There has always been a lot of interest in the beauty sector across the world.
In Southeast Asia, beauty product is one of the key categories on major ecommerce platforms including Shopee and TikTok Shop. Recently, it has also drawn significant venture investment. Even J&T’s founder (ex-OPPO) has launched a beauty brand, HEBE to cater to the market in Indonesia.
How is the beauty sector in Southeast Asia compared to that in China?
The Momentum Works ladies were checking out beauty product companies. Two cosmetic brands caught our eyes: Wardah from Indonesia and Huaxizi (花西子) from China.
Wardah is a leading cosmetic brand in Indonesia and Malaysia, which prides itself as a halal-certified Muslim-friendly brand. Huaxizi (花西子) is an emerging cosmetic player in China, focusing on oriental-themed cosmetic products. As of 2022 (5 years since its launch in 2017), Huaxizi’s sales exceeded RMB 5.4B (US$ 782 M).
People commonly say China is ahead of Southeast Asia in ecommerce brands. We decided to do a fun comparison of these two companies.
Here is a vivid example, in terms of positioning, branding, product presentation, marketing and distribution:
- Price point and positioning
Both Wardah and Huaxizi are targeting the mass / mass premium market:
Wardah’s products are priced between US$1 – US$ 15; Whereas Huaxizi’s products are priced in the range of US$ 14.50 – US$ 44.
Lipstick price comparison: Wardah (US$ 3) vs Huaxizi (US$ 32)
Wardah’s branding is more practical – it focuses on product series that addresses local consumer needs (i.e.: whitening and brightening, with halal certification). Wardah uses influencers, and also normal consumers to promote its products.
Whereas Huaxizi’s branding is obviously selling a dream, focusing on strong oriental elements. It leverages celebrity endorsement to communicate the brand story of “oriental urban white-collar professionals”.
- Product presentation
Wardah’s lipsticks are practical, come in simple packaging and are tailored for local skin colors.
Huaxizi’s lipsticks have oriental-themed carving and comes with unique, romantic lock-shaped packaging.
Product presentation: Wardah vs. Huaxizi (featuringChina’s top live commerce host Li Jiaqi)
- Marketing and distribution
Wardah leverages ecommerce (e.g.: Lazada), through a series of promotions and branding activities. Its own website is decent and functional for online purchases.
But the key thing is that in Southeast Asia, there is still a lack of trust, so brands still need to rely a lot on offline channels and promoters. Customers also want to test out products offline before they buy them. That is why you can see Wardah’s products in pharma stores (Watson, Guardian), as well as small standalone stores.
Wardah focuses on promotions and offline presence
Huaxizi’s main focus is online – as the China’s cosmetic industry is quite mature and consumers rely on customers’ / influencers’ reviews (i.e.: Zhongcao (种草)). This is why most Chinese cosmetics are sold online. It is only recently that Huaxizi has started its offline flagship stores.
Huaxizi’s online focus is also reflected in its Tmall product description – the description for lipstick is very detailed (5 pages long vs ½ page for Wardah).
Online product description: Wardah’s (½ page) vs Huaxizi’s (5 pages)
So why the differences? Is it because Southeast Asian consumers are more practical, or do Chinese consumers have more ‘sophisticated demand’?
Why isn’t Wardah doing the same as Huaxizi?
It boils down to effort vs return.
Wardah has been around since 1995 and they have a strong brand, especially since they have the halal certification (which is important for the Muslim customer base). Compared to many Chinese / influencer cosmetic brands in Southeast Asia (which are largely OEM), Wardah differentiates itself by having own R&D and manufacturing. This allows Wardah to create localised products that are suitable for diversified skin types.
For example, Malaysia and Indonesia are multi-race. The skin color diversity means different cosmetic product lineup is needed – e.g. bridge orange color lipsticks sell very poorly in China, but sells well in Southeast Asia amongst consumers with darker skin tones.
Wardah also has > 145 variants / colors of lipsticks for local customers (vs ~ 90 for Loreal). This is their moat – and maybe because of this, Wardah does not need to spend that much effort on marketing and branding.
Huaxizi is in a red ocean. It needs to find some unique ways to differentiate itself from the other thousands of cosmetic brands in China that are selling similar products. For example, through distinct product design and branding (i.e.: lock-shaped lipsticks with oriental carving).
With the booming live streaming development in China (i.e.: China’s top live commerce host sells US$2.9B in one single session), Huaxizi was one of the early brands to engage China’s top live commerce host, Li Jiaqi for product sales. Many have attributed Huaxizi’s emergence to Li Jiaqi’s live commerce show – Within 16 months being on Li Jiaqi’s show, Huaxizi was ranked first in Tmall beauty category by GMV during 2020’s 18th June shopping festival.
Ultimately, it’s a strategic choice based on what consumers value (i.e.: value for money vs. branding).
The key question is – what is your moat?
Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected]