“Those who win over women hearts win it all” is now an oft-repeated business slogan in China.

In the past five years, the overall spending by Chinese women has increased by 81% to around 4.6 trillion RMB (AU$960 billion) according to Guotai Junan, one of China’s largest investment banks and securities companies.

But while “Sheconomy” in China is thriving as retailers cash in on female consumers’ online spending habits, another trend from the male side is apparently underestimated.  

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Armored with increased income and inspired by the pursuit for self-gratification, Chinese men are fueling the “Heconomy” in the country at the same time like never before. That is why the rise of the male beauty market is quite phenomenal.

The Lipstick Man

In China, the hottest lipstick salesperson is not a woman but a man.

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Li Jiaqi, better known as “Lipstick Man,” rose to stardom on Chinese social media in late 2017 after he managed to try 380 lipsticks in a two-hour live stream show on Taobao.com.

In an online commercial in 2018, he even challenged Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma to sell lipsticks in live streams and won. During the show, he made a record of selling over 15,000 lipsticks in just 15 minutes.

Transformed from a makeup salesperson into a beauty vlogger, Li is not only the number 1 seller of lipstick, but also one of the most influential online celebrities in other makeup products. This 27-year-old man has over 2 million followers on Sina Weibo and earns a reportedly annual income of over 10 million RMB ( around AU$2 million).

“When I first started live-streaming, there was a lot of negative feedback, questioning why a guy was doing makeup. But recently, when I go on live, many people say that I have become more beautiful, sophisticated and handsome. I think they are accepting that men can wear makeup,” Li said in an interview with alizila.com, the news hub for Alibaba Group.

“Although most of my viewers are female, my male followers are also growing since last June. Now the male followers account for almost 20% of my audience. I think the demand for male beauty is huge,” he added.

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Li and his male followers represent a new generation of young Chinese men who increase spending to look their best. Among them, consumers born at the 1990s are the driving force behind China’s thriving male cosmetic markets. Grown up with the Internet and social media, young men are more style-conscious.

Vipshop.com and JD.com, two leading e-commerce platforms in China, released an allied market report last year. According to their research, Chinese skincare market has grown into a scale of over 10 billion RMB (2 billion AU dollars) and the total market value is expected to reach 15.4 billion RMB (AU$3.2 billion) in 2019.

The data collected by Vipshop.com showcased that 96% of males purchased cosmetics. Also, the sales volume of skincare product purchased by men almost doubles every year.

The Thriving Male Cosmetics Industry

For a long time, Chinese people have considered men who care too much about their appearance as ‘feminine’. But today, more and more people use positive words like ‘clean-cut,’ ‘refreshing’ and ‘delicate.’ 

For the majority of Chinese men who have just awakened their skin care awareness, it is no longer at the stage of “washing faces clean”.  Maintaining high level of self-hygiene is their focus, improving one’s attractiveness is also considered a major focus for young men in China.

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Though many men’s’ skin care products still focus on cleansing currently, the trend of diversified products suiting to different appeals is gradually taking shape.

Consumer analysts at Cinda Securities reported that acne treatment, sunblock and oil control are the first three focuses for the average man consumer. L’Oréal Paris, Nivea and Clinique are ranked as their favorite brands.

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Now there is a growing number of male consumer beginning to purchase lotions, crèmes, masks and ointments to enhance skin condition. Moreover, applying base makeup, drawing eyebrows and wearing perfumes are no longer the unique daily beauty routines for women; their male counterparts are catching up.

Market Opportunities in The Male-grooming Era

Nowadays, urban lifestyle is getting more and more sophisticated in China. Many young people turn to associate their career development and personal success with sophisticated grooming and delicate dressing behaviors. Chinese millennials are likely to spend even more as their disposable incomes increase.

Chinese men aged 18–34 spent an average of $28 per month during a 12-month survey period ended June 2018, according to Prosper Insights & Analytics, 9% more than the monthly average for all males surveyed. 

It is time for brands to capital on the growing popularity of men’s grooming and beauty products in China.

Instead of bringing its existing line of men’s products to China, the beauty giant L’Oreal wants to develop new products – just for the Chinese market.

The French cosmetics company launched its Paris Men Expert line as its flagship, mass-market male skincare brand in 2005 and subsequently engaged many top Chinese celebrities as brand ambassadors.

Their brand spokespersons include Daniel Wu, who is currently in his late 40s and therefore represents sophistication and gentlemanly qualities, and Jing Boran, who is in his 30s and appeals to a younger audience.

Also, the company has been cooperating with Alibaba’s Tmall Innovation Center, the market-research division of the E-commerce giant to identify the online trends in China’s male-beauty sector.

“We now have a much better bait to specifically target male consumers because we know what kind of touch points matter for them and we can really go to a level of specifically targeting each different kind of Chinese male consumers,” said L’Oreal China Chief Customer Officer Stephane Wilmet, in an interview with Alizilia.com.

L’Oreal is not alone. L’Occitane ran an advertising campaign featuring Lu Han—formerly a pop music icon in South Korea who returned to his native China to continue his entertainment career—as brand ambassador.

Nivea, owned by German company Beiersdorf, has long offered male grooming products in China, and its Nivea Men brand has become its largest brand there, its success driven by the popularity of online shopping. 

Treating Men in Medical Aesthetics Market

A few years ago, men turning to medical aesthetics service were mainly for hair transplantation. Changes began in 2016 when there were more diversified needs such as anti-aging skin care, eye bags removal and body shaping.

In early May, So-Young, an online marketplace in China for cosmetic procedures, surged on NASDAQ after its US$179 million (AU$255 million) initial public offering, reflecting investors’ appetite for Chinese aesthetic medicine boom.

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So-Young is the third Chinese unicorn to go public in the U.S. this year. Based in Beijing, China, the company uses an online platform to provide information about products and services on the Chinese medical aesthetics market.

Moreover, according to Frost & Sullivan research commissioned by So-Young, the medical aesthetic service industry reached 120 billion RMB (AU$25.3 billion) last year and could reach 357 billion RMB (AU$74.8 billion) by 2023. China is poised to become the largest market in the world by 2021.

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Now Chinese men accounted for 11.12 percent of the total consumers in the medical aesthetics market, slightly lower than 13.8 percent in the world, according to findings in an industry white paper issued by So-Young in 2018.

Though the number of male consumers is small, as the report pointed out, they are more willing to pour money into it: the average spending of male consumers is 7,025 RMB (or AU$1,500), which is about three times than that of female consumers.

The Still Underestimated ‘Heconomy’

China’s male grooming market has exhibited solid growth and is likely to continue to grow strongly in the foreseeable future. 

But, despite the growth in China’s male beauty industry, there’s still a significant lack of choice compared to the female market.

Now as needs for specialist products and broader product categories increases, there’s definitely room for growth as international brands continue to enter the Chinese market and target the affluent male consumers.

Men are not just buying cars, electronics and sport wares. When ‘Sheconomy’ catches up much attention globally, the significance of Heconomy should also be viewed as a tremendous business opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors.

While international brands are increasingly competing in order to be one step ahead of the game in China, competition and opportunities co-exist for Australian companies in China’s Heconomy.

Edited by Lei Zhang