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Looks build brands and careers now

By Ouyang Shijia | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-22 10:04
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Urban Chinese males turn appearance-conscious, spawn humongous market

Cosmetics, face creams, shampoos... hang on a second, this cover story is not about the latest trends in the Chinese female consumer products.

No sir/madam, it's actually about unprecedented changes sweeping the Chinese male consumer products market. The Urban Chinese Man-metrosexual, if you will-is now acutely conscious of his appearance, looks and all that, and is spending big money on grooming.

In the process, he has spawned a multibillion-dollar industry of various cosmetic products and services.

Appearance matters more now than before because there are simply far too many careers for males that are directly linked to looks, industry insiders said.

Wu Kai, 28, a Hangzhou, Zhejiang province-based branding specialist, couldn't agree more. Every day, his office building fills with groups of software programmers wearing plaid shirts, sportswear and dark-colored outdoor jackets. But it is Wu and his team who stand out amid them for their neat hairstyles and tailor-made clothes made of top-quality fabrics.

For Wu, natty clothing is a sine qua non, having cultivated the habit during his college days. Even back then, he, clean and tidy, would stand out amid groups of slobby boys.

Unlike many male students who would not keep dustbins at their hostel accommodation, Wu would even buy garbage bags for the trash drums. And he would shower and wear fresh clothes every day.

Wu is definitely not an overly tidy person or a picky character. He is generous, easygoing and extroverted, and just hates being dirty. He takes being hygienic, neat and natty as part of his attitude toward life-all need to be organized.

There are many Chinese men of his ilk these days. Wu usually spends around 2,000 yuan ($310) on a regular coat or shirt, and will happily part with more than 10,000 yuan for a quality business suit.

"In a working environment and even for some important occasions, professionals need to know how to dress, as it may have a big bearing on how others perceive you," Wu said. "Being well turned out will allow one to stand out, as it portrays a positive and professional image as well as showing the person is prepared. And it also shows one's respect for others."

Awareness of what is appropriate dressing and grooming has brought Wu several key opportunities. He was chosen as host for his employer's annual gala. He was also invited to higher-level business meetings.

"I feel more confident when I am dressed properly," Wu said. "If I had dressed down, I would not have received that many opportunities to expand my social circle. Well-paid professionals usually have a certain dress code."

Millennials such as Wu are unlike their parents. They are more comfortable with the concept of spending time and money on grooming and pampering themselves.

According to a survey report earlier this month by China UnionPay Co Ltd, China's bankcard association, 23 percent of people born in the 1990s will spend more than 5,000 yuan a month on online shopping, topping all other age-groups. And 23 percent of male consumers, and 15 percent of women consumers, will spend more than 5,000 yuan a month on online shopping. However, there are no clear figures for the actual number of male and female consumers in China.

A joint report by The Boston Consulting Group and AliResearch, the research arm of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, said China's consumer market, the world's second-largest, is projected to reach $6.1 trillion by 2021.

The future consumer market growth would be particularly driven by China's emerging upper middle-class and affluent households. The younger generation's purchasing habits and their increasing role in omnichannel e-commerce are key. Males' spending on skincare products surged by 24 percent from 2014 to 2015, compared with the 11 percent growth in overall skincare product spending.

Zong Ning, a Beijing-based e-commerce analyst, said in a column on iResearch website that as tech-savvy young males, especially those born in the 1990s, gradually become the influential force in the consumer world, the erupting demographic is creating new momentum in the market for male products and services.

Chinese men are no longer shy of setting foot in, say, a beauty and grooming salon or fashion stores. Self-expression has become a respectable phrase.

Last year, China's male skincare market saw sales of more than 10 billion yuan, and are expected to hit 15.4 billion yuan by 2019, according to a report by CTR Market Research.

Seeing the new trend, major cosmetic brands are now adjusting strategies to better cater to the booming male market. For brands, young men are as key to success as female consumers.

Beiersdorf China, affiliate of Germany's Beiersdorf AG said with the increasingly changing male behaviors, it now sees huge potential in its Nivea Men brand's online sales in China.

According to the company, the Nivea Men sector has now become the firm's largest business in China.

Online sales now account for one-third of overall Nivea Men sales in China, according to Simon Cao, marketing director of Beiersdorf China.

"With the booming mobile internet and e-commerce development, now more tech-savvy males will prefer to buy cosmetic products from online stores. We estimate the proportion of online sales will hit 50 percent by 2020."

Cao said the scene has changed a lot in the last five years. Today, e-commerce is more than just a supplementary channel for offline sales. It is the main marketplace to further develop brands.

Using big data, the online platform of Nivea is able to analyze consumer behavior and develop new products to better target specific consumer needs.

According to Cao, consumption upgrade is also key as young males spend more money on grooming, prefer to buy more skincare products, and even would like to try on makeup. So, at the beginning of last year, Nivea Men introduced more categories of cosmetics such as new shampoo.

Having been around in China for more than 10 years, Nivea Men ranks as one of the leading male cosmetic brands. Unlike its top rival L'Oreal that presents metrosexual images in its promotions, Nivea Men caters to males seeking high efficiency and behaving in a sincere manner.

"The competition in the industry is really fierce," Cao said. "The key is to keep pace with the young consumers and the new trend, and retain loyalty of existing consumers as well as attract potential consumers."

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