Beauty and the gains

By Vivian Chow

    Using Japanese cosmetics has become a part of popular culture.
     Its popularity is attested to by the ever-increasing numbers of cosmetic shops in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.
     Due to the blossoming of the number of shops, the returns in the cosmetics business can be enormous.

        Fiona Lau
      A typical Japanese cosmetics shop in Hong Kong.
     Mr. Chan Ka Sing, an owner of two cosmetics stores, said that his shops are making 200 percent to 300 percent profit every month.
     Since the return is so enormous, the shop owners are willing to invest a lot in their businesses. Most spend about $100,000 on setting up the business, but some even spend up to $500,000.
     Meanwhile, customers spend a handsome amount of money on purchasing Japanese cosmetics.
     Interviewees for this article said they spend from $100 to $2,000 a month on cosmetics, depending on their income.
     One secondary school student who receives pocket money from her parents said she spends about $500 per month on cosmetics. A sales manager who earns $20,000 a month said she spends $1,000 to $2,000 each month.
     Using Japanese cosmetics is not restricted to young people. According to Mrs. To Tam Yuk Ping, who owns a Japanese cosmetics store in Mong Kok, customers are aged from 13 to 35. “Different people have different needs,” she said.
     Also, the popularity of Japanese cosmetics is not confined to females: The market for male customers is also expanding.
     “There are more and more young men buying facial cleansing and acne curing products,” said a shopkeeper in Mong Kok.
     A male travel agent said he spends around $200 to $300 per month on Japanese cosmetics, visiting the stores at least twice per month.
     “I usually buy facial cleansing products. My girlfriend chooses them for me most of the time,” he said.
     He thinks that Japanese cosmetics are most effective in facial cleansing. He keeps using them because he feels better.
     Japanese cosmetic products are more popular than European ones among Hong Kong people.
     The basic reason is that Japanese cosmetics have lower prices.
     However, the quality seems to be the biggest concern for cosmetics buyers.
     One person who has been using Japanese cosmetics for years said that it suits the skin types of Asian people.
     “The colours of the cosmetics are more suitable for Asians. They are softer and more neutral,” she said.
     Shopkeeper Sham Hoi Yan said that European cosmetics are suitable only for people living under dry conditions. The humid weather in Asia makes Japanese cosmetics more appropriate.
     However, one customer said that she uses both Japanese and European cosmetics because she thinks they are more or less the same.
     “Neither of them are particularly effective,” she said.
     Due to the frequent promotions, using Japanese cosmetics has lately become more fashionable.
     Another customer said she chose Japanese cosmetics because the colours are trendy and attractive.
     Advertisements have also played an important role in making them popular.
     With local pop stars Michelle Reis and Kelly Chen feature in their advertisements, the sales of the Shiseido cosmetic product line has experienced a sharp increase, according to Mr. Man Chan, another shop owner.
     “Also, more people are starting to try the new brand IPSA because they know that pop singer Sammi Cheng is a user of that brand,” said Mr. Chan.
     However, advertisements and fancy packaging have little impact on male customers.
     A firefighter said he does not care about buying cosmetics from one particular product line.
     “After all, there are not many choices for male customers,” he said.
     Although the business generates a great deal of profit, shop owners are very pessimistic about the future of the business.
     “The competition is getting more intense. It will be very difficult to go on with the business,” said Mrs. To of Mong Kok.
     “Though I own five shops, some of them are no longer selling cosmetics but clothing instead.”
     Mr. Chan said the product mix was “to keep the revenue steady.”
     Another shop owner said that the popularity of these businesses will soon fade.
     “Many people run these businesses just for fun. They have lots of money to lose.”

 Magic is not just a trick

November 1997

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