minute Cloth-Mask.
“This product is definitely number one in terms of volume,” says Lam, “and we’re selling approximately 1,400 pieces per month.”
In terms of revenue, Cathay Pacific’s top brand is SK-II. Christian Dior, Lancôme and Clinique also attract a large group of loyal customers, which tend to be female and predominantly from countries like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
Cathay’s forecasts for the future are also positive: skin care revenue increased 21% in 2006 compared with 2005, and SKUs in the skin care category also grew 16%. In Q1 2007, skin care sales showed another 20% growth on top of Q1 2006, and sheet face masks already account for approximately 5% of skin care sales.
Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido has been developing the face mask sector into a broad range. Masks sold in cream form include Shiseido Skincare Moisture Relaxing Mask and Shiseido Skincare Purifying Mask. In sheet form there is Benefiance Pure Retinol Face Mask, cleverly divided into two sheets (one for the upper portion of the face and another for the lower part) for easy fitting.
“Asian customers prefer face masks in sheet form that provide a good fit for the face and give quick results,” say Donna Seow, regional trainer for Shiseido TR Asia-Pacific. But the company’s most recent face mask launch has been the cherry on the cake: “We have just launched the White Lucent Intensive Brightening Mask, which has been extremely well- received,” confirms Seow. “There has been a huge growth of 53% for the sales by unit for face masks, and it is mainly due to this latest launch. We forecast that sales for this particular segment are set for a big increase for the rest of the year.”
As for the other leading brand, SK-II, its marketing director Pauline Png says that “Travel retail is an important part of SK-II’s plans and we value our partnership with this industry.” SK-II masks include Facial Treatment Mask, Signs Eye Mask, Whitening Source Intensive Mask, and the latest addition, the two-piece anti-aging Signs Dual Treatment Mask.
“In Asia, consumers want intensive treatment and immediate results from using a mask,” says Png. “SK-II’s latest launch answers consumers’ need for a better-fitting mask that offers benefits where needed and moulds to the contours of the face.”
Are face masks, especially in sheet form, set to cover the rest of Asia? “I can share a fun fact about our mask sales,” responds Png. “In the 2005/06 fiscal year (July through June) the total sales of SK-II masks were about 178,000 boxes in Hong Kong alone, and if placed end to end the total length was equivalent to the perimeter of 768 international soccer fields!”
In other words, watch this large space. n